Now it is no longer possible to go back to business as usual. Clarity is needed, the discoveries made so far in the dissertation by Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) are too serious: five top experts will comb through all the parts of the work, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. The plagiarism checkers will present their results in three weeks. The literature references of the doctoral thesis are also checked for correctness.
The previous revelations of the eXXpress have already caused outrage among legal scholars, but almost everyone is keeping a low profile. The case has yet to be thoroughly investigated. The only thing that is clear is that key passages in the Minister of Justice’s doctoral thesis are obviously plagiarism. In the meantime, other positions have already been found, but the eXXpress is waiting with revelations for the time being until the plagiarism hunters have come to a conclusion.
What is alarming is that all examiners want to remain anonymous. The pressure is great. Some have already received death threats.
The fact is: Austria has a university law, and that is clearly formulated with regard to plagiarism. And: No one is above the law, regardless of office and political affiliation, not even a green justice minister.
Everything starts in the previous year. The plagiarism checker Katharina Renner observes “expressive difficulties of the Minister of Justice at some press conferences”. What subsequently irritates her: A first examination of the doctoral thesis fails because it is blocked for the plagiarism software of the University of Vienna. Renner begins her own investigation and subsequently uncovers 85 unlabeled citations. It was the “second worst job” she’s ever studied, she says.
The plagiarism checker Stefan Weber, known throughout Austria, sees “systematically incorrect citation”, his German colleague, the renowned plagiarism expert and long-time dean at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich Manuel Theisen speaks “on strict formal consideration” of “text plagiarism”.
The eXXpress then comes across a scientific work by the US legal scholar William W. Burke-White. Apparently, Burke-White had come to the same conclusions nine years before Zadic. Confronted with the new discoveries, Stefan Weber finds: Each of the three conclusions that Zadic draws from her explanations is a plagiarism of ideas (a footnote only indicates the source once, citing the wrong page number); Media scholars three more text plagiarisms at the end.
Weber changes his assessment: “These are now finds of a new quality and clear plagiarism of texts and ideas according to the University Act.” A legal scholar who remains anonymous is outraged: “A plagiarism in the conclusion can hardly be surpassed in terms of audacity. That would be an affront to the university and science. This devalues all scientific work. In this case, the university must act. This goes beyond the ‘normal cases’ of bad scientific practice. I’ve never come across anything like that.”
The plagiarisms recently discovered are the most serious so far: This is not about the foreword, the introduction or an excursus about a side aspect. This is about the final part – also called conclusion – which summarizes the most important results of the work. The questions should be answered and the doctoral student should show that he is able to independently draw conclusions from his explanations. With this part stands and falls the point of a doctoral thesis. The student shows – in the words of the University of Vienna – “that they can independently deal with scientific questions.” And: “As a rule, the dissertation must contain new findings on the chosen subject and be methodologically flawless.”
So far, the University of Vienna has not become active, at least not externally. However, no university can remain indifferent to a doctoral thesis whose central concluding part is – in the interest of its own reputation, in the interest of science, in the interest of young academics. The eXXpress stays tuned.