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Pressure Rises On German Science Minister In Plagiarism Scandal 130

Posted by samzenpus
from the do-your-own-work dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Germany's minister for science and education, who is currently under investigation by her alma mater for plagiarizing parts of her Ph.D thesis, is facing new accusations: a total of 92 alleged incidents of plagiarism (German) have been documented by a blogger, who calls 'this number of violations inexcusable.'"
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Pressure Rises On German Science Minister In Plagiarism Scandal

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  • No fun (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tsa (15680) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:18AM (#41616577) Homepage

    I've been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a Proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I'm still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

    • Re:No fun (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RogueyWon (735973) * on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:20AM (#41616859) Journal

      Plagiarism does seem to be getting more and more common, with people getting ever more casual about it. When I was at University in the 90s, there were a small number of students caught engaging in plagiarism. If it was felt to be deliberate, it was basically immediate expulsion. If it was more likely to be carelessness or ignorance of proper academic processes, the consequences were still severe (being made to redo substantial chunks of work).

      Speaking a couple of months ago to a niece who's now at University, I was told that around a third of the students in her year for her subject had been caught copying material from the net. The response, a few sessions where they were sat down and told "Plagiarism is bad, mkay".

      I came across a hilarious example of (non academic) plagiarism a couple of months ago, while sifting a pile of job applications.

      This was the first sift and I had a pile of about 50 in front of me (which I was aiming to get down to about 15 or so by weeding out the obvious no-hopers). We had three other people sitting down with a similar pile (200 applications for 2 posts - this has been the norm for us over the last couple of years - I guess the job market is a scary place right now).

      Anyway, I'm only being fairly cursory about it, but even so, I spot that three of the applications seem to use the exact same stock few (clumsy, badly worded) paragraphs. I tap the first line of one of these paragraphs into google and the first hit is a "how to write a job application" site. A very poorly put together site (think site design that dates from the circa 1998 geocities era), written by somebody whose first language is probably not English. The paragraphs in question aren't even particularly relevant to our job application form (which is fairly specific and focussed).

      A quick e-mail around to the other people on the panel turns up a total of 6 forms which use text from that site. Clearly it had somehow managed to get a high ranking for a few of the relevant search terms. But seriously, you're competing against hundreds of other people and you decide to use material you've copy/pasted from something that is only one step away from having animated gifs of dancing cats? Unless said site had itself plagiarised its content from somewhere else, of course..

      • Re:No fun (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:48AM (#41616975)

        Plagiarism does seem to be getting more and more common, with people getting ever more casual about it. When I was at University in the 90s, there were a small number of students caught engaging in plagiarism.

        Are you sure plagiarism rates are increasing? Maybe it's simply that these days, with everything being digital, it is way easier to uncover plagiarism. I wonder what would happen if one was able to digitize the scientific literature of the last 100 years and then started plagiarism checking Phd. thesis from the same period with a computer.

        • Are you sure plagiarism rates are increasing? Maybe it's simply that these days, with everything being digital, it is way easier to uncover plagiarism.

          That or perhaps the many eyes of the Internet, bloggers, anonymous Wikileakers, etc. Maybe we can call it opensource journalism or at best the start of opensource government (ex. the anti-ACTA movement).

      • by gorzek (647352)

        I get tasked with reviewing resumes, too. Sometimes I'm completely baffled as to what someone was thinking when they wrote it. I've never seen one that was obviously lifted from an online template, though. Most people are simply not trained on how to write a good resume, and they don't want to take the time to learn--they want someone else to have done the work for them.

        As for cheating, it does seem like cheating is on the rise among students. Part of it is that it's easier now than it ever was in the past.

    • Re:No fun (Score:5, Funny)

      by alendit (1454311) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:34AM (#41616901)

      I have been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I am still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

      • Re:No fun (Score:5, Funny)

        by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday October 11, 2012 @07:13AM (#41617895) Journal
        I have been copied just the once. This bastard had duplicated a single of my articles I typed about the events of a symposium, with images and the whole lot, and used it in a general idea piece of writing. The most unpleasant part of it is that my university lecturer didn't worry about it. I am still round the bend, and it occurred 15 durations previously.
    • by dkf (304284)

      I've been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a Proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I'm still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

      I've had a student in a class plagiarize my own articles back at me. In retrospect it was both funny and sad, but at the time I was very exasperated that they could be that stupid. No, they didn't get a pass in the class. Nor did they get an opportunity to retake; their original work was even worse too, so much so that if they're reading here, I'd advise them to keep on plagiarizing instead of trying to have original thoughts.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        I've been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a Proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I'm still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

        I've had a student in a class plagiarize my own articles back at me. In retrospect it was both funny and sad, but at the time I was very exasperated that they could be that stupid. No, they didn't get a pass in the class. Nor did they get an opportunity to retake; their original work was even worse too, so much so that if they're reading here, I'd advise them to keep on plagiarizing instead of trying to have original thoughts.

        It could have been even funnier if one of your colleagues marked it without realising before you saw it!

        • by dkf (304284)

          It could have been even funnier if one of your colleagues marked it without realising before you saw it!

          To be honest, I forget whether it was myself or one of my colleagues who first saw this paper. The plagiarism was really obvious; it was a truly incompetent hack job that cribbed without citation from quite a few important papers in the field, and the student didn't even bother to make the formatting styles consistent. The indentation and font changed between paragraphs. Anyone knowledgeable enough to mark the subject on which the paper was supposed to be would have given similar marks.

          But the big fat zero

    • I've been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a Proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I'm still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

      I've been plagiarized once. This bitch had copied one of my articles I wrote in a Proceedings of a conference, with pictures and everything, and used it in an overview article. The worst part of it is that my professor didn't care about it. I'm still mad, and it happened 15 years ago.

      (Make that twice)

  • by Nyder (754090) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:21AM (#41616587) Journal

    Seriously, what example does that set that your Minister for Science and Education is a cheat?

    Go Germany!!!!!!

    • by will_die (586523)
      USA is still number one, the head of the department in charge of our taxes, aka IRS, is a tax cheat.
      • by azalin (67640)
        Well sometimes it takes a crook to catch the cheaters, but in that case they probably just settle things with a nice campaign donation.
    • by KDR_11k (778916)

      They're politicians, if you take them as an example for anything except being amoral scum you're doing it wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As an university teacher once told me: Copy from 1 is plagiarism, from 5 is an analysis, from 92 is summarizing the state of the question

    • by alendit (1454311) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:32AM (#41616635)

      Funny, but fundamentally wrong. Copy and give credit = standard scientific proceeding. Copy and say it's yours = plagitism. It quite easy, really.

      • by metacell (523607)

        Well, if something is generally known to experts in the field, there's no need to give credit; everyone already knows who discovered it and won't believe it's you.

        • by Endovior (2450520)
          Emphatically NOT true. 'Generally Known' and 'Known to Experts' are two entirely different sets, with very minimal intersection; at the levels of doctoral research, even the experts don't have time to read all the papers, and there really isn't a lot that can be said to be 'Generally Known'... so 'Generally Known to Experts' isn't a useful criteria. And even if something was so 'Generally Known to Experts' that citation really would be redundant, it's still useful to have the citation. That makes it easi
          • Thank you!

            I spent two months of my PhD, first trying to find an elusive proof for an obscure bit of math that I needed, that, according to the papers on the topic, was "available in the litterature", and then, after I finally gave it up, I painfully reconstructed the proof.

            "Available in the litterature" ticks me off, almost as much as "... from this, it is easily seen that ...".

          • by metacell (523607)

            I guess I was a bit vague -- I was thinking of things that were discovered decades ago and considered standard tools by now. For example, when you write a physics paper, you don't need to explain where you get the laws of motion and mechanics from. Or when you write a paper on molecular biology, you don't need to mention who discovered the structure of DNA.

            Anyway, I get your point.

        • by alexgieg (948359)

          Well, if something is generally known to experts in the field, there's no need to give credit; everyone already knows who discovered it and won't believe it's you.

          It's safer to err on the side of precaution. Why risk being called a plagiarist when all that's needed to avoid trouble is to change from this:

          Blah blah blah blah.

          To this:

          "Blah blah bah blah." (Author, "Title", p. Page)

          ?

          My guess is that most plagiarism out there is more a case of laziness than of anything else.

          Hmm... perhaps there's an unexplored market out there for auto-quoting services for lazy researches, who knows? Submit your unpublished paper, get all unintentional plagiarisms marked for review, click a button and have them turned into proper quotations in any style

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Schavan received her doctorate in educational science in 1980 from the University of Düsseldorf; her dissertation was entitled: "Person and conscience—Studies on conditions, need and requirements of today's consciences.

    This isn't science anyway, just brabra like most lawyers write about...

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Which is why I find most of these scandals pointless. Her PhD is worthless regardless whether she copied it or not.

  • This is really bad in the perspective of the country more than as a personal disgrace to a minister, if she is proved to be guilty.
    • by azalin (67640)
      It might be, if she had been the first this year. I have lost count on just how many PhD scandals involving ministers or high ranking politicians there have been in Germany in the last two years (double digits). The whole thing started last year when the minister of defence and current shooting star of the ruling party was found guilty of plagiarism in his PhD. After that, people started to take a closer look on other prominent figures PhDs. Guess what happened next...
      • by KDR_11k (778916)

        Yeah and the first time it happened the politicians were the only ones who thought it wasn't a big deal. Guess this is the reason why.

  • by Fusselwurm (1033286) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:12AM (#41616805) Homepage

    ... after Mr Guttenberg had to quit as Defence Minister because of plagiarism, it seems to have become a sport [wikipedia.org] to topple politicians this way. It's a fun thing to watch.

    • Just as it became customary for politicians to get a PhD and a fancy "Dr." to the name, a part of the public has decided to read their theses. This is how a democracy works.

    • by pnot (96038)

      I find it particularly entertaining because Germany seems reluctant to recognize foreign doctorates -- i.e. if you got your PhD outside Germany, you may not be allowed to call yourself "Dr.". The implication is that a German PhD is somehow intrinsically superior. The politicians seem to be doing a good job in dragging down the superior branding.

      Maybe this explains the "Dr. Dr. Dr."s and "Dr. mult"s I've heard about: writing three PhDs is probably easier if you're copy-pasting :-).

  • No actual plagiarism (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:40AM (#41616931)

    This is actually old news... And it has been quickly determined that the accusations are bogus. It's a desperate plot by political enemies against the minister.

    For example, the first instance of alleged plagiarism is the following text:
    Schavan's thesis:

    Dabei haben sich – vergröbernd dargestellt – zwei unterschiedliche Verhältnisbestimmungen herauskristallisiert: [...]

    Allegedly plagiarised text:

    Er hat nachgewiesen, daß jedes Tier mit seiner artspezifischen Umwelt in einem Funktionskreis verbunden existiert.

    Even if you don't understand German, it should be obvious that no text has been copied. The accusators of schavanplag call this "concealed" plagiarizing. There would be some truth to this if Schavan had actually known the source and paraphrased the text without citing. It is, however, equally likely that she had just came to the same conclusions based on the same sources.

    Some minor quality problems have been found, too. For example, some citations contain typos. While that should not happen, it's far from plagiarism. (Furthermore, the thesis was published in 1980. Without computers, it's much harder to avoid such errors.)

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @04:30AM (#41617113)

      This is actually old news... And it has been quickly determined that the accusations are bogus.

      Do you have a reference to this?

    • While that particular passage is very, very far from plagiarism, there are others that are a bit closer. A quick check did not yield any verbatim copies, though.

  • by acidfast7 (551610) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:53AM (#41616991)

    ... as shown by the website here: http://de.vroniplag.wikia.com/wiki/Home/English [wikia.com]

    As an academic who earned a PhD in the US and worked as faculty in Sweden and now Germany, you're being quite naïve if you don't think this happens in every country including the US. The difference is that the Germans self-police (in standard volunteer wiki-style), while the US and Sweden do not, to my knowledge.

    As far as it being a "sport", that's ridiculous. Being that we (Germany's inhabitants) take titles very seriously, with good reason, as the Chancellor has a doctorate in Quantum Chemistry, every thesis should be thoroughly scrutinized.

    I would wager my degrees that the percentage of pages plagiarized are very similar between the US, Sweden and Germany. We just find the plagiarism over here and hold politicians (and all others) accountable.

    • http://de.vroniplag.wikia.com/wiki/%C3%9Cbersicht

      The graphics at the bottom clearly translate for a non-German audience ... as do the lines through the "type" of doctoral degree directly above the graphic.

      For a non-German perspective, I now see how someone could perhaps see this "as sport" as nothing like this has happened anywhere else to my knowledge (and definitely not in the US, where you'd probably be DCMA'd or immediately sued for slander).

    • by Tom (822) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @04:33AM (#41617127) Homepage Journal

      The difference is that the Germans self-police (in standard volunteer wiki-style), while the US and Sweden do not, to my knowledge.

      Even in Germany, this is quite new, and only started when one infamous dazzler (who I'm not going to name because it would only improve his Google rankings) was uncovered, denied everything and went on the offensive as PR experts tell you to do in such cases - except that the Internet geeks banded together and ripped his PhD thesis apart page-by-page showing massive abuse so much that he not only lost his PhD but also had criminal investigations for copyright violations launched against him and public pressure forced him to give up all his political positions.

      He's since twice tried a comeback, both times the public made it clear that we don't like liars and fraudsters.

      That was a part of recent history that makes me proud, but it is very recent history.

      • by acidfast7 (551610)

        Sure, it's a new phenomenon.

        But you must admit that the time between the technology being available (all dissertations being publicly available in electronic PDF form and OCR being widely implementable, the wiki framework for crowd-sourcing a problem, and the media being willing to really hang a prominent member of a prominent noble family out to dry) and the rise of self-policing websites has been extremely fast.

        Also, he has 12 names plus a von and zu trailer. That alone would prevent me from typing his n

    • Has got nothing to do with the chancellor having a doctorate in quantum chemistry. She has supported the fraudster Guttenberg as long as it was possible.

  • I have yet to see even one example of plagiarism among the 92 examples given. The blogger seems unable to understand that it is common academic praxis to sum up e.g. a theory from a work. Of course such a summery will bear some resemblance to the original work, otherwise it wouldn't be a summery. But as long as there are good footnotes documenting this, it isn't a problem.

    One could in fact argue, that since the blogger doesn't seem to have found even one good clear case of plagiarism, the dissertation comes

  • Got rich.

    "Fake it until you make it" will beat honest work every time.

  • In addition to plagarized theses, there are a lot of completely fictitious degrees being flaunted.

    A few years ago a senior MIT administrator had to resign.

    Last year there was the CEO of a tech company.

    About 30 years ago, the President of the IEEE claimed to have a doctorate from a minor German university, but no one could find any record of it. However, his friends rallied around, and he was given an honorary doctorate.

    Then there are the unaccredited doctorates. E.g., when Ryerson Polytechnic In

  • ...find another metric than a thesis to award doctorates, but give "extra credit" for OC.

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