- Posted January 20, 2014 by
Politicians of Germany Reel From Unfounded Allegations on Theses
Although there have been numerous instances of plagiarized academic papers in universities all over the world, not many have been as high profile as the recent examples of copied dissertations in Germany, not least because it has ruined the careers of some influential politicians. This sudden whistle blowing of plagiarized theses has manifested some side effects on academic researchers who have become increasingly afraid to commit plagiarism even unintentionally.
Katharina Schenk, a student studying for a doctoral degree and currently working at her college dissertation, disputes the fact that people who commit plagiarism unintentionally, even at such a small level as a careless slip with a single reference, are penalized just the same as people who willfully go out of their way to cheat; the difference between the two practices should be clear and their punishments just as different, but in reality that is not the case. It should be made clear that what practices are considered as actionable offences and how an academic researcher can be safe from plagiarism hunters.
The very first incidence in this stream of scandals was that of the defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who had copied information from various sources in his thesis. Later he resigned from his post and his doctorate degree was declared null. In another instance, the politician Norbert Lammert was cleared of charges by the University of Bochum which declared that his thesis consisted of only minor errors and was not eligible for cancellation.
However, Katharina Schenk is still frightened that she might be caught due to unintentional plagiarism. To avoid this, she now has created her own process for researching; she uses Post-its on which she takes her own notes and the statements that she means to copy directly are highlighted boldly. Yet she is still afraid that her thesis might not pass the plagiarism police and, even despite her new system, might be filled with errors.
To counter it, she declares that she will run her thesis through plagiarism checking software; however she knows that even that will not detect all the errors she might have in her thesis. However she believes that a creative research statement is the key to success; I she provides the answer to her thesis problem which is uniquely her own, no software tool can challenge her right to be a successful academic researcher.
Writing a thesis should be done with the utmost caution as declared by Weidenborner and Caruso in their book, “Writing Research Paper: A Guide to the Process.” They stress the importance of avoiding plagiarism by giving credit where credit is due and to accurately reference the name of the author and the place where he has stated the claim. Paraphrasing a direct quote inaccurately can also trap the student; hence a student must try to rephrase every sentence accurately. However they do not disregard the possibility of accidental plagiarism and believe that repetitive reviewal of one’s thesis can eradicate this problem.
After all is said and done, the plagiarism police in Germany should be realistic in their expectations of what they hope an effective thesis is and should take measures to correctly identify the difference between willful misconduct and accidental violation of academic writing. Even so, the politicians in Germany will now have to face the very real threat of having their careers ended through unproven allegations of plagiarism.