Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Plagiarism in the news again

Plagiarism has hit the news today with both the German defence minister (Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg) admitting to, and Colonel Gaddafi's son (Seif al-Islam Gaddafi) being accused of plagiarism in their doctoral dissertations. I recently posted about plagiarism: "Plagiarism, Spam, and Essay Writing Services" and "What punishment for plagiarism?". These two posts attracted some comment - including an accusation that I had plagiarized in one of the posts myself!

Photo from Wikipedia.
Guttenberg resigned today after admitting to copying part of a PhD thesis, and has been stripped of his doctorate by Bayreuth University. He is quoted as saying "I'm not only leaving because of my error-filled doctorate, although I can understand this would be reason enough for many in the academic community. The reason is because of the question whether I can still live up to the highest expectations I put on myself" (quote from report by today's Irish Times). He's right about the "reason enough for many in the academic community", and he was right to resign as a consequence. In Germany, as far as I know - a doctoral thesis must be published in full. This makes the possibility of being exposed much more likely to happen if you cheat. However, how did this get past the review and the internal/external examination process? Perhaps Turnitin was not available when he submitted his PhD? How come it was not detected before this? 

Image from CNN.com.
Seif al-Islam Gaddafi's dissertation "is being checked for plagiarism by the London School of Economics" according to FT.com. The report also states that "Online activists identified 17 alleged instances of plagiarism in Mr Gaddafi’s thesis". No doubt Gaddafi has many enemies who are taking the time to check out his work.

While I stand over everything I wrote in my own doctoral dissertation - I often wonder what a Turnitin report on it would look like? I typed the dissertation on an original Mac Classic using MacWrite - but I have long since lost the floppy diskettes that I used. There are only three copies of the dissertation in existence. There is one in the Library in Trinity, I have one, and the third I do not know where it is - it was given by me to my supervisor in 1988. It also exists on microfiche in Trinity. Perhaps they have the technology to scan it now, or will have in the near future. No dissertation is safe!

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