Sunday, January 10, 2021

Austrian Minister Resigns in Plagiarism Scandal

The Austrian Minister of Labor, Family and Youth, Christine Aschbacher, resigned January 9, 2021 in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.

There was already much talk about problems in her Master's Thesis (, in German). It was then found that her freshly minted (2020) doctoral dissertation contained not only the kind of nonsense a machine translation is capable of producing, but also contained a good bit of plagiarism. The Austrian press had a field day on January 9, Krone, Kurier, and Der Standard each had big articles in print, which apparently led to her stepping down.

The online versions of the various media report about her resignation: Oe24, Kurier, ORF, Der Standard. The Guardian has also reported on it in English. The minister denies having plagiarized, stating that she did the work "nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen" (using my best knowledge and conscience), a statement previously made by the German Family Minister Franziska Giffey during the plagiarism scandal surrounding her doctoral thesis, that is still brewing in Berlin.

Aschbacher's dissertation was not submitted to an Austrian university, as one might expect, but to the Technical University Bratislava (Slovenská technická univerzita), in nearby Slovakia.

Why Slovakia? Well, first of all, they accept not only theses in Slovakian, but also in English and German. Then there was a small matter of an Austrian company "helping" people obtain doctoral dissertations in Slovakia (see the series of articles in the blog CausaSchavan from 2016, Hütchenspiele: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7, in German). And of course the important detail that a doctoral degree granted in Slovakia can't be rescinded. Ever. No matter what. That has apparently changed from January 1, 2021.

VroniPlag Wiki had a look at a few doctoral dissertations from Bratislava universities in 2016, 2018, and 2020 and found quite a bit of plagiarism lurking there, including another member of the 100 % Club, Jul

According to Der Standard, the doctoral thesis of Aschbacher was examined by the Slovakian state plagiarism detection system and it only found 1.5 % plagiarism. Turnitin, according to Stefan Weber, the author of Plagiatsgutachten, returned 21 %. But since software cannot detect translation plagiarism, one just cannot measure the "amount" of plagiarism in a document. It is only possible to find text that matches text stored in the databases the software is able to access.

If you understand German (well, Austrian German), you might find the "reading" of a passage from the dissertation by Hons Petutschnig amusing:

Update: My mistake, I mixed up the Slovenian system and the Slovak system. I have corrected the text, the test can be found here (Foltýnek, T., Dlabolová, D., Anohina-Naumeca, A. et al.  Testing of support tools for plagiarism detection  Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17, 46 (2020).