Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plagiarist is Germany's most popular politician

Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type - at least for the Europeans - and he began to print one copy of the Bible after another.

This year, it turned out that Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German defense minister, has followed in the footsteps of his namesake. Well, it started with his ancestors. They borrowed Gutenberg's name and copied the "t" in the word "Gutenberg" to become "Guttenbergs". And Karl-Theodor himself copied another person's text and promoted it to one half of his 2007 doctor thesis.

This satirical video in German is embedded to show how Guttenberg likes to be funny about his fraud. You don't have to understand what they're saying; you must only wait a little while to see who Guttenberg actually is - I hope you can guess haha

Because the copied portion of the text was copied word by word, and there were absolutely no doubts that plagiarism has taken place, the university has stripped him of his doctor degree. And how did the German nation react? Guttenberg, the Germany's most popular politician, became even more popular. His approval rate jumped by 5 percent or so - from 68 to 73 percent.

What does it tell us about the contemporary German society and the Western society in general?

Well, first of all, almost everyone is fed up with degrees. I have almost never used mine because I have always understood the external world as telling me that a degree is something I should be ashamed of. This is surely what the uneducated part of the population likes to think and populist politicians have loved to pay lip service to their lack of education.

Moreover, academic degrees have been acquired by all kinds of morons - I could enumerate hundreds of them - and the people who love to use their degrees all the time are often those for whom the degree is near the maximum of what they could achieve, and they may have achieved it by a collection of coincidences and tricks, too.

So at least to some extent, even I share the viewpoint that the degree doesn't tell us much today. However, the degree should be - and arguably used to be, just a reflection of something genuine - expertise, knowledge, ability to produce intellectual assets - that surely make a lot of sense.

Is the society disrespecting those things as well? I am not quite sure what's the right answer but I think that the right answer is closer to Yes than No. It has to be.

Where it can lead? People spend a big portion of their life at schools, and a big part of it are the studies in which they are obtaining academic degrees. Isn't it kind of stupid when those things don't really matter? Shouldn't the public that doesn't give a damn about degrees - and the cheating needed by some to obtain the degrees - abolish those useless schools? I think that the societies are being inconsistent.

Needless to say, this question has an obvious ethical dimension, too. This guy is clearly an amusing teflon Gentleman. But is it ethical to support a convicted plagiarist? There are many questions. At any rate, I feel uneasy about those events.


  1. Why is the man popular?
    He is Germany's JFK, that is why.
    Like JFK during his ascendency, there is no substantial achievement on his resume, but he too looks youthful and has a motivated spouse.
    In a government of fat old politicians, he stands out. If he also could speak, like JFK, he would win in a heartbeat, irrespective of talent.

  2. That's pretty bad if ~73% of a nation is choosing its government using this criterion.

    You could collect a group of random college students and make it your government.

    Well, in 1989, right after the Velvet Revolution, at least our high school was effectively ruled by the children. ;-)

    But I don't think it can work when such a policy would be used all the time.