When we cover plagiarism on Retraction Watch, particularly when it leads to retractions, we’re writing almost exclusively about science. But there’s a story about a retraction outside of the scientific literature that has been unfolding over the past week, and grabbing enough headlines, that we figured we should post something on it.
It was Bremen University’s Andreas Fischer-Lescano who discovered what he called “a brazen plagiarism” in German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s 2006 law thesis, according to The Guardian. The minister was already a member of parliament at the time, and had apparently used sections of newspaper articles without attribution.
used the services of the parliament’s research department for his dissertation, and didn’t mention the author in his footnotes.
On the 21st, zu Guttenberg said he would give up the title “Dr.” while the investigation was underway. Meanwhile, people using a wiki set up allow them to page through his thesis and compare it to other material were finding more and more instances of plagiarism, more than 400 at last count. You can also click through the evidence at an interactive graphic at the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Wednesday night, the university formally took away his doctorate. Earlier in the day, according to the Guardian:
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who recently overtook Angela Merkel as Germany’s most popular politician in a poll, admitted in the German parliament on Wednesday that he had made “serious errors” in his academic work, which he completed in 2006 while already an MP.
He said he had been overwhelmed by writing the work while starting a family and launching his political career and that he had been “arrogant” to believe he could juggle it all at the same time.
“I did not deliberately cheat, but made serious errors,” said Guttenberg to loud jeers in the chamber.
We’re not students of German politics, so we’ll leave the prognosticating about zu Guttenberg’s future to the experts. We don’t even really know any German, except for the word “unglaublich,” for “unbelievable,” which we used to describe the most recent developments in the Joachim Boldt case. But it seems worth noting that plagiarism is going to become more and more difficult, with products such as CrossCheck coming into wide use.
We don’t know how zu Guttenberg’s plagiarism was uncovered. But if a finance minister who has been dubbed “Zu Googleberg” — the other too obvious joke is to misspell his name as Gutenberg, although there’s no evidence of any relation — can get caught, so can a scientist working in a lab.
Please see an update on this case.