Saturday, March 23, 2013

Germany’s Academic and Political Plagiarism Epidemic

Today I watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the German movie “Der Minister”. It is a wonderful satire of the Guttenberg plagiarism scandal. 

As it turns out, this clever satire is itself a work of plagiarism. Several great lines seem to be taken from TV series such as the iconic British “Yes Minister” series – more specifically:  "It used to be said there were two kinds of chairs to go with two kinds of Minister: one sort folds up instantly; the other sort goes round and round in circles." 

The screenwriter Dorothee Schon justified it by stating that content was taken from the media collage surrounding Guttenberg. An interesting legal argument indeed!

To refresh your memory, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was a charismatic German politician who served as the Minister of Defense under Angela Merkel. Guttenberg received his doctorate from the University of Bayreuth (founded in 1975 and located in Bavaria, Germany) in the year 2007. After it was found that he had plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation, the university revoked is doctorate. Once he was caught, Guttenberg left German politics all together in 2011. He reinvented himself in the US.

Being an academic is a big deal in Germany. It helps with getting well-paid jobs and has substantial social standing. According to a  survey conducted by the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”  18.5 % of MPs in the German Bundestag carry doctor or professor titles. It is obviously a big plus for becoming a Minister! According to law professor Prof. Dr.Volker Rieble of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germans suffer from “title arousal.” He points out that people in other countries are not as vain about their titles. (Israel is a good example - most people in middle and higher management have two academic degrees and seldom mention them). This obsession with academic titles obviously sparks the tendency to take short cuts to obtain the prized Dr. title.

As it turned out, the Guttenberg affair was not an isolated incident (as I originally thought). Following the Guttenberg debacle, several other German politicians were also caught in the act, including Prof. Dr. AnnetteSchavan who (ironically) served as the Minister of Education. Way back in 1980, she wrote a dissertation of a whopping 351 pages that had been gathering dust in the archives of the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf until an anonymous blogger (SchavanPlag on Wordpress) published a long list of sections that were ripped off other works. The University ofDüsseldorf promptly stripped her of her Dr. title. She subsequently resigned her post in February 2013. 

The German website “VroniPlag” is a living nightmare for German politicians that got their academic degree in a questionable way. The website states that: “VroniPlag Wiki is a scientific project without any political or commercial interests”. They obviously do a lot of due diligence.  Cave Doctor (Latin for: Dr. be aware)!

Other disgraced German politicians include:
  • Silvana Koch-Mehrin, former vice president of the European Parliament and member of the German Free Democratic Party, was stripped of her doctorate in 2011 by the University of Heidelberg;
  • Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German member of the European Parliament, was stripped of his Ph. D. by the University of Bonn in 2011;
  • Florian Graf, another German politician, lost his Ph. D. once he confessed that he had lifted parts of other works without permission for his dissertation.
Will this be the end of it? Lean back and wait!
By the way, Angie aka Angela Merkel is officially Dr. Merkel since she holds a doctorate from the University of Leipzig

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