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It is not surprising to me that the PhD thesis of a German minister (the minister of defence, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was riddled with plagiarism. (The doctorate has been revoked by the issuing German university.)

Simply, many European universities – and especially their PhD programs – are susceptible to this sort of thing. They don’t catch it. There really are no institutional processes in place to catch plagiarism. which would catch it. PhD committees are left to their own selves, but whistleblowers are neither protected nor rewarded. The best book on the subject remains DeCoo’s Crisis on Campus. The second-best is my own, in Lithuanian …

But what is amazing and even cosmic is that (only) (!!) a concerted volunteer effort (allegedly) discovered the extent of the plagiarism.

A comment by one ‘Dr. Strangelove” to an article in the Globe & Mail (German minister in plagiarism row stripped of PhD) claims:

“There was a large-scale volunteer effort that uncovered improper use of material on almost 75% of all pages of his “thesis”. In several instances, the appropriated material runs over pages on end. His defence of “inadvertent” use of such materials is a joke.”

Yup, I’d agree. 75 percent is a concerted effort to cut and paste one’s way to a PhD.  No way around it, no way to explain it.

But again: what this demonstrates, yet again, is that there are insufficient institutional safeguards in European PhD programs. The minister’s thesis should have been exposed for what it was way before even its defense. (PhD theses, also known as dissertations, are ‘defended’ before a committee, which in general is all-powerful, but in practice has few resources and restricted time to do what should be done.)


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