Romania has yet another high-level plagiarism scandal, namely the Prime Minister who seemed to have plagiarized about 1/3 of this Ph.D. thesis.

Based on the context, this typically leads to resignation (not the case yet for the current PM), sometimes losing the title, but no other serious consequences.

This is considered incorrect (maybe even illegal) by some because having a Ph.D. typically means more money for people working in the public sector and they should return it, especially after the title is gone. However, the person is very likely to get "recycled" (get another job in the public sector or even be included in the list for subsequent elections).

This DW article shows that a somewhat similar phenomenon seems to happen in Germany:

At least 20 respected German politicians have had aspersions cast on their academic integrity over the last ten years, including former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (who lost his Ph.D. and resigned in 2011), former Education Minister Annette Schavan (who lost her Ph.D. and resigned in 2013), and former Vice President of the European Parliament Silvana Koch-Mehrin (who lost her Ph.D. and resigned in 2011).

The article provides some insight about why this is happening but does not mention what happens besides losing the title in the proven cases of plagiarism. Is there a fine for such an action? Do politicians lose the political support within the party support or typically get "recycled"?

2 Answers 2



  • Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned (was forced to resign) from his Federal cabinet positon, and then became a lobbyist, author, and political analyst.
  • Franziska Giffey resigned (was forced to resign) from her Federal cabinet position and then ran again as mayor of Berlin, arguing that the voters could elect her in their knowledge of the affair. Basically she argued that her one resignation paid the political penalty. The voters did elect her party.
  • Annalena Baerbock argued that her quotations in a non-academic publication did not constitute a significant problem, and carried on.
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    @Alexei Having to resign from a political office is a pretty major consequence for an act of academic misconduct which wasn't even part of their political activity.
    – Philipp
    Feb 4, 2022 at 15:32
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    @Alexei: In the case of Guttenberg, it might be worth noting that he was seen a promising young, very smart, very handsome rising star in his party, the conservative CSU. At his zenith in 2010, many even considered him a potential Merkel successor as chancellor (see e.g. this German article for reference). The fact that he cheated his way to his PhD, lied about that, and refused to accept the guilt destroyed his political career completely.
    – Schmuddi
    Feb 4, 2022 at 17:33
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    @Alexei It seems you are confusing copyright violation and plagiarism. A copyright violation is when you copy a creative work without having legal grounds to do so (permission from the copyright holder, a fair use exemption, research, satire, …) whereas plagiarism is when you pass someone else's ideas off as your own. A copyright violation is a legal issue (possibly even a criminal matter) whereas plagiarism is a moral and ethical issue. (Although students and staff typically have non-plagiarism clauses in their contracts, which would make it a contract violation. Also, dissertations … Feb 5, 2022 at 17:56
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    … contain a signed affidavit that the author did not plagiarize anything, which makes plagiarism then a false statement in an official document and thus a legal matter.) Plagiarism is fundamentally an academic thing, which is about "traceability of ideas". It is important in science and research to be able to understand where ideas come from, so they can be challenged, tested, and examined. If ideas are copied without attribution, that traceability is broken. Example: if I hire someone to write my dissertation for me, that is not a copyright violation (I am using the work with permission), but Feb 5, 2022 at 18:01
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    … plagiarism. OTOH, if I copy someone else's text but I freely admit that it was copied, then it is not plagiarism, but it is a copyright violation. The two are mostly orthogonal to each other, unless linked by some third thing. Feb 5, 2022 at 18:04

Having some experience in the field of science, now engaging in also patent writing in various areas including chemistry, I can attest to the fact that as knowledge of the science evolves, especially for those skilled in the art, some reputedly 'new inventions' are more like near spontaneous logical leaps.

I have personally observed this many times, after getting a 'new idea', to discover pretty much the same invention already under a patent protection.

As such, claims of partial plagiarism, at least in the pure sciences, or even quasi-sciences like economics should, in my opinion, be taken with a bit of skepticism, and a country should not suffer an educational brain drain for what appears, from an outsider in a specialized discipline, as plagiarizing.

Here is an actual research article: "Plagiarism in medical scientific research", to quote from the abstract:

About five hundred articles were retrieved. Articles were divided into subgroups, with each group covering an aspect of plagiarism. Main findings and updates were summarized for each topic. The main reason behind plagiarism was found to be a lack of knowledge about the subject. When coupled with insufficient time, immature writing skills and the pressure on researchers to get their work published in good journals, authors take unacknowledged pieces of others' work and commit plagiarism.

which I would claim may encompass many cases of 'apparent plagiarism'. Even in the literary sciences, there is but a limited number of ways of saying something well. So, if two people happen to employ the same words that may, indeed, be simply a case of probabilistic coincidence.

Also, when a doctors makes medical mistake, they, as professionals, as judged by a panel of peers acquainted with the technical issues.

So, as to what should be the consequences for German, or other politicians, who seemingly plagiarized part of their PhDs thesis, nothing but a public report noting the possibility of said plagiarizing. Here is a report of what has occurred:

Allegations follow previous cases of federal ministers losing their government posts after evidence of plagiarism. The Hannover Medical School in Germany is examining allegations that German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen plagiarized in her 1990 medical dissertation in obstetrics. The allegations were made on the 'VroniPlag Wiki' website, a platform that searches academic theses for plagiarism. Compared to some of the cases VroniPlag has examined before, the alleged plagiarism is only "moderate", Gerhard Dannemann, a law researcher at Humboldt University in Berlin, told the magazine Der Spiegel. In the past four years, two other federal ministers have lost their PhD titles and their posts in government following evidence of plagiarism: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — also a defence minister — in 2011, and education and research minister Annette Schavan in 2013. Speaking to German media, von der Leyen denied the scientific misdemeanour. The Hannover Medical School confirmed in a 28 September statement that it has launched a formal preliminary investigation, on the minister's request.

Please note the denial.

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