A rash of rescinded PhD’s as German Universities clean house

Some good may be coming out of the zu Guttenberg affaire.

Many PhD thesis awarded – mainly to politicians – by German Universities are now under investigation and the initiative is coming from the media and on-line websites. The apparent speed with which the Universities are moving is – I think – unprecedented. It is also a tribute to the power of the internet for change (not forgetting the misuse of that power as evidenced by the “hate-sites” and the Norway massacre). But the Universities themselves rarely investigate without external pressure and some measure of scandal. And as Gerard Fröhlich points out scientific “cheaters” usually have venerable establishment figures as their protectors.

Gerhard Fröhlich, University of Linz, from an interview in the online Journal of Unsolved Questions:

Self control mechanisms are a myth in science ( and just) to avoid any serious external control. I have studied all fraud affairs precisely and in almost every case anonymous allegations coupled with mass media outrage – in most recent years with an interim period of outrage on the internet – were necessary before the institutions themselves agreed to take action. Science and its sponsors, media and politics, everybody wants heros, “Uebermenschen”. The lion’s share of uncovered scientific cheaters were supermen or superwomen, shooting stars in their field, decorated with honors and predicted to win the Nobel Prize.

In every case, though, an elderly gentleman held his protective hand over them to award them an official seal of scientific credibility.

Prof. Debora Weber-Wulff summarises the status of the various actions /investigations ongoing at German Universities.  From Prof. Debora Weber-Wulff’s blog:

The media barrage has not let up, as there are new candidates up every few days. So here is my modest attempt to get you up to date:

  • Mathematics professor at the University of Potsdam censured
    This blog reported in May 2010 on the plagiarism dispute between Gumm and Denecke. The University of Potsdam has just revoked the rights that the now-retired Denecke had to still supervise dissertations, and he is to remove the publication from his CV, and withdraw the book from the market.
  • Veronica Sass
    Doctorate rescinded by the University of Konstanz
  • Matthias Pröfrock
    Doctorate rescinded by the University of Tübingen
  • Silvana Koch-Mehrin
    Doctorate rescinded by the University of Heidelberg, she has legally challenged the decision
  • Georgios Chatzimarkakis
    Doctorate rescinded by the University of Bonn
  • Bijan Djir-Sarai
    Plagiarism level is currently at 60% of the pages, the University of Cologne is investigating
  • Uwe Brinkmann
    Doctorate rescinded by the University of Hamburg
  • Margarita Mathiopoulos
    Plagiarism level is currently at 46 % of the pages, the University of Bonn is investigating
  • Siegfried Haller
    Plagiarism level is currently at 21 % of the pages, the University of Halle-Wittenberg is investigating
  • Jürgen Goldschmidt
    is the most recent member of the club, clocking in at a plagiarism level of 10% of the pages, the Technical University of Berlin is investigating. The entire nation is having a good laugh at his footnoting technique, which includes “Tagesschau vom 02.12.2004” (on page 42 of the dissertation), “WDR vom 24.03.2007” (on page 51), and best of all “Super Illu 17/2005” (on page 45). SUPERillu is a weekly family magazine often read in Eastern Germany, leading Spiegel Online to headline “Magna cum Super-Illu“. Mr. Goldschmidt tried to delete two sites that he runs on the topic of his dissertation, as they contained the sources for some of the plagiarism. Luckily, the Internet Archive had kept a copy for posterity.
  • Bernd Althusmann
    The weekly newspaper Die Zeit hired investigators to look into the dissertation of the minister of education of Lower Saxony, currently the speaker for the national committee on education. The calls for him to step down are getting louder and louder.
  • Roland Wöller
    The dissertation of the minister of education from Saxony was investigated in 2008, when it was determined that he had incorporated large portions of a master’s thesis by another student into his work without proper attribution. The University of Dresden sent him a sharp letter reprimanding him and requesting that he “fix the footnotes” for future editions of the book, but they did not rescind his dissertation at the time. The thesis is being re-investigated by people outside of VroniPlag. Update: The media is trying to make a scandal out of this, as there is nothing else to report on. Flurfunk debunks the scandal.

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One Response to “A rash of rescinded PhD’s as German Universities clean house”

  1. The Heidelberg affidavit: German Universities take action to prevent PhD fraud « The k2p blog Says:

    […] the retraction of a splurge of PhD’s awarded to German politicians, the academic community is acting to protect the reputation and the value of their PhD’s. Heidelberg University and Bonn […]

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