Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Political PhD Plagiarism Problems

Copying things is a contemporary as well as an antiquarian issue.

The German aristocrat, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (a.k.a. Baron Cut-and-Paste), until recently the German Defence Minister, has resigned amidst revelations that he copied half of his PhD thesis (2006) (BBC report; for the data see here and also here).

Another aristocrat, Saif Al-Islam Alqadhafi (son of Col. Gaddafi of Libya), may also have some trouble with his LSE PhD (Independent; for the PhD see here). His topic? Ironically enough it was "The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?" Not too much collective decision-making in Libya at the moment it seems. (LSE is also in trouble for accepting £1.5 million after his PhD was passed.)


  1. There is no aristocratic connection but you shouldn't forget the UK's dodgy dossier on WMD in Iraq which also plagiarised from an unnamed source (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Dossier).

  2. What i don't understand is how does somebody go through the process of writing their thesis without their supervisor (who should be an expert in the same area as the thesis) not noticing that they have read this all before, and then for the panel (who should also be experts in the same general area of the thesis) also not notice that they had read it all before. Perhaps blame belongs not just to the dodgy doctor/politician but to those who should have known better

    Matthew Hamilton
    Sydney, Australia

  3. What I can't understand is how does a person go through the process of writing his or her thesis without his or her supervisor (who should be an expert in the same area as the topic) not noticing that he or she read this all before, and then for the examination panel (who ought also to be experts in the same general area of the topic) also not notice that they had read it all earlier. Perhaps responsibility belongs not just to the dubious doctor/politician but to the people who ought to have known better.
    This thing happens too frequently!

    Mark Mywords

  4. It is somewhat perplexing that the University of Bayreuth, which awarded Guttenberg the "Dr. jur." in 2007, very obviously tries to free itself (by pointing time and again to Guttenberg as the bad guy and crook) from any suspicion which might befall its own faculty members. Plagiarism on that scale should have been noticed before. But never assume anything...

  5. I agree that in such cases there is probably some sort of systemic problem with the supervision of the student. Guttenberg was a part-time student and there is a danger that with part-time and distant-learning students supervisors get large sections of work at the same time rather than lots of shorter pieces every month, and one can imagine this situation could result in things slipping past, especially with busy supervisors or those who are not checking all the details. That is perhaps a danger in our field and in some institutions at the moment.

  6. This essay raised some interesting questions: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Shadow-Scholar/125329/

  7. I bet you'd like to think that this website is a spoof: http://www.academicghostwriting.com/

  8. If you slap an onion header on that page, you won't need to change a word... (sigh).

    I especially like the "we don't need to offer a money back guarrentee, in 13 years, no one has been caught!".


    (I wonder if they do blog comments;).