The Guttenberg elegies

Der Spiegel has an interesting article on how the von Guttenberg plagiarism scandal has given rise to a minor social movement of Ph.D. dissertation plagiarism-checkers (see also Deutsche-Welle ).

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a high-profile member of the European Parliament for Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party, announced on Wednesday evening that she was resigning from all leadership positions after her own plagiarism scandal heated up. Meanwhile a German university announced it was stripping the daughter of former Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber of her Ph.D. because of plagiarism. … Koch-Mehrin, 40, is one of the FDP’s highest-profile female politicians and had in the past been seen as one of the party’s great hopes.

It is perhaps useful for non-Germans to know that the Ph.D. has a quite different status in Germany than e.g. in the US. It not only is a big deal if you can call yourself “Doktor,” but is legally regulated. I, for example, couldn’t legally use the title when I lived in Germany because my Ph.D. was not from a German university (the rules have since loosened a little for Ph.D.s from other European countries, but not, as far as I am aware, for those with US doctorates).

Also interesting is the way that members of this movement brand themselves.

On their websites, they display the instances of plagiarism in their now-iconic “bar code”-style graphics.

Is this the first social movement to use data visualizations as an iconic marker? I included the von Guttenberg graphic in my earlier post – here are those for Koch-Mehrin

and Veronica Sass

3 Responses to The Guttenberg elegies

  1. Sebastian May 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Henry – actually you could now (since 2008) call yourself Dr. Farrell:
    “Ph.D.-Grade, die in den USA erlangt wurden, können in Deutschland ebenfalls ohne weitere Zusätze als „Dr.“ geführt werden, sofern die verleihende Einrichtung von der Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching als „Research University (high research activity)“ oder als „Research University (very high research activity)“ klassifiziert ist.”

    But yes, calling yourself “Dr. XXX” without a valid title is actually a criminal misdemeanor in German law. Dr. titles are also immensely helpful in public life – if you have one you will put it on rent applications, you’ll mention it when calling for a medical Drs appointment and in many cases it will help. It think overall that’s declining, though.

  2. Henry Farrell May 20, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Thanks for that – good to know that I can now call myself Dr. Farrell while travelling in Germany w. equanimity and assurance that I will not be arrested 😉

  3. Bastian May 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    There is a number of universities which perform a copy’n’paste test for diploma and Ph.D. theses since about 2002. But Bayreuth University – like some others – says, this kind of quality testing leads to a rude way of mistrust. So… perhaps this special fear of mistrust and a big portion of halo effect (e.g.: Verionca Sass is the daugther of former Baviaran Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber) lead to this false-doktor-spring in Germany.