Sunday, July 9, 2017

German plagiarism cases in the news

There were four articles in German news this past week or so about a very diverse collection of plagiarism cases. Here are the links and short summaries in English:
  1. The taz published an article by Markus Roth about a biography that Stefan Aust, a well-known German writer, published in 2016, „Hitlers erster Feind. Der Kampf des Konrad Heiden“ (Hitler's first enemy - Konrad Heiden's struggle). Heiden, a writer in exile in France, had published a biography of Hitler in the mid-30s. It seems, however, that Aust liberally used text from Heiden himself, just changing the present tense to the simple past tense or adding an explanation of names that would be clear to someone reading in the 30s but not to present day readers. Some examples are given in the taz article.  Aust himself had apparently recently complained that people were looting Heiden's words, but stated that he was setting a monument to Heiden's works. Wer erzählt hier eigentlich?“ (who is speaking here) is apparently a question difficult to answer, unless one has read much of Heiden's work, as Roth has done (he is also working on a biography of Heiden).
  2. Stern reports on a Facebook posting by German folk music star Stefanie Hertel against hate on the historic occasion of Germany passing legislation permitting homosexual couples to marry. Her fans praised her words, but it turned out they weren't acutally hers, but from a TV game show moderator, Michael Thürnau. Ich fand seine Worte so toll, dass ich ihm einfach nur recht geben konnte, she defended herself according to Stern, "I found his words so awesome, that I just had to say that he's right." 
  3. The DFG, the German funding organization for research, announced that they were reprimanding a scientist "in writing". A life scientist (no name or research institut mentioned) was found to have had extensive word-for-word copies from other publications without reference in a grant application. The DFG investigated, and the scientist conceded that s/he had copied more for the "state-of-the-art" section.
    Since I don't know what a "reprimand in writing" means, I have written to the DFG to ask for clarification. 
  4. In other DFG news, a Leibnitz prize (2.5 million €) was awarded to a researcher after all. Just prior to the award ceremony in March 2017, plagiarism allegations arose. The DFG postponed the award in order to investigate. They are satisfied that there was no plagiarism, and thus have now given out the award. The allegations were not made public.
Update: Marco Finetti, the spokesman for the DFG, clarified for me: A reprimand "in writing" is indeed just a letter written to the scientist. But since it has been decided on by the Hauptausschuss, the main body of the DFG, all the scientists in that board and the representatives of the state governments (who finance the universities in Germany) heard the details of the case and decided on this as the weakest sanction. "It is a big blow to the reputation of a scientist", Finetti claimed.

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