Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guttenberg's gone

Guttenberg has finally stepped down.

One of the most interesting aspects of this issue was the public's continuing support for the German Defense Minister. In the recent polls published this weekend, an overwhelming majority of Germans across all political parties wanted him to stay in office.

Perhaps because of the academic nature of plagiarism, support apparently seems to differ greatly across the media, with the greatest outrage found in the more intellectual newspapers, as the second chart shows. Over the weekend, an open letter from German PhDs was delivered to Chancellor Merkel asking her not to take the matter so lightly, and more than 1,000 professors signed their own open letter along the same lines.

What I don't get – but perhaps I am too academic myself (I started, but thankfully did not finish, a dissertation) – is why everyone was so apologetic on his behalf. The German media are full of people saying, "My goodness, who didn't cheat in school?" But there was actually a recent case of a local politician (CDU) who was found to have committed plagiarism and was forced to step down, so there is an immediate precedents for the case.

Furthermore, as practically everyone else who wanted him to step down as pointed out, every other imaginable comparable situation would also have been handled differently. Soccer referees who are found to have been paid off create quite a commotion, and soccer games don't matter.

That's why I find this report (in German) so interesting. Apparently, Guttenberg got the equivalent of a C on his exams and therefore should not have been allowed to write a dissertation at all; he would have received his degree without honors and been asked to stop. But the two professors who made the decision were CSU party members.

A new Wiki was also created, where other dissertations of prominent German politicians are to be inspected.

Personally, I don't find Guttenberg to be exactly contrite. In stepping down, he said he could no longer do his job properly when the debate "about my person is being carried out on the shoulders of the soldiers," which sounds a bit like everyone should have shut up and left him alone. More outrageously, he said that anyone who accused him of consciously plagiarizing was guilty of "libel." The Wiki that investigated his dissertation has now found plagiarism on over 76 percent of the pages. Practically the only thing that isn't plagiarized is the bibliography and table of contents. I doubt that Guttenberg wants to fight this one out in court, but just in case: Guttenberg, your dissertation was either ghostwritten (in which case you may actually not have known about the extent of the plagiarism), or you did it yourself and knew exactly what you were doing.


  1. He will be back.

    Sadly, he still has too much support in both his party and among the general population. In a few years, he will get another posh political job - perhaps even as prime minister of Bavaria once Seehofer is gone.

    As ZEIT reports, his future comeback is already talked about by plenty of conservative politicians...

  2. Definitely, and this article


    also really puts it well. The man has yet to say out right that he did something wrong and that he violated general principles. He won't apologize to everyone, but only to those who were wronged when "mistakes were made" in his dissertation.

    The article presents this as a masterful attempt to go right back into comeback mode, but judging from the comments under the article it seems that others are reacting like I am – he seems even more slimy everyday.

    I would have liked him a lot better if he had simply come out and said, "you know what, I didn't have a lot of time for that dissertation, and I really screwed up. And rather than sit here as a distraction, I think it better if somebody else take over the Defense Ministry while this issue gets worked out." But that statement would have required courage and fortitude.

    As it is, the man looks more like unscrupulous opportunist with each passing day – and I say that not as someone who didn't like him a month ago.