Archive for March 3rd, 2011

A proposal for a pre-preprint archive

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

our little postbox in munich two years ago

The last days there had been a big public discussion in Germany about scientific publishing. The reason for that discussion was that the former german minister for defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had included texts into his Ph. D. thesis, which were not by himself, but which were on the other hand not appropriately marked as a citation. The number of these plagiarized texts in his dissertation was so big that this “secretely pasting in” of texts by other authors had to be called systematic. As of march first, 2011 the site GuttenPlag had found plagiarized texts on 324 of 393 pages of his dissertation. After a longer process which included strong protests especially from the academic community, which included the revocation of his degree and a declaration of his doctoral advisor Peter Häberle Mr. Guttenberg finally resigned from his post as a minister for defense. Among others the declaration of his doctoral advisor Peter Häberle contained the sentence:

Die in der Promotionsschrift von Herrn zu Guttenberg entdeckten, mir unvorstellbaren Mängel sind schwerwiegend und nicht akzeptabel.

(translation without guarantee: The – to me unexplicable – found shortcomings in Mr. zu Guttenbergs dissertation are severe and not acceptable.)

The investigations into this case haven’t been finished, in particular the University of Bayreuth (which was in charge for the thesis) seems still to be investigating and e.g. checking wether the plagiarism was intentional fraud. There seems also to be the possibility of juridicial consequences (see e.g. here and here.)

In short the damage that had been done with this affair is quite big and thus a sensible question is “how could that happen and how could one prevent further cases like this?”

I hope that the future will bring more clearness into the case and will give an answer to the first question. Whatever the result will be it is already clear by now, that something went utterly wrong in how the dissertation was made and in how it was supervised.

In the randform post Alexandre Grothendieck writes a letter I had promised to speak about the proposal of a “closed pre-preprint section for the arxive for timestamping works” i.e. a kind of “safe” for work in progress. I think that such a section in an open access preprint archive could in particular be useful in the supervision process of a doctoral thesis and thus eventually help preventing similar cases as the above. It would also have other benefits. Let’s explain this.