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 Oh, it is not good scientific practice, but the doctorate will not be rescinded and the grade will not be lowered.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.