Barbara Geier: The plagiarism hunter
By Barbara Geier
When did you last come across the term ‘plagiarism hunter’ in English? Your answer might well be never. It’s not something that seems to be a thing in the English-speaking world. Cue another German-language (culture) curiosity, because ‘Plagiatsjäger’ is a word we’re very familiar with. It’s close to a profession; people who scour academic and other publications for plagiarism. And sometimes it feels that no week goes by without yet another prominent case of plagiarism in the media.
Time and again, high-profile cases have over the years even led to German government ministers resigning (imagine that in the UK, ha). People with political power seem to be popular prey for plagiarism hunters and there are numerous examples of politicians stumbling over wrong or rather ‘forgotten’ citations and similar academic writing mishaps. In February 2011, accusations of plagiarism in the PhD dissertation of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, then Minister of Defence, were made public, and – following a very German outrage involving criticism from academics, legal scholars and politicians – Guttenberg announced his resignation in May of that year. In 2013, Annette Schavan, Minister of Education and Research (the irony), resigned following the revocation of her PhD because of plagiarism. In 2021, Family Minister Franziska Giffey resigned after allegations of plagiarism for her dissertation which was submitted in 2010. And even Germany’s current Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, has been under attack during last year’s campaigns for the federal election in September when she was accused of ‘copy and pasting’ in a book she published in 2021 as a manifest of her political beliefs and agenda.
I could go on, including examples from Austria, another country which, based on my research, is quite keen on a bit of hunting for plagiarism, and is, in fact, home to a communications professor who has been called by the New York Times “the ‘plagiarism hunter’ terrorising the German-speaking world”. But I’ll leave it for you to make up your mind about the ‘Plagiatsjäger’ concept. And the importance that is quite clearly attached to doctor titles and getting your footnotes right in the DACH region…
Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.
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