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German Research Minister Faces Plagiarism Allegations

2 May 2012 1:01 pm
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BERLIN—German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan is facing allegations that she plagiarized parts of her dissertation, published in 1980. A Web site, called schavanplag (in German) has listed 56 incidents in which the anonymous accuser says Schavan copied phrasing from improperly cited sources.

Schavan received her doctorate in educational science in 1980 from the University of Düsseldorf; her dissertation was entitled: "Person and conscience—Studies on conditions, need and requirements of today's consciences."

"The dissertation was written 32 years ago, and I will be happy to give my account to those who are looking into the work; but it is difficult to deal with anonymous allegations," Schavan said at a press conference this morning. A ministry spokesperson told the German press agency dpa that the University of Düsseldorf will look into the allegations at Schavan's request.

Schavan had hoped reporters would focus on the planned topic of today's press conference: Her ministry's proposal for a new law that will give German science organizations more freedom over their budgets, with the ability to attract star scientists with higher pay, streamlined processes for setting up cooperative ventures with businesses, and more control over construction projects. The reform proposals were hailed as "an important signal for strengthening science and research," in a joint statement (German) from a coalition of nine science organizations, including the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Association, the DFG funding agency, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The law "will have a positive and lasting impact in all areas" of German science, the statement says.

But the plagiarism allegations made more headlines. Schavan's case is the latest in a string of similar accusations against German politicians. Just over a year ago, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after a blogger turned up evidence of extensive plagiarism in his dissertation; the University of Bayreuth also revoked zu Guttenberg's Ph.D. title. Since then, six other German politicians have had their Ph.D.s revoked because of similar offenses. Several more have been reprimanded for sloppy scientific work but have managed to retain their degrees.

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