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Dr. zu Googleberg
March 7, 2011 2:22 AM   Subscribe

In February, a political and academic scandal broke in Germany when it turned out that the defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation, defended in 2006 and published as a book in 2009. Guttenberg, who had initially denied the allegations and maintained his popularity despite the scandal, resigned on 1 March.

The scandal broke when Andreas Fischer-Lescano, a law professor at the University of Bremen, who was writing a review of Guttenberg's book, discovered some of its passages to be copied without a citation from a Swiss newspaper article. A wiki (in German) was set up a few days later for collecting and examining evidence of plagiarism in Guttenberg's work. Since then, large passages have been shown to have been lifted from newspaper articles, presentations, speeches and so on without proper citation (see: illustrative Flash app), including, for instance, a near word for word reproduction of a 10-page analysis written for Guttenberg by the German parliament's research department when he was still an MP. On 23 February, the University of Bayreuth where zu Guttenberg defended his thesis, withdrew his doctoral title upon his request. On 1 March, Guttenberg, who resigned after more than 50,000 German academics and their supporters had signed an open letter to prime minister Merkel, protesting about his plagiarism. Guttenberg has still retained his popularity, however, with thousands of people showing their support for him both on the streets and on the Internet. Meanwhile, the scandal has also raised questions of double standards towards plagiarism both in the German society and academia.
posted by daniel_charms (28 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, the Baron zu Cut'n'paste scandal has reached MetaFilter. Thanks for collecting all these links. This will be fun...

*Reaches for Popcorn*
posted by Namlit at 2:34 AM on March 7, 2011


Ouch. That would be a brutal public shaming to go through, though well deserved.

In grad school I knew a few people who disappeared for suspiciously short periods of time and returned with a magically complete dissertation. Maybe they wrote it, maybe not; their committees were willing to pass them, and that's what counted. I think you can expect to get away with it if your career will be at a small, regional university on another continent, or in the far reaches of a vast bureaucracy.

If you plan on being a prominent politician, or are already one? Bad idea.
posted by Forktine at 2:44 AM on March 7, 2011


Well, when you are stuck with a moniker like Guttenberg, you are moved to print infinite copies no?

*grabs handful of namlits popcorn*
posted by infini at 2:57 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I hope he goes back and starts another doctorate.
posted by parmanparman at 3:00 AM on March 7, 2011


Andreas Fischer-Lescano, a law professor at the University of Bremen, who was writing a review of the first person to actually read Guttenberg's book, discovered...
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:15 AM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Hey, if he used LaTeX to typeset his plagiarized material, I say let him keep his degree. Because, man, he earned it.
posted by LordSludge at 3:29 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you plan on being a prominent politician, or are already one? Bad idea.

Apparently true. Gaddafi Son's Book Plans Dropped Amid Plagiarism Charges. And look what's happening over there now.
posted by three blind mice at 3:36 AM on March 7, 2011


How stupid. He went from being a very likely future chancellor to a preposterous figure of fun with no future in public life. And for what? I'm sure that had he taken a little more time he could have actually written a workable if tedious thesis himself.
posted by atrazine at 3:53 AM on March 7, 2011


This shows the huge differences between the perceptions of morality in Europe in the US.

In the US, intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy seem to be so commonplace among politicians accepted that a little cut-and-paste would probably be regarded as hardly news-worthy, but god forbid you ever had an extra-marital affair. In Europe, it's the other way around.
posted by sour cream at 4:01 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


He should move to the States — he could become vice president.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:02 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that had he taken a little more time he could have actually written a workable if tedious thesis himself.

Seriously, why do we even bother requiring one anymore? Any competent dissertation committee can just look at you and tell if you're worthy of a doctorate or not. It's just a waste of everybody's time to make you actually produce scholarship.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:18 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent takedown. If he cheats on his academic work, he can't be trusted to govern.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:53 AM on March 7, 2011


It's just a waste of everybody's time to make you actually produce scholarship.

Anyone who gets admitted to a PhD programme who can beast themselves through it can eventually produce something that their committee will accept with a shrug. Actually getting hired after producing a thesis that is of the I-guess-that's-a-pass standard is a whole other matter, but this guy was already a politician when he did his PhD.

He could have dropped out with no consequences to his political career, or produced something that was just barely original and gotten a meager pass. It's not like he needed a stellar dissertation so that he could get a postdoc gig after finishing, he gained literally nothing from his imbecilic plagiarism.

Dishonesty is one thing, this guy wasn't even capable of understanding when lying is effective!
posted by atrazine at 5:20 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


He could have dropped out with no consequences to his political career

I doubt that. The Germans take their academic titles seriously.
posted by Authorized User at 5:27 AM on March 7, 2011


Three blind mice's link is very funny. Short version: Oxford University Press agreed to publish the thesis allegedly written by Saif al-Islam, Gadaffi's son. I don't know if this is uncommon - how many theses get published? Anyway, part of the deal was that Saif would buy 20,000 copies, which I think is "hell yeah!" territory for an academic publisher. OUP have dropped their plans to publish the book, after the unfortunate recent events in Libya. Here's their move-on-nothing-to-see-here statement:
The manuscript was sent for review by scholars of the highest international standing. They supported the book's publication on the basis of the evidence then available of its scholarly quality and of the author's credibility. They also noted its possible contribution to political reform. The Delegates of OUP provisionally approved publication of the work subject to review of the final manuscript, which has not yet been received. Recent events in Libya have completely changed the circumstances surrounding the work and the author, and therefore OUP will not now proceed with publication of the book.
Translation: now that he's not the successor to a throne; now that he stinks worse than week-old fish; now that we cannot bathe ourselves in his reflected glory, we have decided to fellate someone else. Incidentally, it now appears that Saif plagiarised at least parts of the manuscript, which may explain why his advisor became the Libyan ambassador to Austria.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:36 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Germans take their academic titles seriously.

Some examples:
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Schön,
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Werner Krawietz,
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult., MCJ (NYU) Klaus J. Hopt.
posted by iviken at 5:41 AM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anyway, part of the deal was that Saif would buy 20,000 copies, which I think is "hell yeah!" territory for an academic publisher.

I'm pretty sure that if you agreed to buy 20,000 copies and hinted that every university student in Libya would be required to buy a copy, Oxford would print your cat's thesis.
posted by Forktine at 5:49 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Didn't Putin also do this? It must be a trend.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 5:50 AM on March 7, 2011


In the US, intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy seem to be so commonplace among politicians accepted that a little cut-and-paste would probably be regarded as hardly news-worthy, but god forbid you ever had an extra-marital affair. In Europe, it's the other way around.

I don't know about that. McCain didn't lose because of his extramarital affair. Clinton's Lewinsky knee trembler didn't get him booted.

Of course, he didn't resign after getting caught lying under oath (a distinction which Europeans I spoke to at the time seemed to miss), so you're right on the hypocrisy and intellectual dishonest point. And let us not forget Joe Biden.

Me, I'm glad that old school honor is not totally dead.

On the PhD thing - time was it was not a necessary to teach even fairly advanced college level. Let a good MA teach for twenty years and, if deserving, give him one honoris causa I say. How many thesis do anything other than act as a poodle trick for would be PhDs?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2011


In my entire (and achingly extensive) academic career I have never once been tempted to plagiarize a single thing. It seems silly to me that somebody would be tempted to drop the "" from a quote and hope nobody notices -- as if quoting at length from a source was forbidden or something.

Seriously what is wrong with those people?
posted by Avenger at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Plagiarism really began with Gutenberg.
posted by zeikka at 7:13 AM on March 7, 2011


Seriously what is wrong with those people?


Dishonesty is one thing, this guy wasn't even capable of understanding when lying is effective!

I'm discovering there is a serious shortage of critical thinking and judgement available in the hallowed halls. Original work is a joke in places where they think that if they translate it into a different language nobody'd notice the booth capturing.

Whatever.
posted by infini at 7:18 AM on March 7, 2011


Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult., MCJ (NYU) Klaus J. Hopt.

Hysterical, and reminiscent of Major Major Major Major. What do the multiple Dr.s mean - is each one a separate doctoral degree?
posted by shivohum at 7:21 AM on March 7, 2011


What do the multiple Dr.s mean - is each one a separate doctoral degree?

Yes. I've had Germans apologize to me full-heartedly, because they should have addressed me as a Herr Doktor, when they hadn't done so. Apparently having such a degree is good for 25% more pay, on average. Whereas mine only cost money, and I never use my degrees in the Netherlands.

If I get a letter that addresses me with my titles, it is from the university library, demanding a book back.
posted by ijsbrand at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's a nice visualization of the plagiarism.
posted by Nelson at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What do the multiple Dr.s mean — is each one a separate doctoral degree?

Klaus J. Hopt is apparently Dr. jur. and Dr. phil. (his web page says so) and also Dr. h.c. mult. which stands for “honoris causa multiplex”, i.e. he has at least three honorary doctorates.

This is, by the way, also in Germany not the way you would address him. He might write all his titles on his business card but when you address him you only have to use the highest title, in his case “Professor”.

Guttenberg probably didn’t need to be a doctor. He was already a successful politician when he finished his thesis. He just should have given up on that project. Here is the perspective of an American academic working in Germany on the whole affair.
posted by michael.ka at 8:13 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And let us not forget Joe Biden.
Or Martin Luther King, Jr.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2011


So apparently it is traditional for an army band to play the music at German defense minister transition ceremonies, and the outgoing minister gets to pick the music. zu Guttenberg evidently picked something by AC/DC, but the conductor refused and substituted "Smoke on the Water." Here's a video of the (rather bizarre) torchlit ceremony.
posted by jedicus at 2:57 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


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