Friday, June 26, 2015

Court decisions rolling in

There are quite a number of court decisions being handed down recently in Germany on academic misconduct cases. I have three new addition to my list today:
  1. The Bundesverwaltungsgericht, the Federal Administrative Court in Germany handed down an important decision in connection with the plagiarism case of former defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The German parliamentary academic service had written documents for him that turned up in his dissertation, verbatim. A journalist filed a freedom of information order to obtain the documents, but the Bundestag refused. Of course, a copy of the documents had already turned up in a brown paper envelope addressed to one of the GuttenPlag Wiki researchers, bearing no return address, and they were already documented. But it was impossible to verify if the documents were correct. The journalist wanted to see if the copies were, indeed true. He worked his way through the lower courts, who rejected his suit to see the documents. Today the federal court ruled that any document prepared by the academic service is obtainable by FOI request. Within hours the first FOI application for a list of all such documents was filed. The newspaper that filed suit, Die Welt, reports on its success.
  2. The Leipziger Volkszeitung reports that VroniPlag Wiki case #8 Sh (documented in 2011) has now been decided by the court (VG Halle) in favor of the University of Halle-Wittenberg, who rescinded the thesis in April 2012. The court held with the university, which stated that the "technical deficiencies" (handwerkliche Mängel) were so numerous that they became the methodology and thus intent to deceive.
  3. A colleague dug out a decision by the VG Würzburg from 25 March 2015 (AZ: W 2 K 14.228) about a doctorate in dental medicine that was awarded at the University of Würzburg in 2001 in the area of the history of medicine. In 2011 an anonymous letter informed the university that this dissertation was a plagiarism of a dissertation submitted in 1999, and that that one had been written by the doctoral adviser himself, as had many others. The university rescinded the doctorate in 2012. The dentist sued the university on numerous grounds, such as the statute of limitations having run out and all sorts of detailed university administrative details not having been attended to properly. The court ruled that the plagiarism was enough for proving intent to deceive, and also listing 199 sources in her literature list where she only quoted 67 served only to inflate the appearance of scholarship and was also to be considered intent to deceive. The text of the decision is not publicly available but can be found using the case number in legal databases.
So as in the plagiarism case against Schavan, the courts appear to be doing a great job of upholding good scientific practice. They stand by the decisions of the university, no matter what the paladins spout in the media.