Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heidelberg happy with 75% plagiarism

The Frankfurter Rundschau reports in a short notice that the University of Heidelberg Medical School has decided that a medical dissertation that has plagiarism on over 75% of the pages (and most of the plagiarism is from the habilitation of the doctoral advisor) is perfectly all right. Oh, it is not good scientific practice, but the doctorate will not be rescinded and the grade will not be lowered.

This bizarre decision led to further investigations at this university that has been deemed an "Excellent" school in Germany. One of the VroniPlag researchers dug up the document explaining how the theses are evaluated in Heidelberg in the medical school. Failure is not an option. If you just hand in something, it is considered passing. I find this shocking

Another VroniPlag researcher has suggested that the medical schools just have their students hand in an Excel sheet and a lab book instead of suggesting that they actually wrote complete sentences, since in fact they appear to just take a textual stencil and plug in their values.

The German Wissenschaftsrat already noted in 2004 that medical dissertations are not really dissertations as they are in other faculties. I find it scandalous that this obvious plagiarism does not have consequences - and there are a number of strange things around the thesis itself, for example that it was handed in in 2002, but not defended until 2006. The university replies, when questioned, that this is all in the realm of personal privacy and they won't answer questions.

How do I explain to my students that they are not allowed to copy text without attribution, but that it is just fine for a medical student to do so?

It is time for a serious renovation at German medical schools - time to move to an M.D. for general doctors and reserve a Dr. med. for those who can do real research.

I just had a look at the statistics for 2010. 3,6 % of the student population in Germany studies medicine. 28 % of the dissertations are in medicine. A whopping 49% (867 out of 1755) of the habilitations done in Germany in 2010 were in medicine. This raises a lot of questions - the number of habilitations compared to the number of dissertations would be about commensurate with the rate of students in medicine. If we take out all the medical dissertations and add in the medical habilitations, we would have 4,5% medical theses. So it seems that indeed, a dissertation in medicine is just a Master's degree and the habilitation should be considered the doctorate. A very strange state of affairs. 


  1. what's the problem ?
    The doctor in this case isn't a politician or the relative of a politician, no need to spoil his or her career.

  2. I don't know about you, but I'm not just interested in politicians who lie. I don't want to be treated by a doctor who lies. I don't want to drive over a bridge built by engineers who lied. They don't need doctorates to be good doctors or engineers - so why did they do it? Science is about searching for truth. A doctorate demonstrates that one has the competence to do research. If you lie - steal others words and ideas - they you are not a researcher, in my book.

  3. Funnily enough I just recently spoke with a dentist who is going get her "Dr. med dent" in a few weeks. Her medical dissertation is about colon cancer. She practically just does some number crunching (if easy Excel-built in formulae count as such) on a completely different subject and will still be "Dr. med dent" afterwards. And all her patients will fall for the illusion that she must be a very good dentist because of the title...
    But of course for her rearranging numbers in tables is worth being "rewarded" with the title, because "I spent six months with it".
    She was really shocked when she learned that I "needed" 3.5 yrs for my dissertation.

  4. OMG! And now this Mainz/Frankfurt physician is an M. D. and she gets a salary others could never dream of. And just because of being able to put the right numbers into the right formulae?!
    Thanks for the warning, Debora. You are the reason why, should I ever need a M. D. for a complicated operation, I will also do an Internet research about the "medical expert" that is going to operate me---to verify if he/she really knows about medicine of is just a master of copying facts (without understanding them in detail, though)
    And ... wow! A dissertation in dental medicine in a whopping 6 months? They doing it the easy way, these folks. But then despite their enormous salary, they will charge you for any additional swab they use on you. Great!
    Hopefully they don't even give her a "* cum laude"-kind of rating for that nonsense.

  5. Whole story with comments from Debora Weber-Wulff:

  6. Dr. Weber-Wulff and fellow bloggers: I just heard the radio piece Dr. Weber-Wulff contributed to on National Public Radio. Her words and this blog have inspired me to become more involved in challenging plagiarism. I am a professor of criminology and criminal justice at two U.S. universities: University of Phoenix and Missouri Southern State University. I was amazed and appalled that the issue has reached such high levels in Germany.

    The issue hits very close to home with me because my doctoral dissertation proposal was plagiarized by a fellow student in 2010. This horrific experience, which caused a 3-4 month delay in my proposal being approved by my dissertation chair, inspired me to write a song entitled, "Plagiarism" -- please visit the following YouTube link:

    I look forward to joining the fight!

    James E. Konopasek, Ph.D.