Russia: Plagiarist politicians pandemic

January 12, 2021

Researchers have exposed widespread PhD plagiarism among Russian regional governors, which they say is part of a broader culture of academic corruption in a country where ghostwriters are routinely hired to win the rich and powerful the prestige boost of a doctorate. Checking hundreds of dissertations online against other text revealed that half the governors who have a PhD have committed plagiarism, according to two Russia-born academics based in Germany. In one case, a governor’s dissertation was made up entirely of text that had been copied and pasted from other sources.

In Russia, PhDs have become a status symbol and a sign of “conspicuous consumption”, says co-author Anna Abalkina, a sociology researcher at LMU, Munich and expert on academic misconduct. Doctorates are obtained for “a lot of businessmen and politicians to write ‘PhD’ on their business cards”, she says, with a subset of professors turning a blind eye to plagiarism during the doctoral defence. Over half of Russia’s regional governors have PhDs, plagiarised or not.

As well as shedding light on the scale of plagiarism in Russia, the study also found that governors with plagiarised PhDs performed worse in office on average, failing to develop their regions as quickly as their counterparts, as measured by metrics such as housing construction and the installation of broadband Internet. “Plagiarism is a prediction of corrupt behaviour and incompetence,” says Dr. Abalkina. “It says something about (the plagiariser’s) personality.”

But this doesn’t necessarily mean the other governors actually wrote their PhDs — they may simply have avoided detection by hiring better ghostwriters. In other words, while they may not be honest, they are at least competent, and thus better at governing. “It appears to be plausible that high-ranking officials in Russia rarely write their Ph D theses themselves,” says the paper, published in Scientometrics.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)

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