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German Science Minister Faces Plagiarism Scandal

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the do-your-own-work dept.

Education 166

An anonymous reader writes "Germany's minister for science and education, Annette Schavan, faces allegations that substantial parts of her PhD thesis have been copied without proper attribution. According to the Wordpress blog that brought up the accusations(German), 56 out of 325 pages of her thesis contain instances of plagiarism. Schavan is the same minister who called an earlier instance of plagiarism by the former German defense minister to be 'embarrassing.'"

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166 comments

And in other news (4, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#39876323)

Politics tends to attract lying hypocrites. Maybe at this stage its a self fulfilling prophecy, everyone thinks politicians are lying greedy people, so only lying greedy people apply for the job. Perhaps if we all started talking about how politicians are upright and honourable it might give them something to aim for.

Re:And in other news (5, Insightful)

Certhas (2310124) | about 2 years ago | (#39876357)

That's cynicism dressed as realism. The plagiarism in question seems mild and perfectly explainable by honest mistakes. Which was absolutely NOT the case for von Guttenberg, the case she called embarrassing.

Not a fan of her policies, but it's ridiculous to hold politicians to absurdly high standards and react with cynicism when they fail them. That's not the way towards better politics and politicians.

It's plagiarism (5, Informative)

fedt (1096053) | about 2 years ago | (#39876407)

http://schavanplag.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/plagiatsdokumentation_schavan_020512.pdf [wordpress.com]

Starting at page 7 is where it gets good...and definitely not explainable. It reminds me of the elementary school "We have zero tolerance for plagiarism. It's easy not to plagiarize! Change some verb forms, add a few prepositions, and reposition clauses!"

Plagiarism and Attribution (0)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 2 years ago | (#39876461)

I am not defending Ms. Annette Schavan nor condoning what she did, but I gotta say that it's getting harder and harder these days to finish a major thesis without actually adopting (copying?) ideas from online sources

And regarding "Attribution" --- Unless you keep a very detailed log of at what date and time you visited which site and what information interested you and who is the author of that article, it is very hard to keep tract of what you've copied from whom and where you've copied it from

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876515)

it's getting harder and harder these days to finish a major thesis without actually adopting (copying?) ideas from online sources

Remove the word "online" from that sentence and it apply it to any given time.

Unless you keep a very detailed log of at what date and time you visited which site and what information interested you and who is the author of that article

Yes, this is exactly what you do.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (5, Insightful)

Cenan (1892902) | about 2 years ago | (#39876523)

I am not defending Ms. Annette Schavan nor condoning what she did, but I gotta say that it's getting harder and harder these days to finish a major thesis without actually adopting (copying?) ideas from online sources

And regarding "Attribution" --- Unless you keep a very detailed log of at what date and time you visited which site and what information interested you and who is the author of that article, it is very hard to keep tract of what you've copied from whom and where you've copied it from

Being hard is no excuse for not doing it. Keeping track of your sources is not a huge task, since the information most often is available right in front of you when you're reading someones work already.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877015)

the hard part is that certain clinicly insane lecturers set the bar insanely low like 5 words in a row.

If you read a book and then a year later write something on the subject it's exceptionally easy to use a 5 word phrasing from the book without realising that you're quoting it or even realising that that's where you learned the fact. You then cite some other source with the same facts perfectly innocently.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877027)

Exactly, And it's supposed to be hard. Really fucking hard. This a PHD, almost the highest level of education, your doing something that nobody has done before. It had better be hard.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876599)

And regarding "Attribution" --- Unless you keep a very detailed log of at what date and time you visited which site and what information interested you and who is the author of that article, it is very hard to keep tract of what you've copied from whom and where you've copied it from

And that is what grad students are told to do before they start working on their thesis. They are also told that incomplete/missing citations like those being described are considered to be a form of plagarism that can lead to serious consequences. Its hard to imagine a PhD candidate not receiving such warnings, not being aware that sloppy work absent any fraud can still constitute plagarism, and not keeping detailed notes of what they are reading and being quite manic in their citations.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39876665)

There's a simple rule. Either you came up with an idea yourself, in which case you need to show all reasoning steps and all experimental tests you performed, or you didn't, in which case you need to cite it. If you can remember enough to reproduce every step of someone else's work without referring to the original paper, but can't remember the paper you read it in, then you've got a very unusual mind.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (2)

Ragzouken (943900) | about 2 years ago | (#39876731)

Is it really that unusual to be able to remember the details of something without remembering the details of where you learnt it?

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (5, Insightful)

AlecC (512609) | about 2 years ago | (#39877067)

It is unusual to copy it verbatim, or nearly so, without knowing what you copied it from. If you copy, you have a duty to attribute. Even if you are only copying into your notes, you should copy the attribution in case you put it into a paper. Both out of respect for the original author, and for readers of your paper who may legitimately ask how you knew what you state. We don't want scientific papers where the answer to "how did you know that?" is "I read it on the web somewhere".

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (4, Interesting)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39876881)

[raises hand]

Many moons ago (almost a whole yonk) I could remember fragments of a poem, but not its name. Couldn't find it in bookstores, nobody I asked (including som Eng Lit grads) had heard of it [1]. I wondered if I'd made it up, perhaps as a school exercise - today's homework is to write a poem in the style of ... - or if I was just a bit barmy.

Then I was at a party, in a house I'd never been to before. I picked a book of poetry off a shelf and not only was the poem in it, there was a marker in the exact page.

I also find I get confused about whether I saw something on TV or read it, and sometimes which language I read it in. I occasionally don't notice if words are upside down.

tl;dr version: stuff gets in my head sometimes and I have no idea how it got there.

[1] Brin & Page were still in short trousers.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (3, Interesting)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#39877065)

Of course that's casual memory and not research. Research is supposed to be documented.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (1)

AlecC (512609) | about 2 years ago | (#39877099)

tl;dr version: stuff gets in my head sometimes and I have no idea how it got there.

Which is fine, provided when you quote it, you say that it is a fragment, not by you, whose source you cannot recall. But the standards for scientific papers are higher than the standards for poetry. Poetry stands on its own: either it is good in its own right, or not. But a scientific paper is a record of work done or ideas correlated. If it is data or concepts from elsewhere, you should say so, Otherwise it should be your work. And if you cannot say where you got something from. you cannot include it.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (2)

deroby (568773) | about 2 years ago | (#39877009)

Weird.
I'd rather think that if you can remember the source of everything you know YOU got a very unusual mind.

In my case I tend to remember the gist of things, usually just enough to (somewhat) reconstruct the entire subject, but fluff like where it came from, who wrote it, what form or language it was in etc. gets filtered out over time... That said, sometimes I can link two items knowing they came from the same source but I'd still have no clue what that source might have been...

YMMV, but I'd be careful about generalising how peoples mind work and/or how they use it.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (3, Insightful)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39876711)

A thesis is about describing your own, original, significant ideas and contributions to science. If you don't remember whether something is your own contribution or whether you saw it on a web page somewhere, it's probably not significant enough to put into a thesis in the first place.

Re:Plagiarism and Attribution (1)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#39877061)

As someone who finished a dissertation a few years ago, who has written scads of blog entries on my field, several articles, and a book chapter, I call BS on the notion that "it's hard" to avoid plagiarizing. I started college before the Internet. Research is easier now compared to then. And it's easier to cheat because ou don't actually have to type in the material you're swiping. But it's still easy to avoid plagiarism. All you have to do is record your sources when you take notes. Then credit them when you write: Joe Blow says rhyma lima ding dong. Easy peasy.

Re:It's plagiarism (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876871)

It seems to me that plenty of this is perfectly explainable by failed bookkeeping in the notes. I mean, this is a thesis from pre electronic times. Quite possibly this could come about by making handwritten notes while reviewing a text, and later misstaking text that was copied for your own summary of what was written. Which also explains the minor variations that appear. They are of the kind of stylistic alterations you would make when copying your own text, not when trying to change the style to avoid being caught plagiarizing.

In all cases the texts that were plagiarized were also marked, though decidedly insufficiently. Hence the category Bauernopfer. It bears explanation, absolutely, possibly also a revision of the text, to clearly mark the authorship where apropriate.

But it affects a very small fraction of the text in her dissertation, another marked difference to von Guttenberg. How severe this is is hard to judge. In particular for a non-expert it's not easy to tell quickly how much this impacts the original contribution in the dissertation. In either case, by what we can see so far it's in a completely different League from the von Guttenberg case.

Re:It's plagiarism (1)

Peter H.S. (38077) | about 2 years ago | (#39877083)

>Starting at page 7 is where it gets good...and definitely not explainable.

That isn't good example of plagiarism: She gives full sources for the content including specific page numbers in her foot note. Her (anonymous?) accuser can't find any fault in that, but claims that it is plagiarism anyway. Presumably because her accuser doesn't understand what paraphrasing is, or won't accept it as a useful academic tool.
Her accuser claims that this text section /may/ be misinterpreted because of subtle wordings may suggest that not everything in the section is paraphrasing, but her own analysis (of Freud). But again, that is a misunderstanding of paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is a dynamic interpretation of the text content, not just a summery.

Is the section a page 7 too long? Who sets such standards anyway, and where are such rules written down? Is it OK to accuse somebody with plagiarism using standards that few academics would agree on? Should she have broken it up using direct citations. Perhaps, but perhaps not. One can discuss such matter, but accusing one of the serious offence of plagiarism even though they give full sources, is taking things too far.

Holding PhD candidates to high standards ... (5, Informative)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 years ago | (#39876465)

... but it's ridiculous to hold politicians to absurdly high standards and react with cynicism when they fail them ...

Politicians? Isn't this really the case of holding a PhD candidate to a really high standard?

Re:And in other news (1)

Sique (173459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876481)

Cynism is realism. Kynismos (greek: ) in the tradition of Aristhenes and Diogenes of Sinope is an attempt to avoid the daily lies and moralisms which distort reality to gain some artificial and superficial cohesion between people. Instead the cynics abolish personal property and rank and try to get back to a natural, real and frugal life style and at the same time try to lift the veil of conventionalism by being provocatively and brutally honest against everyone.

Re:And in other news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876619)

Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.

Re:And in other news (3, Funny)

Stormlight (1550267) | about 2 years ago | (#39876803)

Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.

Kimono

Re:And in other news (1)

worf_mo (193770) | about 2 years ago | (#39877031)

Ha! Of course! Kimono is come from the Greek word himona, is mean winter. So, what do you wear in the wintertime to stay warm? A robe. You see: robe, kimono. There you go!

A great movie.

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877097)

Given that it's derived from a Japanese term meaning ("Wear(ing)" (Ki/Chaku) + "Thing"/'"Object" (mono)), I doubt it.

Re:And in other news (4, Insightful)

JosKarith (757063) | about 2 years ago | (#39876603)

This is what they do to themselves. Any sign of weakness by one is immediately pounced upon by the others, desperate to destroy an opponent or rival, little realising that they will receive as little mercy in return when their time comes. A compromised politician lashes around like a dying octopus trying to grab others for support who in turn desperately try to shrug them off to avoid being dragged down with them...

It's actually quite beautiful in a Dawinian kind of way, though the creature that will be the end-product of this selection process will almost certainly be a true horror of conscienceless manipulation.

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877139)

a true horror of conscienceless manipulation.

Mitt?

Re:And in other news (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39876707)

Let's wait for a complete analysis; right now, we don't whether it's limited to a few isolated passages or more pervasive.

I have to say though: plagiarized or not, the thesis looks awful. People get Ph.D.'s for that kind of cr*p?

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876373)

A technocracy produces an elite cadre of lying science/engineering postgrads.

An English democracy produces an elite cadre of lying lawyers.

(Germany's some way between the two.)

Politician or big business executive, the difference is artificial and achieves nothing but to divide and conquer you as you argue that one is good and the other is bad.

The honest guy, whether he clocks in 9 to 5 or is running his small business, will never climb very high. But he will always know that he is where he is through honest means.

Not that the psychopath will necessarily think any different.

Oh well - fuck the Ozymandian bastards.

Re:And in other news (1)

TFAFalcon (1839122) | about 2 years ago | (#39876833)

The hones guy will also soon realize that dishonest people can make sure that anything he earns goes to them. So in the end he'll go bankrupt with an easy conscience.

Re:And in other news (2)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | about 2 years ago | (#39876377)

Don't know.
There are upright and honourable people in politics. There's black sheep, like everywhere, and maybe politics has more than its fair share of them.

But seeing how the media turn and twist every word you utter, and publish them again completely out of context, I imagine it's difficult to be upright and straightforward.

By the way, in Germany the Pirate Party is very big, at least in the news, these days. Most of them, even those that are in the spotlight, are political amateurs. As such, they dont all always talk ... cautiously with media (also, a lot of the political discussion happens in public fora etc). Recently, news show "Die Tagesschau" made my day when they quoted a party member saying something like "all parties contain 10% idiots". Never before had I heard the rather profane word "idiot" in that show. And I fear I wont hear it again soon ;)

Re:And in other news (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | about 2 years ago | (#39876409)

Perhaps if we all started talking about how politicians are upright and honourable it might give them something to aim for.

How important is it that we keep a straight-face while saying that?

Re:And in other news (1)

solidraven (1633185) | about 2 years ago | (#39876413)

It's impossible to write anything in the social sciences field without some level of plagiarism. Since it's near impossible to make hard arguments you need to cite other works.

Re:And in other news (1)

Sique (173459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876499)

There is a whole world between citing other sources and outright plagiarism. The first one attributes the intellectual effort to the people who actually made it, and the last one just claims other people's work as its own.

Re:And in other news (1)

uglyduckling (103926) | about 2 years ago | (#39877109)

Citing is not plagiarism. Plagiarism is copying from other works and claiming them as your own. Whether you quote directly, or paraphrase, it is absolutely essential to clearly indicate at each point throughout a work when ideas are not your own. It's not that hard to do. Probably in this instance it was more sloppy work than anything else, which should attract criticism from the supervisors at the university as well as the author of the dissertation.

Re:And in other news (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#39876415)

What disturbs me is how politicized science has become. Science should be a discipline of absolutes. A revelation like this calls into question every decision she has made making her an ineffectual leader.

"social" science (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 2 years ago | (#39877011)

What disturbs me is how politicized science has become. Science should be a discipline of absolutes.

Not science, but social "science". Which includes the study of politics ('nuff said) and shares its mistaken equivalence of victory in an inflamed debate [wikimedia.org] with factual accuracy. Social "science" is and always has been infested with absurd propositions, bad experiments, misinterpretation of results, paucity of data, appalling innumeracy, and unsupported dodgy inferences dressed as fact. Goal-oriented plagiarism to get a doctorate is just par for the course.

Those of us actually in science don't regard social studies as a science for these and many other reasons.

Re:And in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876615)

Politics tends to attract lying hypocrites ...as opposed to what, business, banking, fox news and the catholic church?

Erste (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39876329)

Aber das Informazionen wollen frei sein!

Re:Erste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876437)

Erste

Wow, girl on Slashdot that knows a litte German!

Re:Erste (2)

Sique (173459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876509)

The information are free, and Mrs. Schavan was free to cite them. But plagiarism means something completely different: claiming free information as the own effort.

Her Apology (2, Funny)

snowgirl (978879) | about 2 years ago | (#39876331)

When asked for comment, she responded, "Der Vorwurf, meine Doktorarbeit sei ein Plagiat, ist abstrus." ("The accusation that my doctoral work was plagiarism is abstruse!")

Re:Her Apology (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | about 2 years ago | (#39876337)

So she doesn't deny it.

Re:Her Apology (2)

moronoxyd (1000371) | about 2 years ago | (#39876389)

Well, you should not translate the German 'abstrus' with 'abstruse'. Used in this sentence, the translation would be 'absurd'.

So she is denying the claim, if a bit weakly.

BTW, if you want to translate single words or short phrases from English into German or vice versa, I suggest using leo.org: http://dict.leo.org/ende?lang=en&lp=ende&search= [leo.org]

This offers several possible translations instead of just one that may not be the right one for the given context.

Re:Her Apology (1)

snowgirl (978879) | about 2 years ago | (#39876399)

Wiktionary lists for abstruse [wiktionary.org]: "remote from apprehension; difficult to comprehend or understand; recondite; as in abstruse learning."

Honestly, I had never heard of the word in English before...

Re:Her Apology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876743)

politician's apology

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2007/02/26/1763692.aspx

Re:Her Apology (1)

w4rl5ck (531459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876967)

Haha, Ok after reading your explanation of the joke two posts below, he'll yes THIS IS FUNNY :^)

It's hard to belief that this was stupidity.

May be the same secretary wrote the press report for her, that did it for Guttemberg a while ago?

Still ROFLMAO...

It's more about how to quote correctly (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876379)

What they found in her thesis is that she rightly referenced the authors she quoted word for word, but didn't reference the authors again in following sentences that were in relation to those first quotes in 56 cases.

Its still plagiarism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876511)

Yes, but that is still plagiarism. That was one of the things I was preemptively cautioned about by my advisors before I even started writing my thesis. Hence the common citation abbreviation "Ibid".

At best one could say she was sloppy. Not nearly as bad as fraudulent but still something that *should* get your thesis rejected. However in the sloppy case you should be allowed to clean it up and resubmit.

Re:Its still plagiarism (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#39876771)

Nonsense. You don't need to give the reference twice, if you place two quotes. Just make sure it's clear that it is a quote, by using italics or whatever.
All that matters is that a reader can figure out that it is a quote, and where it came from. You should place the reference again only if you refer to a different source in between your two quotes.

Anyway, on a brighter note, this will teach those politicians that it is important to protect your online data. Most of them are still in the "I have nothing to hide, and nothing to fear category".

Re:Its still plagiarism (1)

uglyduckling (103926) | about 2 years ago | (#39877123)

What she appears to have done (as much as I can figure out via Google translate) is quote a source verbatim, with a reference, then continue to paraphrase from the same source for several paragraphs more without making that clear. Someone familiar with the literature of her field would probably recognise that. It is plagiarism in the letter of the law, but it was probably not her intention to deceive, more likely it was sloppy work on her part and sloppy supervision from the university.

Re:It's more about how to quote correctly (2)

dvdkhlng (1803364) | about 2 years ago | (#39876663)

What they found in her thesis is that she rightly referenced the authors she quoted word for word, but didn't reference the authors again in following sentences that were in relation to those first quotes in 56 cases.

No, what they found is that she copied other author's text including footnotes [wordpress.com]. At other places she reformatted in-line references [wordpress.com] of the original into footnotes of her text. Whether she copied the text literally or not; if you copy references&footnotes, keeping the original order and semantics, it's pretty clear that you didn't think of your own. I don't think reformulating and reformatting skills entitle you to a PhD.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876387)

... or at least, I'm not seeing it.

Page 1 of http://schavanplag.wordpress.com/ has a list of six "prominent" plagiarisms, and even there, it simply looks like two people quoting from the same (acknowledged) source. This guy, whoever it is, obviously has no pieces of text he can put side-by-side that contain more than five identical words in a row.

I mean, look at this one: http://schavanplag.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/seite-280/

Two people, separately, each come to the stunning conclusion that a bad conscience, over a long period of time, will have a bigger impact on your life than a good conscience. And that's one of the good "matches".

Mudslinging, that's all.

Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at facts (5, Informative)

w4rl5ck (531459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876405)

1. there has not yet been any scientific peer review of the claims. It's all unproven and should be treated as such

2. the thesis was written in 1980. This is quite a different area regarding both scientific citation rules as well as the abililty to "copy+paste" in today's sense.

Using ideas and deriving information from former work is not unusual, and from what I have read in analyses of the analyses, it's quite unclear how much of these so-called plagiarized pages will really be named as such by a university committee (that will most likely be instantiated).

Also worth to mention that the thesis (for all 350 pages!) received an scl grade.

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (2)

Tom (822) | about 2 years ago | (#39876493)

1.) The method used to find the unattributed quotations is using a strong peer-review system. It's not the same thing as scientific peer-review, because it's not an experimental science but a document review. It has proven unassailable in previous cases.

2.) The basic rules broken here haven't changed. This is not a matter of how to quote your source, but that you need to list your source. The claim is that she has copied whole passages from other sources without indicating that fact, passing the text off as her own instead.

The problem is and never has been using ideas and deriving information from other sources. Much of science is about that. The problem is the wholesale verbatim lifting of entire passages (allowed) without marking them as quotes (not allowed).

what's "unfair" about it? (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39876529)

The web site lists a bunch of passages and analyzes them; I don't see anything "unfair" about that. It doesn't demand that the thesis be withdrawn and passes no judgment. On the other hand, once people get started, they tend to find more.

"Peer review" is a mechanism for vetting scientific results for publishing. It has little to do with adjudicating plagiarism claims. A university inquiry may also be held by "peers", but it's a different process. And plagiarism was very much a violation of rules of scientific conduct in 1980 already.

Having looked at some of the passages, there seem to be some improprieties there, but probably not yet enough to condemn the entire thesis. The thesis itself, however, looks like a bunch of b.s. to me. People get Ph.D.'s for such nonsense?

Re:what's "unfair" about it? (1)

w4rl5ck (531459) | about 2 years ago | (#39876957)

The page and it's results are fair, even while they need to be discussed. I completely agree, and never said different (or meant to do so).

But headline and summary of this slash dot news item is kind of unfair (at least it carries a strong tendency), to begin with, and I'm afraid a lot of people will start talking bull about it without even getting some of the background. Thats the unfairness my headline related to, sorry for not being more clear about that.

And of course, if the claims proof to be true - which from my perspective can only be judged by people who know what they are talking about, and step out of anonymity. I guess the people I'm looking for are the professors at the university which let that thesis pass, plus may be independend scientists.

I myself feel not up to figuring out what's going on, as I have literally no clue about this part of science, and I have no idea what would be common sense and common phrasing, or wrong citation.

So let some experts (trustworthy ones, obviously) do their job, then build our own judgement based on that. At least that's what I'm going to do.

To dive one level deeper here:

Citation is a pretty complicated business, especially in the more "virtual" sciences, and especially in Germany. You can easily find proper thesis that have longer footnote lists on EACH page than text, and still they are very valid because of the conclusions DRAWN from those citations, which can only make up 5% of the cited texts to deliver firm ground for the conclusions.

That's the tricky bit about those. Incorrect citation does NOT mean that there is no scientific value in the conclusive part of the thesis, nor does it mean that the conclusive part is invalid. It just means that some pages of the work miss attribution, and it depends if those pages are "firm ground" - or the conclusion itself.

So, this is all a bit more complicated than just downloading an MP3 from mega upload and getting caught.

Re:what's "unfair" about it? (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39877047)

Citation is a pretty complicated business,

No, it's not; it's a purely formal question: if you didn't come up with it yourself, you have to attribute it. It doesn't matter what academic discipline it is in. You usually don't need to be an expert in figuring out whether a passage is plagiarized or not; while there are some border cases, in many cases, it's pretty obvious. And the identity of the person finding these passages also doesn't matter.

A few plagiarized passages can be excused by accident, sloppiness or false memories, but at some point it crosses a line where deliberate plagiarism is the only plausible explanation. Schavan's thesis looks close to that line; we need to wait for the final tally to see whether it crosses it.

Incorrect citation does NOT mean that there is no scientific value in the conclusive part of the thesis, nor does it mean that the conclusive part is invalid.

Plagiarism is a violation of standards of scientific conduct, no matter whether it affects the conclusions of the thesis or not. If there is significant plagiarism present in the thesis, she should lose her degree even if the thesis otherwise is sound.

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (4, Insightful)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 2 years ago | (#39876703)

For all what it's worth, the attitude towards plagiarism was far stricter in the 80ies than it is today. I've studied in the nineties and I'm pretty sure that any student who got caught even just cheating in one exam at my universities (Tuebingen and HU Berlin) would have been dragged in front of an honor comission and expelled from university. Although officially the rules have not changed, I'm not so sure this would happen nowadays.

Another big difference is that in the 80ies it was demanded and accepted that you have to read all significant literature without any exception in a doctoral thesis. If you weren't able to do that your topic was too broad. Formally, this requirement is still in place, but I don't think that anybody thinks it can be taken seriously nowadays, as the amount of literature has exploded.

To cut a long story short, even "just" paraphrasing a few pages without mentioning the origin is not allowed today and was unthinkable in the 80ies, and since you weren't able to make copy&paste errors showing that there was intention to plagiarize is much easier in that time period.

To cut a long story short: Yes, we shouldn't judge her prematurely, but if there is any passage longer than a paragraph in her thesis that has been copied, then there can be no doubt that she intentionally plagiarized and the time period only makes things worse.

The real problem is that it's pretty clear that the politicians who have been caught didn't actually write their thesis, but paid a ghostwriter for doing it. Guttenberg is the best example, he inadvertantly revealed at press conferences that he didn't have a clue what was in his own thesis! These people are crooks and imposters and have no place in politics. (The ghostwriters couldn't talk even if they wanted to, because their acts likely fall under criminal law and their principals would, of course, do everything to stab them in their back.)

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876761)

Another big difference is that in the 80ies it was demanded and accepted that you have to read all significant literature without any exception in a doctoral thesis.

That's a vacuous statement which could apply at any time. "Which literature must I read?" "All significant literature." "How do I know it's significant?" "Because you must have read it."

Formally, this requirement is still in place, but I don't think that anybody thinks it can be taken seriously nowadays, as the amount of literature has exploded.

That depends entirely on the field. Just because there's more academic output in total it doesn't mean that any individual field produces more output of significance. Many fields are producing much less interesting output than thirty years ago. And what counts as relevant to your field has been narrowed.

What we have today are lots more people competing at undergraduate level. But there hasn't been an explosion in intelligence, and the environment at PhD level remains unchanged, unless you've jumped on the bandwagon of some ephemerally fashionable field (and they've always existed).

These people are crooks and imposters and have a place in politics.

FTFY.

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877095)

Another big difference is that in the 80ies it was demanded and accepted that you have to read all significant literature without any exception in a doctoral thesis.

That's a vacuous statement which could apply at any time. "Which literature must I read?" "All significant literature." "How do I know it's significant?" "Because you must have read it."

I agree that it's not very precise, but it's not that vacuous. Actually I shouldn't have written "significant", the rule is that you needed to have read all literature about the topic at hand. Basically, what it means in practice is that you should never say "I haven't read that" in a German doctoral defense if you want to pass it. Not that it's harder to pass a German defense than anywhere else, it's just that the German doctoral system is historically a bit different from the PhD system. What's most ridiculous about these plagiarism cases is that at least in the humanities virtually anyone can get his stupid degree. I've put in hard work into my thesis, but I've seen so many lazy morons get a PhD or doctoral degree for practically nothing that in restrospective I'm sure it was worth it. How stupid must one be for not being able to write a thesis in, say, literary science or philosophy and successfully defend it on his own?

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (1)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#39877093)

That matches my experience as a US college student in the 80s. But I don't buy the claim about inadvertent copying and pasting. "Oops, I stumbled, the mouse flew across the screen with the button down, and then my nose and forehead hit CTRL and C at the same time, as I struggled to get up, my ear and my tongue collided with the computer once more, likely hitting CTRL and V. I can only explain not noticing this with the confusion caused by my head injury."

Re:Well, lets keep fair for a while and look at fa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876717)

Also worth to mention that the thesis (for all 350 pages!) received an scl grade.

Please explain an scl grade.

There's plagiarism, then there's plagiarism (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 2 years ago | (#39876431)

Was she just not using absolutely complete citations, or was she ripping off another author? Usually, when we get these stories about someone famous it's the former sprinkled with embellished headlines to attract more eyeballs.

german politics (5, Interesting)

Tom (822) | about 2 years ago | (#39876453)

What american readers probably don't know is how much politics and politicians have changed during the past 20 or so years.

Initially, the "new" West Germany after WW2 had a functional (not without faults, but functional) representative democracy. People with vision, connections and public support would rise to power. We didn't have the pseudo-aristocratic US system of clans and super-rich. In fact, none of the chancellors were very wealthy.

Then, the political elite started to close and shut out insiders. The majority of the people in positions of power today are career politicians, people who have worked a small part of their lives - if at all - outside of their political parties.
For all the flaws they had, the old guard was a different kind of human. They were sometimes arrogant, often egomaniac, but they were in it for their vision of the future, not for the paycheck and the nice kickbacks from the lobbyists.

Our current government is just the worst of that kind. It has no vision whatsoever, no plan whatsoever and is purely reactive. We have satire magazines commenting the current political theatre with sentences like "sometimes I wonder why we are even doing satire anymore". You could take some of their talks straight from the protocol of the Bundestag (our parliament) and if you published it in a humor magazine, you'd love about it and applaud the author on a brilliant piece of mockery - except that they're serious.

There was indeed a former minister and hopeful to be next chancellor, a "superstar" of politics (which, these days, is about the same as being the winner of "Britain's Got Talent" or "American Idol") who had to drop out of politics because his Ph.D. was basically fraudulent. The affair damaged on of the most respected academics in his field, who had fallen for the young man's charm and trickery and issued the Ph.D. to him.

What was most telling, however, was how the political elite dealt with it. Basically, the MOTD was that it's not a big deal. Only massive and sustained public pressure finally made them carve in, one by one, until the guy had to step down.
These are the people who want to lock you away for 5 years for downloading a DVD. "Shame" was the rallying cry at some demonstrations asking for the guy to step down.

Oh yeah, did I mention that he tried a comeback earlier this year? The political class mostly welcomed him back. The public didn't. He went away again. I have no doubt he'll be back.

Yes, shameless about sums up the assholes that currently rule us. And it doesn't matter which party.

us politics the same (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876555)

What american readers probably don't know is how much politics and politicians have changed during the past 20 or so years. Initially, the "new" West Germany after WW2 had a functional (not without faults, but functional) representative democracy. People with vision, connections and public support would rise to power. We didn't have the pseudo-aristocratic US system of clans and super-rich.

Nonsense. People who grew up in the US would describe US politics and politicians in precisely the same manner. Needing only vision, connections and public support. Your pseudo-aristocratic clan and super-rich description would also be how uninformed Americans would probably describe European politicians. I would blame the Bond movies for the American misperception. What gave you your misrepresentation? The recent political talking points and political spin of the current era of economic crisis?

Re:us politics the same (2)

moronoxyd (1000371) | about 2 years ago | (#39876605)

pseudo-aristocratic clans:
How many members of the Kennedy family did hold office?
How many members of the Bush family did or do hold office?

I'm sure that on closer inspection only a small fraction of US politicians could be labeled as belonging to such a 'clan', but those families tend to be quite visible.

And many (once again: not all) people who run for offices like the president tend to be rather wealthy or at least very well connected. Current example is obviously Mitt Romney.

Re:german politics (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39876571)

The majority of the people in positions of power today are career politicians, people who have worked a small part of their lives - if at all - outside of their political parties.

Worse than that, they usually had their education and their post-doctoral work financed by public funds, and by that I don't mean competitive scholarships, but public funds specifically allocated to each political party to pay for raising the next generation of party officials. Parties have also been trying to get more power over their representatives in parliament, trying to prevent them from speaking out or voting against the party line. I wonder whether this system wasn't imported from East Germany as part of reunification.

But it's a dilemma: in the US, politicians often come in from having real careers, but they now need to raise so much money that they spend much of their time on it and lose some of their independence.

Re:german politics (1)

cpghost (719344) | about 2 years ago | (#39876769)

Oh yeah, did I mention that he tried a comeback earlier this year? The political class mostly welcomed him back. The public didn't. He went away again. I have no doubt he'll be back.

And let's not forget that this guy [wikipedia.org] has actually got a position within the European Commission, yet another political aristocracy that is quite immune to public criticism and scrutiny. Quite fitting.

Re:german politics (1)

oever (233119) | about 2 years ago | (#39876811)

Zu Guttenberg [wikipedia.org] is now adviser to the European Commission on the digital agenda. This shows that his political carreer is far from over. He is now very close to the most powerful people in europe.

http://blogs.ft.com/brusselsblog/2011/12/zu-guttenbergs-brussels-political-comeback/ [ft.com]

Oh, great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876953)

So he's now advising on things copyright, DMCA and three-strikes?

How very fitting indeed!

This European Commission seems to be just a bunch of criminal lobbyists all around

anonymity (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#39876479)

"The dissertation was written 32 years ago, and I will be happy to give my account to those who are looking into the work; but it is difficult to deal with anonymous allegations," Schavan said

I don't see how knowing who makes the allegations of plagiarism makes it "difficult" to respond to the substance of the allegations. Who dug out these passages is not relevant to whether they are plagiarized.

Germany seems to have a serious problem with anonymous speech; it's already somewhat restricted, and politicians and other important figures are increasingly saying that anonymity and democracy are incompatible and seem to intend creating laws to restrict it further. I think it's Germany's totalitarian heritage: for nearly all of Germany's history, people in power have oppressed inconvenient speech via reprisals, and reprisals are still frequent in Germany today.

Re:anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876715)

I think it's Germany's totalitarian heritage: for nearly all of Germany's history, people in power have oppressed inconvenient speech via reprisals, and reprisals are still frequent in Germany today.

By the statement of one politician who was personally attacked and has an interest in getting to know where it came from, you come to that conclusion? In what way is that different from any other country? If I was attacked, of course I would want to know where it came from, even if it isn't necessary to know stricly speaking. This is not totalitarian, it's human.

Re:anonymity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876845)

Who dug out these passages is not relevant to whether they are plagiarized.

It's a personal attack, perhaps politically motivated. Obviously she would like to know if it's a professor or a teenager.

Germany seems to have a serious problem with anonymous speech;

I don't live in Germany, but from what I hear the Germans do remember Stasi and for that reason they don't have social security numbers and have serious restrictions on what data can be filled. Privacy-wise it's certainly not my impression that Germany is a bad country to live in.

it's already somewhat restricted, and politicians and other important figures are increasingly saying that anonymity and democracy are incompatible and seem to intend creating laws to restrict it further.

[Citation Needed]

I think it's Germany's totalitarian heritage: for nearly all of Germany's history, people in power have oppressed inconvenient speech via reprisals

Most European countries has a history with emperors or kings, that by nature are totalitarian. That's because most European countries are fairly old.

and reprisals are still frequent in Germany today.

[Citation Needed].

Doctoral Thesis Review Panel (1)

crash123 (2523388) | about 2 years ago | (#39876483)

I assume her thesis has already been accepted? Why wasn't this caught by her universities thesis review panel? Sounds like her university has done a crappy job here.

Re:Doctoral Thesis Review Panel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876691)

I assume her thesis has already been accepted? Why wasn't this caught by her universities thesis review panel? Sounds like her university has done a crappy job here.

Her thesis was written in 1980, and as far as I can see it's not like she copied entire pages, so I guess without any kind of computer assistance, it would be pure chance if one of the reviewers stumbles over it.

Re:Doctoral Thesis Review Panel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876723)

Suffice to say that 32 years ago it wasn't as easy to discover plagiarism as it is today. And even with today's tools it isn't that easy to discover plagiarism if the student is clever. For example, if the student translates a web-page from one page into another it is unlikely that any plagiarism detection tool will discover it. [1]

[1] Although I read on a forum that a student got caught doing this because another student had the same idea and the translations showed too many similarities :)

Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876625)

Not that I read more than the first few of the 'noteworthy' examples, but what's there is a few (attributed) word-for-word copies, followed by (not correctly attributed) paraphrases. On the assumption that what's left of the thesis (i.e. most of it) is neither unattributed copying nor paraphrasing, I wouldn't call that plagiarism. You can't talk about someone else's work without explaining at least a bit what they said, and then you can either quote the lot or paraphrase it: mostly people do the former when they want it to be really clear that this is exactly what the author said, and the latter when it saves space (or you want to misrepresent what the author said for purposes of knocking them down..). Maybe you should be a bit more clear about the fact that you are paraphrasing text, but it's not exactly hard to see that this is what's going on even without a cite: mainly because the author obviously wants the reader to be aware that this is the position of a previous commentary, then give her own views on that.

distraction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876661)

The allegations were made anonymously. She wants this person to show up so they could talk. How should that change the quality of her work?

For me this is the most disgusting part. She used the title in public to show her achievement, which in effect is a vector from personal (her) to anonymous (the public) without accepting the vector back - anonymous checking the validity of her personal claim.

cb

Commendable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876747)

If I understand the summary correctly, "56 out of 325 pages of her thesis contain instances of plagiarism" this might be the least plagiarized PhD Thesis in the history of higher education. She should be commended.

Re:Commendable (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39876841)

56 pages? That's only a few dozen words.

P.S. Her name sounds like the Dutch slang for crooked. Coincidence?

PHD is worth nothing in europe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876783)

every idiot can get one in like 4 years.
unlike the doctor title.

Inevitable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39876817)

When on one hand you begin demanding a PhD or masters degree for even the most mundane task like it is the case in many places across Europe, you shouldn't be surprised when a lot of fraud happens, these people didn't go into their fields because they have any inherit interest in them, they simply do it out of necessity.

A woman with a science PHD? (-1, Troll)

loufoque (1400831) | about 2 years ago | (#39876931)

And people are surprised it's full of fraud?

Re:A woman with a science PHD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877043)

Her degree is in education, hardly a science... says a German female neuroscientist, MSc, PhD

Doesn't seem like anything serious to me (4, Insightful)

Peter H.S. (38077) | about 2 years ago | (#39877003)

Remember that this was written in 1980 probably using at typewriter handwritten notes. It was an absolute nightmare in those days to keep track of sources with small paper cards or notebooks (notebook as in paper notebook).

Errors in major academic works when it came to sources was probably more common in those days, simply because of manual errors in handling stacks of paper-notes. As a rule you will also find far fewer foot-notes in works before electronic word-processing became common, because the workload associated with the footnotes was so high. It was much more acceptable to give general source notes for a chapter instead of placing a foot-note after each paragraph.

I haven't looked at all the claims of plagiarism, but those I have seen seems very minor, like she could have quoted a source from page 14 instead of page 15. Most of claims seems very vague or downright wrong, like claiming 1-2 citations per paragraph is plagiarism when paraphrasing. That is simply absurd.

I haven't seen even one example of substantial plagiarism in the dissertation, in fact, looking at the very few accusations they call "exceptional" all I see is errors likely to be caused by simple mistakes, or outright absurd claims because her accuser doesn't seem to know that paraphrasing with full sources given, is an acceptable and useful academic tool. It is, and especially was, acceptable to paraphrase eg. an academic theory by stating the source used once, instead of after each and every paragraph.

I don't see any pattern of cheating. Her foot-notes are plentiful, she seems to have both read and understood the cited works, the paragraphs allegedly quoted without sources seems more like trivial error than cheating because they seem to contain banal information, not her conclusions. Most of the rest of the accusations seems to bickering about citation standards. Of course, one can discuss when a paragraph should be a direct citation or how much word changing is necessary to call it a paraphrase, but as long as full sources are given for that paragraph (which she seems to do) so that no one can be in doubt where the informations stems from, it is way over the top to bring forth accusations of plagiarism.
There is simply no comparison to former defence minister "Guttenberg"'s wholesale copy-paste cheating (I doubt he even wrote a single word of it, he probably paid a hack to do it for him).

Re:Doesn't seem like anything serious to me (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877055)

Remember that this was written in 1980 probably using at typewriter handwritten notes. It was an absolute nightmare in those days to keep track of sources with small paper cards or notebooks (notebook as in paper notebook).

Excuse me please - but this is utter bullshit. You either know the drill, or you try to muddle through.

Re:Doesn't seem like anything serious to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39877073)

As usual no mod points when needed, so I'll just say: thank you! That was exactly my impression after skimming through some of the examples. I'm not in humanities so I don't claim very good understanding of how that scientific field works, but from what I remember from a course I took this was exactly how you were supposed to write papers; paraphrase, qoute, and cite accordingly. In fact it was emphasized that you were not allowed to make any own conclusion in large parts of the text, only in the final discussion section of the paper were you allowed to draw new conclusions.

Re:Doesn't seem like anything serious to me (2)

supercrisp (936036) | about 2 years ago | (#39877113)

I was a student in those days. Yes, it might have been more difficult to keep track of paper. May have been; I'm not actually ready to concede that, as I had no trouble with my paper notes. We could talk about the f-ing typewriter, and how I always failed to notice I'd reached the end of the page and typed a solid black band.... But if I did concede that shuffling paper was somehow harder than shuffling computer files, I would say that such difficulty was minimized by the fact that there was far less material available to research and therefore we were held to a lower standard for number of sources and completeness of the field. Not only was it impossible to get material from major databases online, as there was no online really, but also physical delivery of books and articles was slower, more cumbersome, more expensive (at least as experienced by students and faculty). It was much more common to buy more books and to pirate more articles (via photocopy) than is necessary today. At any rate, the lowered expectations caused by lack of availability of material, and just a general dearth of the stuff (research has taken off in many fields since then), you had to do less reading. So there was less to keep track of. At any rate my dissertation contains about 2.5x as many items in its bibliography than do comparable dissertations in the same field that were written at the 70s and 80s. (Also way more words: professors haven't adapted to the fact that a typed page was about 125-150 words and a laser-printed page is 350+ words, so they still say "give me a 35-page chapter.....")
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