Guttenberg plagiarism: Germans fixated with academic titles

c. 2011: Axel Völcker,

Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff

The Guttenberg plagiarism saga continues while he has gone off to Afghanistan for a surprise visit – probably because it is less dangerous there right now.

Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff is Professor for Media and Computing at the HTW Berlin. She was involved in the BMBF flagship project “Virtuelle Fachhochschule” developing eLearning materials and carries out Internet- and eLearning-related projects. She also works on detecting plagiarism and has a plagiarism blog.

Following the apparently blatant plagiarism carried out by Germany’s Defence Minister for his PhD thesis, she was interviewed by which includes the folllowing:

What is your assessment of the Guttenberg situation?

What the rest of the thesis is like, and which chapter the alleged plagiarism is in – that’s another question. There are communities here who say it’s OK to plagiarize a little in your methodology section, but not in others. I think this is completely bizarre. Germans have a way of talking the problem down.The excerpts that the Süddeutsche Zeitung has online are scary, because they are one-to-one copies. And that’s not OK.

What is the real issue then?
This has to do with the German tendency to love titles, they are title-fixated, and people in politics love to have a doctor title so they seem wiser. But it should be about science, for scientists to prove that they can work by themselves – it’s the first proof that they can do research on their own.

Would you say there is a culture of plagiarising and cheating among German students?
I wouldn’t go that far. There’s a download culture. Young people download their music, videos, and why not download their thesis, because they just see it as busy work – something that stands between them and the degree they think they want or need so they can make lots of money and don’t have to work any longer.

She also writes on her blog:

Guttenberg, the conservative German defense minister from Bavaria, has left the country and gone to Afghanistan. They say this was planned, but right now, he’s probably safer there than in the streets of Berlin. The opposition is gleefully taking potshots at him (metaphorically, you understand).

His supporters accuse the scientist who discovered the plagiarism of being part of a commie plot to undermine the country, if I understand their tone of voice correctly.
No one believes that a professor might sit down one evening at the computer, in the midst of writing a review of a doctoral thesis that had been around for a while, but had a very prominent author, currently under fire for other things. The professor, Andreas Fischer-Lescano of the University of Bremen, poured himself a glass of Argentine red wine, looked over the thesis and put three words into Google: “säkularer laizistischer multireligiöser” (secular lay multireligious – the thesis includes a chapter on putting references to a god in a constitution).
And he got a hit. From an article in the Neue Züricher Zeitung by Klara Obermüller, written a few years before his thesis was published. Oops. He poured another glass and tried some other terms, and some more. Fischer-Lescano wrote a scathing review, and includes as an appendix 24 word-for-word passages that are not quoted and not referenced. The review will be published the end of the month in Kritische Justiz, 44(1), pp. 112-119.
A number of journalists have spoken with me today to question this way of working. How do I look for plagiarists? “Well,” I said, “pretty much the same. Except that I prefer Austrian wine.”

As a sociological phenomenon, the rise of the “cut-and-paste” culture together with the German love of academic titles is a worthy subject for study. But what does not seem to be in doubt is that Guttenberg is just another politician who is just another fraud. And a misuse of position – whether to get an academic degree or to amass huge sums of money – is still corruption.

Why voters continue to vote for frauds is an even more interesting subject for study.

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3 Responses to “Guttenberg plagiarism: Germans fixated with academic titles”

  1. Guttenberg (aka “Googleberg”) at a loss for words over plagiarism charges says Deutsche Welle « The k2p blog Says:

    […] Update on my previous post: […]

  2. Hristian Carabulea Says:

    Thank you for this blog. I must say that I am not surprised by Guttenberg’s actions and attitude. I think, he is a product of the new Germany, of the new world. A world of actions without consequences.

    On the other hand, the politicians & top business people are getting to be very selfish and corrupt. Mr. Peter Hartz, for example: on one hand so corrupt, entertaining himself in Prague with prostitutes and so forth, on the other hand advising on how economically disadvantage people should get money from the government – I am not judging but only making a statement. Or Ursula Schmidt: on one hand she made laws for the social-health insured people; and on the other hand she had and still has private health insurance. Not to talk about when she travelled with the government’s Mercedes S Class thousands of kilometers while off-duty, and so forth.

    I have been in Germany for a few years now, and I have to say that democracy here is a sort of monarchy. No normal citizen votes for the president. No normal citizen votes for the Prime-Minister / Kanzler(in). And there are no repercussions or consequences for doing something illegal as a politician, but only a change in posts.

    And as we all know just from raising children, when there are no more repercussions or consequences for one’s actions, it all will only go down the hill. And this is what is happening right now here in Germany: the moral and ethical values in politics and business (and not only) are going down the hill.

    Is this happening only in Germany? Of course not. After all, the entire financial crisis was started by very corrupt and immoral people in the good US of A, which really disappointed me. Well, in New York, I should say, since New York represents the US of A as much as Paris represents France.

    Perhaps this situation is only a consequence of the globalization process. Perhaps politicians and higher level business people suddenly believe that they have no more moral duty to or responsibility for their people and employees. Perhaps they believe they are responsible only to the global investors and markets.

    Which in turn makes me think: why do we then have politicians at all, and what are the roles and goals of a business these days? And whom do they all serve and whom should they really serve? Is this the time perhaps for a change in the political and business environments to keep up with the effects of globalization? I am no communist nor socialist, but I am a person who tends to reach a balance, a solution who benefits all, one who likes the win-win solutions.

    Thank you.

  3. Bad news for doctoral cheats as hunt for plagiarised theses goes viral in Germany | International Times of Dominica Says:

    […] Guttenberg plagiarism: Germans fixated with academic titles ( […]

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