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German science minister stripped of her PhD

In a move likely to have major political implications, the University of Düsseldorf has revoked the doctoral degree of Germany’s science and education minister, Annette Schavan.

A university committee yesterday evening confirmed accusations, first aired last May, of plagiarism in Schavan’s ethical-philosophical dissertation entitled ‘People and conscience — studies on the conditions, necessity and requirements for formation of conscience today’.

Germany's science minister plagiarized parts of her thesis.

In her 1980 thesis, Schavan “systematically and deliberately claimed as her own intellectual achievements which she had in fact not produced herself,” said Bruno Bleckmann, dean of philosophy and chairman of the 15-head committee, in a statement. The committee voted with large majority that Schavan’s PhD degree should be withdrawn.

Schavan, who is now on an official visit in South Africa, has previously admitted “careless mistakes” in her thesis but rejects charges of deliberate deception and plagiarism. Her lawyers say they will challenge the university’s decision at court.

Schavan is the second minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet to fall from academic grace. Merkel’s former defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, resigned last year after the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate. Zu Guttenberg had plagiarized extended sections of his 2006 law thesis.

Zu Guttenberg’s case prompted plagiarism hunters to intensify their search for intellectual dishonesty in politicians’ academic past. Crowdsourcing efforts have since resulted in the formal withdrawal of the PhD degrees of Liberal Democrat European Parliament members Silvana-Koch Mehrin and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis.

Schavan will keep her PhD degree pending the outcome of a final court ruling. But in the current election year her case threatens to become a political burden for the ruling Christian Democrat–Liberal Democrat government coalition.

Merkel has so far stood up for her long-time science minister, one of her most loyal political allies. But pressure is mounting on Schavan to resign. “Schavan has lost all credibility as a science minister,” the Social Democrat’s secretary general, Andrea Nahles, said yesterday. Members of the Greens and the Left Party also called on Schavan to step down.



  1. Report this comment

    A J said:

    Bold action. plagiarism has become the order of the day especially in the field of science in developing countries. Linking of research publications and Ph.D led to proliferation of research publications.

  2. Report this comment

    Sangita Joshi said:

    In today’s world, difference between plagiarism and research is diminishing sadly!

  3. Report this comment

    Peter Gibson said:

    As has been pointed out in Nature I think the degree of lying and cheating amoungst politions is far greater than that in the polulation at large. This comes as no surprise. What is suprising is that this fails to register on the voting polulation.

  4. Report this comment

    Claudia Iriondo said:

    Plagiarism on an “ethical-philosophical dissertation”. Oh the irony.

  5. Report this comment

    Terence hale said:

    German science minister stripped of her PhD. The University of Düsseldorf treatment of Fr. Annette Schavan a close ally of Fr. Merkel was in so much surprising in its severity accusing her of premeditated plagiarism. Again throwing light on the academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics in German society. As before, the stamp collecting mentality and prestige of a Dr. Title for political ends has been made apparent. There will be more to come.

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    Marco Struckmann said:

    stripped of her PhD… lost her credibility… lost her job… Hey, doesn’t matter. If your friend is German cancellor. Now Schavan has been delegated as Germany’s Ambassador to the Vatican. Why the Vatican of all places? Remember, she was science minister…

  7. Report this comment

    J Tyson said:

    In academia taking credit for someone else’s work is called “plagarism”. In high government positions it is called “delegation”.

    Ironies abound, one of which is that I can’t remember what government official I heard this joke from.

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    J Tyson said:

    Maybe Merkel can appoint someone with a real PhD in a legitimate academic field now, perhaps one in science.

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