Wikipedia discovers plagiarism – as a side effect


Centre for Medical Research, University of Münster (CC-BY-SA, by STBR)

In late May 2011 newspapers reported about another case of plagiarism in Germany. It seems that within three years, the Medizinische Fakultät of the University of Münster accepted two PhD theses with huge similarities. This was discovered by a Wikipedian who tells his story on “Wikipedia:Kurier” on Wikipedia in German.

According to him, the introductory parts of theses are useful for writing an Wikipedia article: They sum up the state of the science on a specific subject. In March 2011 he read a thesis from 2006 about a lemma with relation to the prostate (he don’t want to name the specific article for privacy reasons).  As the lemma was unknown to him, he consulted Wikipedia and so he found a PhD thesis from 2009. Same university, very similar subject. Partially the very same text, even the same pagebreak. The same bibliography. The author of the 2006 thesis appears nowhere.

The Wikipedia author, after his discovery, went to bed with an awkward feeling. Nobody hurt him personally, but would it be right to do nothing? He later asked some friends from different universities who all said: Incredible – you must report that!

So he sent an e-mail to the Medizinische Fakultät of the University of Münster. Three hours later he got a reply that the proper institutions will deal with the case, and two weeks later came a preliminary report and a thank you. On May 20th came another interim report with basically what was later reported by the news.

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