Plagiarism in science

The topic of plagiarism has dramatically increased attention in the past few years in Germany. It started with the case of the former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who heavily plagiarized in his doctoral dissertation. Another recent prominent example is the German research and education minister Annette Schavan whose plagiarism has been discovered by schavanplag. Both therefore lost their PhD titles and their ministry posts. Several other (in)famous politicians and researchers have also been under surveillance now.

Many academic journals are increasingly trying to deal with and prevent this unethical behavior. The Academy of Management raises awareness and has established a code of conduct for correct ethical academic behavior.

At the last Druid Winter PhD conference an interesting key-note speech by Ben Martin from SPRU at the University of Sussex dealt with another infamous case of unethical plagiarism in science which has not been uncovered until 2007. A PhD student discovered two nearly identical papers one written by Frank Bass published in the Journal of Business in 1980 and a second paper written by Hans-Werner Gottinger published in Research Policy in 1993. The student then told the editors of Research Policy about his mysterious finding.

An investigation by the editor of Research Policy Ben Martin revealed that the German professor Hans-Werner Gottinger apparently was a serial plagiarist. He had copied whole paragraphs and formulas from previously published papers on a large scale, without acknowledgement. He had even gone to the lengths of falsifying his CV by claiming positions and affiliations with universities and institutes that never existed or never employed him. The whole case is very well described in a Nature article.

The whole plagiarism case is shocking and shows that a person built his whole “career” on false affiliations and publications and thereby undermining others’ honest and hard work. It also suggests that plagiarism might happen more often than expected. Gottinger’s dubious career however was only possible because reviewers had never detected him. With the internet and improved search engines and software we can only hope that copying and plagiarism will not happen anymore as it has become much harder these days.

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