"Plagiarism hunters" plague German politicians

Tue Apr 26, 2011 12:39pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

BERLIN (Reuters) - A group of anonymous internet activists have surged to prominence in Germany by examining the doctoral dissertations of politicians for plagiarism on a public Internet site.

The so-called "plagiarism hunters" helped rock the German political establishment last month when popular Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after he admitted to copying part of his doctoral dissertation.

"In a way, it's kind of a hobby seeing how good the dissertations are in question of authenticity," Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor of media and computing at the HTW science university in Berlin, told Reuters on Tuesday.

But the anonymity of the internet activists has raised questions about their ethics, especially if the allegations prove to be unfounded, plagiarism expert Volker Rieble told Reuters.

"On the one hand it's good that people are paying attention to this," said Rieble, a law professor at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich.

"But it's problematic that they're alleging plagiarism anonymously. The accused don't know who's attacking them."

Since the Guttenberg plagiarism scandal broke in February, plagiarism hunters have raised questions about other dissertations on the collaborative VroniPlag Web site de.vroniplag.wikia.com .

"We have been sweeping a lot under the table and not talking about it," Weber-Wulff, a VroniPlag collaborator, said about academic plagiarism. "It's rampant."   Continued...

<p>German former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg leaves after a ceremony in presidential residence Bellevue palace in Berlin, March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Peter</p>