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Prime Ministerial Plagiarism Farce Continues In Romania 60

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the he-said-she-said dept.
ananyo writes "Two investigations into the case of alleged plagiarism by Romania's prime minister, Victor Ponta, have reached opposite conclusions, ramping up the tension in a fierce struggle over political power in Bucharest. As Slashdot has noted before, Ponta stands accused of having copied large sections of his 2003 PhD thesis on the International Criminal Court. ... On 29 June, the Romanian National Council for the Attestation of University Titles (CNATDCU), which is in charge of investigating plagiarism charges in PhD theses according to Romanian law, had concluded that Ponta had copied and pasted 85 pages of his thesis from three books without properly marking the copied sections as quotes. But the committee was dissolved during the course of its meeting by acting education minister Liviu Pop. Meanwhile, concerns are rising in the European Union over what political observers say is a lack of respect in Romania for the fundamental principles of democracy."
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Prime Ministerial Plagiarism Farce Continues In Romania

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ponta stands accused of having copied large sections of his 2003 PhD thesis on the International Criminal Court.

    Do people actually think they can get away with this? I mean if he had plagiarized somebody else's PhD thesis back in the days before the internet, online databases and plagiarism detection software I'd still be prepared to cut him some slack but 2003.. wtf... was he thinking? The same goes for the venerable Freiherr zu Guttenberg... It would actually be really interesting to run plagiarism detection software retroactively on PhD thesis from up to 50 years ago or more. I bet a lot of puss would ooze out if

    • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday July 23, 2012 @08:41PM (#40744119)

      True, although the old argument that no one but your committee reads a PhD thesis generally applies. My MSc in comp sci was I think 180 or so pages. Of that probably 100 were menial background information, now days I catch people copying that section from wikipedia because it takes a long time to write and doesn't actually convey much useful information. Congratulations you can write on a topic anyone can look up on the internet or from a book. The actual work of the thesis, writing software and analysing how it behaved I couldn't have plagiarized because well, my boss watched me write it day after day for months, and we did a lot of analysis that turned out to be useless and had to be tossed and so on.

      With political science (and the arts in general) I would think it's a lot harder. What 'work' are you doing that couldn't just be written down by someone else already anyway? Your whole work could always be in question, certainly cases like that crop up in sciences, but it's much harder to steal someone else's work when you have to be doing the work in a lab full of people. For them, you have a position, you argue it with evidence, which is hard to distinguish from found an argument you like, you copied it, and found work that supports it and copied that too.

      I suppose this growing plagiarism problem highlights what's wrong with the dissertation format of masters and PhD's, which is that there's a lot of information in there which no one cares about, isn't really yours anymore than you're just re-writing it for the sake of demonstrating that you know the information exists, and that could probably be cut entirely from the process and not negate much. Let people replace 1 line with "this textbook or these articles cover all of the relevant background information'. Obviously you don't really want people graduating who can't (and don't) follow relatively simple rules, but at the same time, asking people to regurgitate 100 pages of material they just pulled out of a book isn't working to well, especially as grad students are relatively poorer, and don't really want to be wasting type typing something that isn't their own work anyway.

      And yes, learning to say what someone else did in your own way is a skill, but one you should be working on and demonstrating in your undergraduate thesis.

      Where I am now offers a 'Papers only' PhD, where you staple together 4 published papers and call that your thesis basically, which comes with its own problems related to when you've submitted your last paper but have no work to do, and no PhD and are stuck waiting around on low pay for feedback when you could be doing something useful that pays something, but I think that general idea is the future. If someone is going to plagiarize that work they're going to end up taking their supervisor who is usually a coauthor with them, and that person has a vested interest in keeping you honest.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        Your whole work could always be in question, certainly cases like that crop up in sciences, but it's much harder to steal someone else's work when you have to be doing the work in a lab full of people.

        It is plagarism for the liberal arts and falsified data [arstechnica.com] for the sciences.

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          No, it isn't. Sciences have plagiarism too. You can just *also* fake data. That's a problem that has been around since the advent of science and will persist forever. But there's a mechanism in place to deal with faked data, which is that you try and reproduce the results - and if you can't you now know something is fishy.

          Faked data is also, I would argue, fundamentally a more serious problem. If I pasted the statement Running scientific experiments is, frankly, a pain in the ass without attribution (t

      • by docmordin (2654319) on Monday July 23, 2012 @10:51PM (#40744999)

        [...] highlights what's wrong with the dissertation format of masters and PhD's, which is that there's a lot of information in there which no one cares about, isn't really yours anymore than you're just re-writing it for the sake of demonstrating that you know the information exists, and that could probably be cut entirely from the process and not negate much.

        All of the background information in a thesis serves to do three more things, when properly written, beyond what you mentioned, i.e., showing that you appear to know the material:

        - First, it should provide a nice, high-level summary of the research area you're focusing on, perhaps with a nod to related ones, so that a new researcher coming into the field can immediately get a foothold and decide what he or she needs to read to become more proficient. (Merely citing a slew of papers is great, but definitely not as meaningful as posting what work was done in them, providing some insights, etc.) In fact, being rather thorough in your literature review is a great way to garner plenty of citations: even if you don't intend for it to be a review paper, others will start viewing it as such.

        - A second, intertwined point is that it should provide enough background information for someone who is sufficiently well-versed in that discipline, but not necessarily your topic, to gauge the credibility of your work. For example, in my S.M. Applied Math thesis, I had some nice sections on (special) functions of bounded variation, gamma convergence, k-currents, and variolds, along with some novel proofs of some fundamental notions associated with each of those, as my committee members were not completely knowledgeable about each. Moreover, the proofs I included had the effect of making my later analyses simpler than if I had gone with some of the standard proofs, e.g., by L. Ambrosio, G. Dal Maso, etc.

        - Finally, it should explain how what you are doing is sufficient to merit an advanced degree.

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          First, it should provide a nice, high-level summary of the research area you're focusing on, perhaps with a nod to related ones

          this is the same as 'you know the the material' as in, you know what the current status of the research area is, and who did that work.

          A second, intertwined point is that it should provide enough background information for someone who is sufficiently well-versed in that discipline, but not necessarily your topic, to gauge the credibility of your work.

          in effect you can't solve this problem with your background research in your own words. You still have to reference the sources of that information anyway, so you are, in effect, pointing people at that work anyway. But yes, I'll grant you part of the idea with a thesis is that it's supposed to be self contained, my point is that idea is not all that necessary in this d

      • "Obviously you don't really want people graduating who can't (and don't) follow relatively simple rules, but at the same time, asking people to regurgitate 100 pages of material they just pulled out of a book isn't working to well, especially as grad students are relatively poorer, and don't really want to be wasting type typing something that isn't their own work anyway."

        This is all undergrad stuff. If you can't do this easily as a grad student, then... you probably shouldn't have a bachelor's degree, m

    • Do people actually think they can get away with this?

      They don't just think it, they actually do get away with it. Only folks who end up as the President of Romania or the Defense Minister of Germany get enough public attention that someone bothers to actually read their theses. I mean, it's not like they are written to be bestsellers or Hollywood film material. So given the small circle of readership, and the tiny time frame where someone might actually read it, it is easy for a lot of theses with dubiously cited material to go unnoticed.

      'Fess up, y'all P

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday July 23, 2012 @07:56PM (#40743695)

    A Doctorate gives you the right to doctor the data. But if you doctor first, your PhD might be moot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But most likely not his.
    You know, in the Eastern Europe, once you high enough up the social ladder you do not write dissertations, you let your henchmen hire people to do that.
    Chances are, he did not read either the source or whatever claimed to be his work.
    And since the people writing it know, that nobody reads it, they don't bother much making it look authentic.

    In Soviet Russia .... dissertation writes you .... off

    • You know, in the Eastern Europe, once you high enough up the social ladder you do not write dissertations, you let your henchmen hire people to do that.

      And plagiarism is just a special case of having someone else write it for you, right?

  • It seems that many of these former Soviet Bloc countries have a hard time finding honest leaders. Almost seems like western corporations are funding their elections!
    • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Monday July 23, 2012 @08:24PM (#40743949)
      Of course they are having a hard time finding an honest leader (if you can say that there can be such a thing as an honest leader of a country). Romania switched to being a free-ish state in 1989, meaning that all their politicians were either raised in the communist state or were trained by politicians raised in the communist state.

      It takes generations to break the cycle (if in fact the cycle will be broken).
      • by Frohboy (78614) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @06:12AM (#40747013)

        It takes generations to break the cycle (if in fact the cycle will be broken).

        Exactly. I'm a Canadian living in Romania for the past five years, and have been following Romanian politics as well as I can (as an "outsider") during this time. Of course, since I also have no long-term stake in the outcome of Romania's political chaos (as I will move home eventually, and could just move home sooner if things get really bad), I like to think that I'm a little more objective (though I'm undoubtedly somewhat influenced by friends and coworkers who do have a vested interest).

        Here are some relevant background tidbits for this story:

        • - There is currently a political struggle between the prime minister (Ponta) and president (Basescu) regarding the relative powers of the presidency and the parliament. (Not knowing anything about the Romanian constitution's delineation of powers, I honestly don't know who is overstepping what.)
        • - The parliament has suspended the president, pending a recall referendum on the 29th.
        • - The timing of this plagiarism scandal is very convenient, with regards to the damage it has done to Ponta's credibility, immediately prior to the impeachment. (This is where I am inclined to believe the conspiracy theories that the president's cronies probably had something to do with the plagiarism coming to light now. I'm not saying that the plagiarism didn't happen, as it seems quite certain that it did, but rather that the timing of the revelation is not coincidence.)
        • - The prime minister "earned" a PhD while sitting as a cabinet minister in parliament. His PhD supervisor (Adrian Nastase) was the sitting prime minister at the time. I chuckle at the thought of Victor Ponta excusing himself from a state dinner to go write a few pages on his dissertation. I also chuckle at the thought of a cabinet minister and prime minister sitting down to have grad student/supervisor discussions on edits to the dissertation. In my opinion, neither of them were actually directly involved in the writing of the thesis -- it was some party drones paid to throw something together that Ponta could claim as his own, and Nastase could endorse before a "committee" (of professors loyal to the party, or at least loyal to the favours Nastase could bestow). Those party drones recognized that it was purely a symbolic PhD (since Ponta is a politician, not an academic), so they lifted content from other sources.
        • - Nastase last month was convicted of using millions in state money to fund his run for the presidency in 2004, and sentenced to 2 years in prison. He supposedly tried to commit suicide to avoid prison, but "missed" (with a gun at point-blank range). This is a whole other bizarre scandal, not directly related to the plagiarism affair, but connected to the current political craziness in Romania.

        As the parent alluded to, the root problem is that both sides of this particular farce are backed by people who got their power under the former communist regime. Nastase and Basescu were both well-connected prior to the revolution. Ponta was a child in 1989, and hence has no connections of his own to the old regime, but was trained through his political career by Nastase.

        As a foreigner, I mostly shake my head at the current situation, and am not terribly optimistic about either outcome in the upcoming referendum. Politics in Romania truly does seem to be a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich [wikipedia.org]. I would like to see things improve, as the country and people are fantastic. I am confident that Romanian politics will eventually get better, but probably not within my time here.

      • by Xest (935314)

        Does it? other ex-USSR states seem to have done just fine.

        Apart from the Russian sponsored coup in the Ukraine which reverted the democratically led orange revolution, Romania is largely an exception rather than the rule. Belarus being about the only other example, because Belarus never stopped being a dictatorship. I don't really see much difference between the leadership of countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and so on than other European leaderships the only difference being that their c

        • by spyked (1878060)

          Does it? other ex-USSR states seem to have done just fine.

          It should be noted though that Romania wasn't part of the USSR before 1990, as weren't Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Germany etc.

    • It's no more scandalous than say, Italy. Or Malaysia, where shouting 'YOU'RE GAY!' was used twice (successfully) as a political smear.

      And speaking of western corporations funding elections - it's worse than being hounded to show a birth certificate or being swiftboated out of an election.

  • "The commission is concerned the Romania does not follow the law." Delicious. It makes the U.S. look boring in comparison. Though seeing Delaware sue New Jersey was fun. (DE claimed they owned the Delaware River and NJ had to dismantle its chemical processing plant, because it had pipes entering DE territory without permission.)

  • WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c0lo (1497653) on Monday July 23, 2012 @08:18PM (#40743897)
    How's this "news for nerds?" Or someone explain me why it even matters?

    (right... I started to feel I overstayed on /.)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How's this "news for nerds?" Or someone explain me why it even matters?

      (right... I started to feel I overstayed on /.)

      It's news for nerds because it involves academic plagiarism. It matters because it affects a whole country.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        How's this "news for nerds?" Or someone explain me why it even matters?

        (right... I started to feel I overstayed on /.)

        It's news for nerds because it involves academic plagiarism. It matters because it affects a whole country.

        I think (no... scratch that... I know for a fact) the last [bbc.co.uk] problem [france24.com] for Romania [guardian.co.uk] is whether or not the incumbent PM did or did not plagiarize his PhD thesis (there were 3 governments in the last 4 months...).

        Also... I didn't see posts on /. about Greece problems... believe me, what happens in Greece has more impact on the whole world than what happens in Romania.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23, 2012 @09:16PM (#40744377)

      I'm a nerd. From Romania. During the last 2 months I just watched in disbelief how my country's stability spiraled out of control because of the shadows looming behind the guy accused of plagiarism.

      The situation is ridiculous. For very very strong political reasons, he's been placed in charge of our government. The coalition of political and business people behind him is terrified because our justice system started to work (some very high profile people such as a former prime minister went to jail) and so he's tasked with being an important cog in the mechanism designed to overthrow our president, Traian Basescu, the person mainly responsible for healing the justice system.

      The guy accused of plagiarism, Victor Ponta, is an unbelievably despicable human being. He's a new type of face on our political landscape. Relatively young but raised by former top ranking communists. He is shameless in public discourses and has no moral values. Everything he ever did in his life he owes to his masters (including his wife. no kidding.) and thus has no instinct of preserving his accomplishments or public image. Recently, he shamed us on an European level causing top ranking EU officials to "beat" him into submission on some very very important issues.

      The problem with fighting him is that he can't really be accused of much because he's just a puppet with no merits raised by his masters. But there is a crack in this puppet. There's an old tradition with former communists to cover themselves with undeserved academic titles. They feel it washes them and makes them respectable. And that's exactly what he did. He had his doctoral thesis manufactured by someone and in this process about a 1/3 of the thesis was just taken with copy/paste from various books and publications without citation. Nature (www.nature.com) first signaled this and various other high profile European newspapers followed up.

      The plagiarism accusation is not so important in itself if it were not for the context where it occurs. The guy is a critically important cog in the mechanism designed to save a lot of rich / influent people from jail. However, we are an EU country and there have been precedents in EU with similarly ranked officials forced to resign because of improperly obtained academic merits. So there's strong pressure on him to resign if his doctoral thesis is officially proven to contain plagiarism. Trouble is the official way of proving the plagiarism is controlled by his government so there's no chance for that to occur but there's a strong backfire in lost reputation in the Romanian academic world if everyone just goes along with this blatant charade (the plagiarism is dead obvious and has been proven both by Nature / newspapers and even the University that granted his diploma).

      The bottom line is that the tension is very high with a very elaborate, political and special interests groups led, conspiracy to capture the justice system being in danger because this guy plagiarized his doctoral thesis. This really matters to me because I'll have to move out of the country if those groups succeed.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        ... overthrow our president, Traian Basescu, the person mainly responsible for healing the justice system.

        That's why you're posting as an A.C. :)
        I'll post as an A.C. too then ...

        For the rest of the world: our former president and his political party are also stealing & thieving ex-communists. Former president Traian Basescu is a child-punching, (2004) drunk-driving ex-captain who set his on ship on fire to collect insurance and incidentally set ablaze 38 others (1981, port of Rouen, France).

        There is no one worthy enough to be voted here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cbraescu1 (180267)

        During the last 2 months I just watched in disbelief how my country's stability spiraled out of control

        Romania today is just as stable as 2 months ago or 2 years ago. Sorry to pop your drama bubble, but there is no such spiral in Romania.

        For very very strong political reasons, he's been placed in charge of our government.

        That's how real democracies work: prime ministers get office only for political reasons. The stronger the reasons, the better. And yes, you seem unaware of basic rules of functional, Western-style democracy.

        Everything he ever did in his life he owes to his masters (including his wife. no kidding.)

        Chauvinist much?

        The bottom line is that the tension is very high with a very elaborate, political and special interests groups led, conspiracy to capture the justice system being in danger because this guy plagiarized his doctoral thesis. This really matters to me because I'll have to move out of the country if those groups succeed.

        Such paranoid statement is beyond ridiculous. Yeah, the Romanian nerd will have to emigrate if some despicable new politician conspiracy to cover-up his p

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Shag (3737)

        I arrived in Romania just in time for the "coup" but only for a couple weeks, and now that I've flown back out, I can non-anonymously second what the AC said. (Although to be fair, Ponta is hardly the first Romanian politician to plagiarize, from what I hear.)

        As an aside, I was able to walk unhindered right into a session of the National Executive Council of the Social Democratic Party while Ponta was speaking, and take a photo of him [www.iisd.ca] to prove I was there, so if he wants to stay in power, he'd better hope

    • It's not news for nerds, it doesn't matter and it shouldn't be on Slashdot.
  • are good at gymnastics...
  • When a crook accuses another crook... you know, to paraphrase...

  • Anyone remember the "greatest Romanian bio-chemist", "Professor" Elena Ceauescu?
    Throughout the communist rule they squandered their intelligentsia, by making them immigrate in mass due to intellectual, economic, ethnic and religious repressions (for example Liviu Librescu, a brilliant Romanian scientist who was killed at VA Tech massacure). At the same time such illiterate trash as Ceauescu has been given educational degree for free, and her dissertation has been written for her! It has always been quietly

  • "lack of respect in Romania for the fundamental principles of democracy"

    Oh well, I've lived 19 years in Romania, and visit back from time to time, and anyone who like me, spent any considerable length of time there, could've told them the above. It's just, westerners are so far "gone", they never believe it. Also, my experience is that most westerners don't care about central/eastern european politics on a daily basis, and so when something happens that triggers their attention, they suddenly start lookin
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well, that's just how "it's always been".

      you have to compare it with what it was 25 years ago. nowadays the romanians can at least leave their country to gather empty cans in other countries(at 20cents a pop collecting bottles/cans in parks can be quite lucrative). it's not that we don't care or know but there's not that much that we can do. it's a shame since if those countries(romania is not the only one) weren't so fucked up politically and justice-system operation wise they'd get a lot more of western m

  • Props to Romania for being the sort of country in which a politician's status rises through having a Ph.D. It sucks this guy faked it, but the fact that he felt it would benefit him enough for the faking to be worth it, that's a calculation that no US politician would make. In fact, I think that if a candidate with a Ph.D. ran for congress, the fact would be featured more in attack ads than in personal bios. ["Candidate A may have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, but does she understand the concerns of ordinary peo
  • A German website actually compared the PhD theses of several politicians against other material ... and it's crowdsourced ... the Romanians need something similar :(

    http://de.guttenplag.wikia.com/wiki/GuttenPlag_Wiki

    someone hotlink it for me because my skills suck :(

  • The paper is GPL, Stallman approved. So there's no plagiarism at all.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton

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