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Website finds huge parts of Guttenberg's thesis plagiarized

The Local · 21 Feb 2011, 15:22

Published: 21 Feb 2011 12:33 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Feb 2011 15:22 GMT+01:00

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Internet sleuths have set up a collaborative website, or Wiki, to comb through the 475 pages of zu Guttenberg's 2006 work and say there is evidence of unattributed copying on 270 of them.

When the 14 pages of contents and 65 pages of footnotes are taken into account, this represents a sizable part of the dissertation.

The suave and aristocratic 39-year-old on Friday temporarily gave up the right to call himself "doctor," pending an investigation into the claims by his alma mater, the University of Bayreuth.

He acknowledged there were mistakes in the work but denied plagiarism.

Nevertheless, the scandal is causing increasing damage to the star minister, who is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and whom polls frequently show is Germany's most popular politician.

There was some speculation in the press Monday that he was considering stepping down but an Emnid poll seemed to give him some support, with only 27 percent saying they wanted him to resign.

"Guttenberg is no longer skating on thin ice. The ice has already cracked," the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote.

But the minister, dubbed "Baron Cut-And-Paste" and "Zu Googleberg" by a gleeful press, has won backing both from Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the head of his conservative CSU party.

"The defence minister has my complete trust," Merkel said in Berlin on Monday. "I didn't appoint a scientific assistant or someone with a doctoral dissertation. This is about the job of defence minister, which he carries out extremely well, and for me that's what counts."

Support also came in the shape of a front-page editorial in respected business daily Handelsblatt.

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"Guttenberg represents the hope that Germany can move into the future ... the task that awaits the young politician is greater than the mistake he has made. He still has things to learn, including humility.

"But he should learn these things still in office. A weakened Guttenberg is better than no Guttenberg," the paper wrote.

AFP/DAPD/The Local/mry

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Your comments about this article

12:54 February 21, 2011 by marimay
Hah, what a loser. I guess that's what happens when you expect everything in life to be handed to you.
13:14 February 21, 2011 by Simon_Kellett
> Website finds two-thirds of Guttenberg's thesis plagiarized

But then:

> evidence of unattributed copying on 270 of them

So I think you mean two-thirds of the pages have *some* copying on it. Could be 1 sentence per page !

(Also: 270 / (475+65+14) = 0.487364621, more like a half !)
13:53 February 21, 2011 by iseedaftpeople

that hardly makes it any better. It makes no difference if two-thirds, by whatever measure, of his thesis were plagiarized or just ten pages. Because in the past, German courts have been pretty unequivocal about the question what and how much constitutes plagiarism in scientific publications. In other words, according to contemporary German case law, Guttenberg's thesis could be called the grand daddy of plagiarism, even if only half of the instances that were found by the guttenplag project prove to be accurate.

And a number of college professors interviewed on TV the last couple of days have said they have never seen a dissertation that was as riddled with stolen thoughts of others as Guttenberg's.

I have never liked Guttenberg, but now there's no denying that he must go.
14:47 February 21, 2011 by Krim
This link was provided to me by a colleague. Those who can read german may fin very interesting info.

18:05 February 21, 2011 by DrStrangelove

"So I think you mean two-thirds of the pages have *some* copying on it. Could be 1 sentence per page !"

It could, but it's not the case. The wiki is there for all to see. Most instances run over several paragraphs.

Why don't you just accept the fact that the baron has no clothes and get on with life.
19:08 February 21, 2011 by slawek
In my opinion scientific and professional titles should be banned - I guess in the past people were very easily impressed. But nowadays either you're doing science and thus you're a scientist or maybe you did some research in the past but are working in another field right now, so your past research isn't very much relevant.

If there were no titles like BSc, MSc and PhD people would start studying for the right reasons. And Mr. zu Gutenberg wouldn't have taken away an opportunity for a research position from a much more suitable candidate.
20:38 February 21, 2011 by Simon_Kellett
> Why don't you just accept the fact that the baron has no clothes and get on with life.

I never said he was innocent, nor did I mean to imply it. Nor do I care !! I was just pointing out logically and mathematically errors that, IMHO, should not have got past the editor !!
22:12 February 21, 2011 by Talonx
Angela said, "the task that awaits the young politician is greater than the mistake he has made."

Isn't that actually a really good argument for ousting him, moreso than an argument for keeping him? If he f#cks up a much smaller yet nevertheless important task should he really be trusted with the bigger one?

@ Slawek

I think youre definately onto something, though it's not the existence of titles that's the problem, it's the existence of people like Theo (narcissists) that really messes everything up.
01:33 February 22, 2011 by slawek
@Talonx Maybe I'm missing something indeed, however:

"..., it's the existence of people like Theo (narcissists) that really messes everything up."

What's the purpose for titles, other than satisfying ones own narcissistic needs. I mean it's clear to me, that the Ph.D. is a requirement particularly in research. It has the function of the qualification of individuals. But so does a wielder license, and you don't see wielders waving their certificate around people.

A defense attorney isn't necessarily better, because he's got a Ph.D. In fact in Germany most of them choose a research subject that has very little to do with their upcoming career, but is easy and involves as little risk as possible.
07:34 February 22, 2011 by auniquecorn
They need to disect Frau Merkels thesis and see what pops up.
15:10 February 22, 2011 by TheBride
And what does the University committee who heard his thesis defense have to say? If none recognized so much plagiarized material, what does that say? I agree with the statement that the German culture puts too much emphasis on titles. Besides, no one has said whether (or not) his basis hypothesis was flawed, or is this a matter of abysmal writing skill and rushed effort? Move on, Germany.
19:59 February 25, 2011 by flagwag
Using software to check student reports, I see plagiarized papers on a daily basis. So it's no shock to me to hear of a dissertation with chunks of copy-and-paste paragraphs in it. Trust me, his is not the only plagiarized dissertation. He just happened to get caught, because he has political enemies combing through his life and work.

Now were all the academics who plagiarized some part of their work get fired because of it, there would be tons of positions to fill.

At this day and age, with online research tools freely available to any student, checking for plagiarism is just as easy. Why did his dissertation committee not check his work?
20:18 February 26, 2011 by Ich
Taking the Bill Clinton "I'm Sorry" cop out doesn't cut it now, or then. However valuable a liar may seem to be, in the end, he'll do more damage than harm-you can never trust him again, and he's no example of success. People often fail, but leaders can't afford to. If our leaders can't adhere to normal ethics, that doesn't mean "lower the standards": it means, we're all in trouble. Bill Clinton ushered in a new era of American Immorality that we have yet to see the bottom of. The Viet Nam generation had to learn, the hard way, that rules against free sex and drugs were more wisom thqan oppression. We had our leaders and entertainer gurus, but number who choked on their own vomit should have been a clue, to all.
15:04 March 1, 2011 by BenW
@ flagwag: I have also, in the course of marking undergraduate assignments, come across vast swathes of material plagiarised from the internet, textbooks and journal articles. However, given that I have managed to complete my BA, MA and am almost done with my PhD, without plagiarising a single sentence, I suspect that the reality is that those students who do cheat are not the ones who stay in academia. Hence Guttenberg becomes a politician, rather than a professor. Cheating requires more ambition and less integrity that you find in the average academic. If we wanted to be rich or famous or 'important', we wouldn't sit festering in universities. The vast majority of academics do what we do because we are passionate about knowledge and about teaching. There will, of course, be a few who have plagiarised, but they will be a very small minority and I am concerned that your comment - regardless of its intentions - acts to normalise this ethically abhorrent practice.
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