Political Plagiarism Domino

We have another suspected case of plagiarism involving a German politician. They’re really coming hard and fast at the moment.

This time around, the politician under suspicion of plagiarism is Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a Greek-German member of the European parliament for the FDP. Only a few days ago, the FDP lost its floor leader in the European parliament, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, who also resigned due to plagiarism allegations, so this is another hit for a party whose approval ratings are already in freefall. The kicker is that Chatzimarkakis names fighting copyright infringement and protecting intellectual property as specific political interests of his on his website.

Chatzimarkakis’ explanation for the plagiarism allegations is that he used different citation styles throughout his dissertation and maybe did not always mark citations as clearly as he could have. A quick check of Vroniplag, the Wiki that already broke the Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin, Saß and Pröfröck plagiarism cases, reveals that Chatzimarkakis at least used footnotes to indicate the source, but that he did not properly mark the direct citations. In one case he translated a passage from an English text and inserted it into the German dissertation with a footnote indicating the original source. Now paraphrasing a source is all right, but a direct unmarked citation, even if it’s a translation is not. Still, there are more shades of grey here than in the Guttenberg, Koch-Mehrin and Saß cases.

If you want to read up about the Silvana Koch-Mehrin and Veronika Saß (daughter of Edmund Stoiber, former minister president of Bavaria) cases in English, Spiegel Online has a summary.

As might have been expected, the plagiarism hunters are now under fire themselves. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, another member of the European parliament for the FDP and designated floor leader after the resignation of Silvana Koch-Mehrin, called for stopping the pillorying of politicians on the internet.

There are also some who view the current wave of plagiarism allegations as a leftwing conspiracy against conservative and liberal (in the European sense – in the US they would be called libertarians) politicians, because so far all alleged and proven plagiarists have been conservative or liberal politicians, while no green or socialdemocratic or communist politicians have fallen under suspicion of plagiarism. The VroniPlag people claim that they are scrutinizing dissertations from all parts of the political spectrum and that so far the only hits have been right of center. And even if the VroniPlag people did have a bias against right of center politicians, nothing is stopping conservative and liberal supporters from setting up their own anti-plagiarism Wiki.

Deutsche Welle has an interview with one of the plagiarism hunters behind the VroniPlag wiki, a North German holder of an engineering doctorate. He prefers to remain anonymous and reports about the attacks on him and other VroniPlag activists. What is more, Andreas Fischer-Lescarno,the University of Bremen law professor who stumbled upon the Guttenberg case while writing a review of Guttenberg’s thesis for a law journal, has apparently been getting hate mail and even threats as well.

As for why all plagiarists uncovered so far have been right of center politicians, it is notable that they are not just united by their political orientation, but that they are also a certain type of politician, fairly young, highly ambitious and career minded. Because it is certainly notable that none of the older conservative and liberal politicians with doctorates (and there are plenty) have been affected. My theory is that younger, ambitious politicians are also more likely to be pursuing a doctorate to further their career rather than for scientific curiosity and the joys of research. And these sort of career doctoral candidates are more likely to use shortcuts, including plagiarism. As for why career-minded younger politicians on the left of the political spectrum don’t do the same, I have no idea.

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