It seemed as if the political plagiarism frenzy had come to an end after the last of the politicians found to have plagiarized their doctoral thesis lost her degree in a revision of a decision from the 1980s.
Now, however, we have two new suspected plagiarism cases in German politics: The first is Florian Graf, a conservative politician and head of the CDU in the Berlin city parliament, whose doctorate is already gone. Uncommon in such cases, Graf accepted that he had done wrong and did not try to fight the revocation of his doctorate.
The second and far more high profile case is Annette Schavan, conservative politician and secretary of education in Angela Merkel’s cabinet, who is suspected of improper citation practices in her doctoral thesis. I must say that this case came as something of a shock, for while I don’t necessarily agree with Ms. Schavan’s politics, she always struck me as honest and not the sort of career minded young politician usually involved in such affairs.
The evidence so far, including side by side comparisons, can be found at the website schavanplag. Meanwhile, Vroniplag, the Wiki which broke most of last year’s plagiarism cases, declares that they already checked Schavan’s doctoral thesis months ago and found it problematic in places, but not outright plagiarism and so agreed not to pursue the case further. A casual glance at schavanplag gives a similar impression. Problematic, but unlike Guttenberg and the other political plagiarists she did include footnotes and give her sources, though she sometimes paraphrased a bit too closely. I guess we should file this as a borderline case.
While on the subject of plagiarism, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recently reported on a case of plagiarism in the YA book blogger community. I was busy at the time and did not follow the case closely, but unlike the Schavan case, there is nothing “borderline” about this case. It is full blown plagiarism.
Last week, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books had a follow-up post about the reactions that normally follow a plagiarism allegation, namely hatemail from enraged fans and supporters of the suspected plagiarist. Indeed, they called it plagiarism hatemail bingo.
Interestingly, the reactions to plagiarism allegations are really so predictable that they fit on a bingo card. And you can cross off all squares of the plagiarism hatemail bingo for the many political plagiarism cases in Germany, too. Indeed, the Bremen law professor who originally broke the Guttenberg case was swamped with hatemail and even threats for daring to speak out.
I find these reactions most depressing thing of all, because plagiarism is wrong and trivializing it only enables future plagiarizers. It’s telling that the most common reaction so far to the Schavan case seems to be: “But it was 32 years ago, who cares?” Uhm, even if it happened 32 years ago doesn’t mean that it’s not wrong. And of course very few people can be bothered to check out the evidence, even though it is posted online and freely accessible.
As for why plagiarism is not just wrong, but a huge issue that needs to be publicized, this quote from the Smart Bitches post, attributed to Sarah Wendell’s husband, says it best:
among writers, plagiarism is like treason.