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German scientists outraged in defence minister plagiarism affair

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.”


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    Brent Sadermeier said:

    It deserves to be emphasized that the open letter was the initiative of doctoral students.

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    Dr. Kawasaki said:

    In Germany we now call our defence minister Guttenberg “Googleberg”.

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    Purple said:


    I just want to add that this open letter can also be signed by ppl without any academic background!

    Greets from Germany 🙂

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    Alex Covic said:

    I live in Germany for 4 decades now. I have never seen such an powerful outrage from the science community before. Reports say 20.000 students & academics signed that open letter and 30.000 did it online.

    The majority of the German public did not care about – in their opinion – minor fraud. “Everybody cheats in school” was the sentiment. They could not (or did not want to) see the bigger picture here.

    I think, it is a great moment for scientists (and a bad one, for the rest of the majority of Germany’s society?), showing the importance of ethical principles & that standards matter.

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