Visualization of Plagiarism

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The latest plagiarism scandal involves the now former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned due to allegations that he had plagiarized much of his doctoral dissertation. The scandal itself is of no particular interest, but it has inspired some really pretty and informative visualization. The "barcode" shows the fraction of pages on which plagiarism from a single source was found (black), the fraction of pages on which plagiarism from multiple sources was found (red), and the fraction of pages on which no plagiarism was detected (white). The blue pages are things like the table of contents and appendices which were not included in the analysis. There is also a display of the individual marked-up pages here.


  1. ShadowFox said,

    May 7, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

    The images bear remarkable resemblance to symbolic representations used by various disk utilities when addressing disk fragmentation.

  2. cosmicfroggy said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 2:28 am

    The Damocles plagiarism tool ( gives similar-looking output, although the only page I can find on the internet that shows the "barcodes" requires a Monash University staff login. I wonder whether it's coincidence or convergent evolution?

  3. Chris said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 3:26 am

    Affectionally known as zu Googleberg.

  4. Mark Dunan said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 6:26 am

    To be fair to Mr. Guttenberg, if I ever had to write out his name in full, with all those extraneous middle names that he has, I don't thin I could ever be bothered to type them all out; I'd just paste from somewhere like Wikipedia. I don't suppose that's plagiarism, but it's in the same area.

    (And wasn't there a minor scandal a while back when some pranksters added some fakes in along with the already prodigious number of names in between the 'Karl' and the 'Guttenberg', and then some reputable news sources repeated them without checking?)

  5. D said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    Karl-Theodor Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher zu Guttenberg?

  6. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    What I like most in this story is the existence of a whole wiki for „kollaborative Plagiatsdokumentation“. You know you’re done for when there’s an Internet community devoted to proving your dissertation is bogus.

    Also, I noticed the favicon for the GuttenPlag Wiki is the “barcode”, suggesting they love it too.

  7. John said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 8:58 am

    The man did wrong. He paid the price. Now, let's leave him alone… and cease any holier than thou wallowing in the faults of others. We are all flawed in varying degrees.

  8. Willie Costello said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 9:18 am

    I like how the white lines, despite their almost complete absence, are still qualified as pages on which no plagiarism has been found "yet".

  9. Zythophile said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    John – "We are all flawed in varying degrees." Yeah, but his was a postgraduate degree..

  10. Ray Girvan said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 1:03 pm


    … of Ulm.

  11. Goldbach said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    Dear John,

    Did you follow the german media about this ?
    I m 99% sure you didnt because otherwise you wouldn t talk like this

    Guttenberg is an arrogant a**hole, who didnt confess or regret at all
    He was only talking about "citation errors" which he would correct in the next edition and denied any "conciously" wrong doing on his side even when it was so obvious you couldn t deny it anymore.
    (how can you copy "unconciously" so much material ?
    was he "sleepwriting" ?)

    He has done a lot of damage to the reputation of his University Wuerzburg,
    to his "Doctorfather" who gave him "cum laude" and to the reputation of academics and scientists in general

    "flawed in various degrees" so you think all scientist are copying 94% / 63% of their PhD work ? come on, just take a look at the "barcode" !

    I really hope they will accuse and sentence him of copyright violations!

    (BTW there are many who suspect he had a badly paid ghost writer, because how can anyone have so much chutzpah to copy so much stuff ? and publish it as a book at a renowned publisher – it was a book review that debunked the first parts of it !)

  12. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    @ Goldbach

    He has done a lot of damage to the reputation of his University Wuerzburg,


    to his "Doctorfather" who gave him "cum laude"

    summa cum laude.

  13. maidhc said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 4:16 am


    Until recently it would be fairly difficult for a student's adviser to detect plagiarism, since the amount of available source material was huge and there was no way any single person could be familiar with all of it. So I don't think that much blame can be attached to his "Doctorfather" (is that what they call it in German?).

    The adviser is supposed to monitor the student's preliminary results and determine that the background research is being done. But a determined trickster can fake that.

    Now that we have automated text-searching tools, Guttenberg is far from being the only prominent person who has been caught out in this way.

    Even with these tools, there still may be cases that go undetected. I've heard rumours of (say) Italian doctoral dissertations translated into English and submitted to American universities. Given the current state of the art of machine translation, I think that such a case would be difficult to detect.

  14. James Wimberley said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 8:20 am

    Guttenberg badly needs to defragment his mind.

  15. Jason said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    "Until recently it would be fairly difficult for a student's adviser to detect plagiarism, since the amount of available source material was huge and there was no way any single person could be familiar with all of it."

    Except that the source material included the adviser's own work. You think a guy would be able to notice his own work, which leads me to conclude he didn't actually bother reading the thing.

  16. Mark said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    I'm just amused with the site name "GuttenPlag". Wunderbar!

  17. Roger Lustig said,

    May 9, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

    Please note that the doctoral program Guttenberg graduated from had incentives to grant him his degree. He had originally obtained a grade of "befriedigend" (3rd-highest passing grade, behind "sehr gut" and "gut") on his lower-level exams, which would have barred his entering a doctoral program.

    An exception was made for him. It is unclear whether that exception has anything to do with the fact that a company in which his family had a large stake, and on whose board he sat, funded a chair in the same department for 7 years starting around the time of his completing those lower-level exams.

  18. Dakota said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    I've been approached to copyedit the doctoral thesis of a non-native speaker in BrE–could get interesting. Now you've got me wondering if there isn't some way to jack up my fee by using some sort of plagiarism scan. :)

    On a more serious note, I would think there are some very legitimate reasons for using direct quotations or even paraphrasing in an academic paper, as long as the attribution is there.

  19. michael said,

    May 11, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    @Roger Lustig
    The exception was made because Guttenberg met requirements (e.g. getting at least a certain grade in at least a certain number of seminars) which allow someone with his grade to write a doctoral thesis. This is nothing special.

    There may be systematic problems with the requirements (Do lax requirements cause German universities to produce too many doctors who only want a title that looks good on their CV?) but I don’t think it’s necessary to come up with a conspiracy theory. Guttenberg’s plagarism and especially his lies when confronted with the same are disgusting enough.

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