Thursday, February 17, 2011

German defense minister charged with plagiarism

Picture of Karl-Theodor Freiherr von und zu Gu...Image via WikipediaGermany's most popular politician, Karl-Theodor Guttenberg (a nobleman, so you also find him referred to as "Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg" – Germany did away with its nobility after World War I, but noblemen were allowed to retain indications of nobility, such as "von" and "zu"), now faces charges of plagiarism for his dissertation in law. Some legal experts say that the work itself is crap, but most of all there are entire passages that are extremely close to – if not literal copies of – some other publication not referenced at all. If you want to get an idea of it, check out this list here (PDF).

Guttenberg says he would be happy to check whether some of the more than 1000 footnotes across 475 pages need to be revised, but he says he did not copy and paste. After a quick look at the evidence, I'd say things do not look good for him.

The attack is obviously politically motivated, with some of the main accusations coming from legal experts with close ties to the SPD – but no matter – if the shoe fits, wear it.

The interesting thing for me is to see how Germany will react to this. Plagiarism, in my estimation, is not taken as seriously here as it is in the US. During my five years as a lecturer at a German university, I found that the idea of failing someone for plagiarism was tendentious; I was told I could also just give someone a stern look and a slap on the wrist.

In this age of the Internet, copying has not only become extremely easy, but also easy to detect. It seems that Guttenberg may have been handed over a PhD in law for really flimsy work, but I cannot judge that (and Margaret Marks has yet to comment on it) – it remains for the University's ombudsman to decide.

I should also point out that I was accused of plagiarism when getting my Masters, but my cases differed from Guttenberg's. I had actually provided footnotes to my sources, and the professor charged that I was sticking too close to the original. The case was brought before the graduate studies committee and dropped.
Enhanced by Zemanta

1 comment:

  1. Well, as someone with a PhD myself, I'd say if the charges are valid he should turn in _this_ title at least...