http://chronicle.com/img/global-header-logo.gifBy Aisha Labi. The bad news keeps coming for the disgraced former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a once-rising star in his country's conservative party. On Wednesday the University of Bayreuth published the full report of its investigation into plagiarism in his 2006 doctoral dissertation in law.
The university's assessment, which Mr. Guttenberg had initially sought to prevent from being made public, was unsparing: Not only was most of his dissertation plagiarized from a range of sources, including newspapers, journals, and the official research service for German parliamentarians, which lawmakers are forbidden to use for personal purposes, but even if the work had been Mr. Guttenberg's, it would not have merited the summa cum laude it was originally awarded.
The revelations of how extensively Mr. Guttenberg had plagiarized came as no surprise to one group of people: an online community of plagiarism detectors that formed since the allegations against him came to light. That loose band of academic vigilantes helped to compile and disseminate the information that eventually brought about Mr. Guttenberg's downfall. Its members have since set their sights on other high-profile figures, and, although they do not work directly with universities, their online sleuthing is having an impact.
Also on Wednesday, the University of Konstanz announced that it had stripped Veronica Sass, the daughter of another leading conservative politician, of her law doctorate. Another politician, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, whose doctoral dissertation is under investigation by the University of Heidelberg, stepped down on Wednesday from her posts as a vice president of the European Parliament and the board of her political party.
Part of the explanation for the apparent proliferation of plagiarism among politicians is the prevalence of doctoral degrees among figures outside of academe. Many German politicians and business leaders have doctoral titles and have few qualms about using them, even if they never set foot on a university campus after they earn their degrees.
"Everybody has their name on their door in bronze and wants to have their doctoral title there, too; that's really important," said Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor of media and computing at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin who has been active in the recent online plagiarism-detecting movement. The attitude toward academic titles, she said, has much to do with the traditional German reverence of learning. "Someone who has a doctorate is highly respected," she said. More.
See also: New Partners in the Plagiarism-Detection Business, Le plagiat, fléau intellectuel.