University plagiarism report slams Guttenberg

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University plagiarism report slams Guttenberg
Under scrutiny, Guttenberg. Photo: DPA

The chances for former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to return quickly to German politics seemed effectively buried on Wednesday after his alma mater said his thesis was full of other people’s work that he had deliberately copied.


Stephan Rixen, chairman of Bayreuth University’s investigating board said it was clear that the thesis was full of deliberate plagiarism and that even if it had been his own work, it had not deserved the summa cum laude grading it had received. The revelations of plagiarism forced Guttenberg to resign earlier this year.

Rixen said that although the board had restricted its investigation to sections of the thesis where copying was clear, it had concluded that Guttenberg had peppered it with deliberately pilfered passages from other people’s work.

Although Guttenberg has consistently received backing from Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, who has repeatedly said he expected to see Guttenberg return to politics for the conservative Christian Social Union, this was ruled out on Wednesday by the party’s general secretary Thomas Goppel.

He said ahead of the university’s report that any hopes Guttenberg might have had of a quick political comeback were effectively sunk.

“That is in principle, over,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday morning, “I think that being involved in such a story, with such a result and such allegations, one cannot talk about returning to politics tomorrow.”

Rixen said the investigation was, “absolutely not a Guttenberg tribunal,” but repeatedly stressed that the presence of two external experts on the board had been very useful in maintaining fairness and keeping what he said was severe ‘irritation’ among the academics in check.

Much had been taken from what he called ‘grey literature’ - papers that had not been published in specialist journals but were to be found on the internet.

He also said that Guttenberg had scattered his thesis with passages from newspapers – often old ones. Other unattributed sources included journals, as well as the academic service of the Bundestag where Guttenberg had been an MP at the time, he said.

The plagiarised passages were so widely taken apart and distributed throughout the thesis, as well as often being slightly changed, with one or two words altered, that it was clear that Guttenberg had done it deliberately, he said.

Guttenberg had declined to meet the investigators personally, but had written what Rixen said was a ‘moving’ account of how his studies had gone so wrong, talking of his enormous professional workload as well as his family commitments and his desire to not show any weakness.

Yet Guttenberg’s claim that this stress had led him to lose his overview of which sources he was using for the dissertation was not plausible, said Rixen.

“That would presume that the not unusual situation of a multiple burdens from career and family leads to unconscious plagiarism, for which generally there is no plausible empirical proposition, and over and above this, for which there are no reasonable concrete signs.

“The commission does not comprehend that someone who has worked for years on sources for his dissertation, can get into such a state of constant forgetfulness that the provably false statements everywhere could completely slip his mind.”

The damning account came as one of the authors whose work Guttenberg copied made a formal complaint, writing to the public prosecutor in Hof and increasing the chances of the former defence minister being prosecuted.

The prosecutor has already received more than 100 complaints against Guttenberg – but this is the first from an affected author, according to Die Welt newspaper. The prosecutor refused to comment officially and the author did not want to be identified.

“For the prosecutor it becomes considerably simpler to prosecute using unusual methods,” Berlin lawyer Jan Bernd Nordemann, who specialises in copyright law, told the paper.

“They no longer have to only depend on there being a public interest, which comes from the prominence and political importance of the perpetrator,” he said. The toughest sanction Guttenberg could theoretically face would be three year in jail, the paper said, although this is considered unlikely.

In other plagiarism news, Free Democratic MEP Silvana Koch-Mehrin refused to comment on Wednesday’s report in the Tagesspiegel newspaper that Heidelberg University was considering stripping her of her doctor title on accusations it was full of plagiarism.

She has been invited to make a submission to the university to make her case, the paper reported.

And Konstanz University has already acted in the case of Veronica Saß, the daughter of former Bavarian state premier and one-time German chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber, stripping her of her doctor title.

The university said on Wednesday that after a detailed check, it concluded that considerable parts of her thesis was plagiarised.

The Local/ DAPD/hc


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