A Patchwork Thesis
One may wonder why a mid-career public official would go so far afield to obtain a dissertation, when there are excellent universities near his hometown. In Germany at that time, a Diplom from a Fachhochschule was not sufficient to be admitted for doctoral work. Often extra coursework would be required, or even a Diplom or Master's at a university had to be completed before beginning work on a doctorate.
Today, the Diplom is no longer offered, but instead Master's degrees from both universities and FHs are acceptable for beginning work on a doctorate at a university. Then as now, however, doctorates earned in other EU countries can be used back home, so there is quite some interest in obtaining degrees outside of Germany.
Zlín offers a four-year doctoral program in Management and Economics that charges 1,600 €/year in tuition that requires submission of a written dissertation that is generally published online in the Zlín Digital Library. One of these dissertations, the one submitted by the German public servant, is a 100-page dissertation that is now documented as case #140 on the VroniPlag Wiki site.
The "barcode" representation for the manual VroniPlag Wiki documentation for the case looks quite like a bit like a patchwork quilt. This barcode is often misunderstood as being the result of a software-based plagiarism investigation. Nothing could be further from the truth: All discovery and documentation is done manually with the help of small software tools for various tasks, and all documentation is reviewed by a second researcher.
The bar code uses five different colors:
- white is for pages that have not yet been investigated, or for which nothing has yet been found;
- bright red is for pages that contain text parallels on over 75 % of the lines of text on a page. The line counting is not automatic, but must be done and reviewed by two researchers;
- dark red is for pages that have text parallels on between 50 and 75 % of the lines;
- black is used for pages that have text parallels, but that make up 50 % or less of the page;
- blue is used for pages that are excluded from consideration. These are normally the title pages, the table of contents, the literature list and any appendices.
Ten fragments are taken from a journal article that appeared in the Academy of Management Review. There are occasional references to the article given in the text, but it is not made clear that the pages 56–63 are almost entirely from this article, and taken verbatim. Page 58 includes an interesting copy & paste error: the printed version of the article has a footnote from the previous page continued at the bottom of the left-hand column. In the dissertation, this text can be found sandwiched-in between the text from the left-hand column and the text from the right-hand one. The sentences thus make no sense whatsoever.
On page 72, the Daimler-Benz sustainability report is copied with the "we" pronouns changed to "they" or "their" or "Daimler".
Pages 77–79 are taken verbatim from a discussion paper for the European Sustainable Development Network Conference 2008. A copy & paste error on page 79 caused quotations marks from the original to be reproduced as | or —.
Whenever the writing shifts from proper English sentences to word-for-word literal translations from German, the thesis becomes quite unreadable. I quote from page 50:
Germany applies in 2001 above a surface of 357,020 sq. kms, the population around catches 82,330,000 million people (2000: 82,260,000). Of it 40,326,000 persons (49.1%) were gainfully employed in 2000. In 2001 there were 2.4% of the employed persons in the agriculture, forestry and fishery, 22.0 % in the producing trade without the building trade, 6.7 % in the building trade, 25.4 % in trade, guest's trade and traffic, 15.2% in the area of financing, renting and services for companies and 28.3% in the sector of public and private service providers (cf. "Germany in figures" in 2002). While trying to explain how many of these persons have been employed in small and middle companies or to define the boundary between them and large companies in Germany one pushes fast to his borders, because there are not enough actual statistical facts offered from the Statistical Federal Office16. Merely on data delivered by the Institute Of Middle Class Research17[Note: The institution referred to in the last sentence is the Institut für Mittelstandsforschung in the original. It actually researchessmall and medium-sized enterprises, not the middle class.]
The University of Zlín publishes the reviews by the thesis examiners online, a commendable gesture. Two excerpts are documented in the Findings section on the VroniPlag Wiki:
- Review 1 (17.11.2008): "Author considers that CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] is suitable way how to change current managerial thinking which describe from different point of views, e. g. historical progress in religious aspect."
- Review 2 (17.11.2008): "The dissertation is written very cultivate, digest at the high academic level."
The University of Zlín has been informed of the situation and has been sent this report containing all the documentation produced manually by VroniPlag Wiki about the dissertation. The university promptly acknowledged the receipt of the documentation by email. Many other universities, sadly, don't manage to do even that.
BERLIN (Reuters) - A group of anonymous internet activists have surged to prominence in Germany by examining the doctoral dissertations of politicians for plagiarism on a public Internet site.
The so-called “plagiarism hunters” helped rock the German political establishment last month when popular Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after he admitted to copying part of his doctoral dissertation.
“In a way, it’s kind of a hobby seeing how good the dissertations are in question of authenticity,” Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor of media and computing at the HTW science university in Berlin, told Reuters on Tuesday.
But the anonymity of the internet activists has raised questions about their ethics, especially if the allegations prove to be unfounded, plagiarism expert Volker Rieble told Reuters.
“On the one hand it’s good that people are paying attention to this,” said Rieble, a law professor at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich.
“But it’s problematic that they’re alleging plagiarism anonymously. The accused don’t know who’s attacking them.”
Since the Guttenberg plagiarism scandal broke in February, plagiarism hunters have raised questions about other dissertations on the collaborative VroniPlag Web site de.vroniplag.wikia.com .
“We have been sweeping a lot under the table and not talking about it,” Weber-Wulff, a VroniPlag collaborator, said about academic plagiarism. “It’s rampant.”
The group said over a quarter of all pages in the thesis of German politician Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the vice president of European Parliament, contain instances of plagiarism.
Heidelberg University, where the dissertation on historical monetary unions was conferred, set up a review panel earlier this month. Koch-Mehrin, a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, has yet to address allegations against her.
There are about 15-20 users who contribute often to VroniPlag and a handful who are sporadically active, Weber-Wulff said, adding that at least 10 percent of a thesis must appear to be plagiarized before it goes public on the site.
But Weber-Wulff disagrees that the group’s anonymity does irreparable damage to a person’s reputation.
“It’s not a question of who says it,” she said. “They’re not accusing anyone of plagiarism, they’re saying, ‘Can you explain why no quotes were used?’”
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