German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned on Tuesday in the face of accusations that he plagiarized portions of his doctoral thesis. The 39-year-old political star, who was the most popular member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet, initially denied the charges but later admitted to making "errors." Bayreuth University revoked Guttenberg's doctorate last week for violating its standards for proper attribution.
Here's a run-down of the thesis and surrounding controversy that brought down the man many considered a future German chancellor:
Year Completed: 2006
Topic: A legal comparison of European and U.S. efforts to develop constitutions
Length: 475 pages
Grade: Highest honors
Plagiarism Discovery: A University of Bremen law professor who was writing a review of Guttenberg's dissertation plugged several passages into Google's search engine, only to find that many of them appeared either word-for-word or slightly modified online in sources that Guttenberg had not cited.
Accusations: Guttenberg is said to have copied-and-pasted entire passages--some several paragraphs long--from newspaper articles, academic journals, speeches, and the U.S. embassy website without proper attribution. He reportedly even lifted the first two paragraphs of his dissertation from a newspaper article. Guttenberg also faces allegations that he reproduced portions of reports he received as a lawmaker from parliamentary research assistants--resources he wasn't permitted to use for personal business. Der Spiegel reports that one website uncovered over 150 instances of plagiarism, and analysts estimate that more than half the thesis "had long sections lifted from other people's work," according to the BBC.
Scandal-Era Nicknames: In recent weeks, the German media has branded the defense minister Baron Cut-and-Paste, Zu Copyberg and Zu Googleberg, according to the BBC.
Who's to Blame? German academic Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker tells Der Spiegel that Guttenberg's dissertation committee is as responsible as Guttenberg himself. "A blanket suspicion of all Ph.D. candidates would be absurd," Winnacker says. "But the case does show that doctoral students cannot be supervised to the degree necessary. Expert supervision should remain in the hands of the faculty advisor, but every university should establish a central institution that monitors all Ph.D. candidates and ensures that minimum academic standards are met."
Upon resigning, Gutenberg told reporters, "I must agree with my enemies who say that I was not appointed minister for self-defense, but defense minister." His enemies probably appreciated the attribution.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.