Thousands of German scientists and academics have signed an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel expressing their unhappiness over the official handling of the by-now notorious case of plagiarism on the part of her minister of defence.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is accused of having duplicated large parts of his 2006 PhD thesis, a comparison between US and EU constitutional law. The University of Bayreuth last week confirmed the allegations and withdrew Guttenberg’s doctoral degree.
But the government’s attempts to contain fall-out from the affair – Guttenberg is to remain defence minister in Merkel’s cabinet – are raising protests among scientists.
In an attempt to justify her decision not to dismiss the still popular minister, Merkel – herself a physicist – said she “hadn’t appointed a scientific assistant.”
This, and the wide-spread feeling that the government is trivializing academic plagiarism and violation of intellectual property, has infuriated scientists.
“We have the impression that you are trying everything in your power to keep a minister in your cabinet who still insists that he did not knowingly deceive in his doctoral thesis, despite massive evidence to the contrary,” reads the open letter to Merkel.
“This makes a mockery of all the research assistants and doctoral students who honestly endeavor to contribute to the advancement of science. This makes it sound as if obtaining a doctoral title by fraud is just a trivial offense, and that the academic word of honor is meaningless in everyday life.”
Gerrmany’s science council, the Wissenschaftsrat, and the Conference of University Rectors, have also protested against what the Wissenschaftsrat describes as “publicly stated disparagement of basic principles of science.”