Sunday, March 26, 2006

Putin Accused of Plagiarising PhD Thesis

Putin accused of plagiarising his PhD thesis

I don't want to make too light of this story, but how does this make Putin any different than the majority of Russian university students? Not to cast a dispersion upon Russian universities, as many of them offer excellent educations - but almost every Russian student I have known has sought to cut corners or work a deal with a friend to get some paper done. It is almost like a given thing among many students. It can't be that way with ALL of these students, but certainly many. I've even had a difficult time explaining WHY it is considered so forbidden here, and can lead to expulsion of students.

Even with it being forbidden in US universities, it still happens. So just imagine when the environment doesn't foster a belief that it is incredibly wrong to plagiarize.
The embarrassing revelation that Putin, a former KGB agent, may have cheated and lied about his qualifications follows a long search by US scholars for evidence of the president’s academic prowess. A copy of the thesis was eventually located in the electronic files of a Moscow technical library.

According to Clifford G Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings, 16 of the 20 pages that open a key section of Putin’s work were copied either word for word or with minute alterations from a management study, Strategic Planning and Policy, written by US professors William King and David Cleland. The study was translated into Russian by a KGB-related institute in the early 1990s.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that six diagrams and tables from the 218-page thesis also appeared to “mimic” similar charts in the US work. The newspaper quoted Gaddy as saying: “There’s no question in my mind that this would be plagiarism.”

Putin’s work was entitled “The Strategic Planning of Regional Resources Under the Formation of Market Relations” and was largely an essay on how a state should manage its natural resources. Experts on the former Soviet Union said last week it was common for ambitious “apparatchiks” to seek to inflate their credentials with an impressive-sounding degree, and that there were many cases at the time of officials hiring ghost-writers to produce work they passed off as their own.
It is ironic that this same paper was recently cited as being almost a holy grail among Putin-philes (Putinophiles?) who wanted to read the man's original words. Even the titles of the papers are nearly identical - and the fact that it was translated into Russian in the early 90's certainly doesn't help the case against possible plagiarism.

I am expecting this to be completely dismissed in Russian newspapers tomorrow. Probably Russians who read this blog will get angry at me even writing this short blurb about the news article. But it was sitting there staring me in the face from multiple news sources after the Brooking Institute released their findings.

As it is, I don't consider it to be a hugely important finding, but it doesn't do much to improve Putin's stature in the minds of many in the West - particularly when enforcement of intellectual property laws in Russia are a large concern for western businesses.

17 comments:

Alex(ei) said...

Come on, any reasonable Russian will tell you the story is quite plausible and may well be true. What was Putin doing in 1997? If I am not mistaken, he was vice mayor of St. Petersburg. For some reason, he decided on getting a PhD (I don't know if we're talking about "kandidat" or "doktor nauk" here). What would the typical bureaucrat do? My guess is he'd pay someone to write a thesis for him. The hired academic had too many theses to write and saved time and effort by plagiarizing. Whether Putin took this way or not, who knows?

No one takes his PhD seriously anyway. Had he gotten the degree 15 years earlier, I might, just might, think otherwise. Yet Gaddy's discovery may turn quite an embarrassment for Putin -- once people start thinking about this, they'll have to conclude Putin either had someone write his theses or stole someone else's work. Though neither is a glaring indictment, both are a reminder of the man's vacuity. People will ask, "Have you done anything yourself in your life?"

Clifford Gaddy has published two books on Russia, with Barry Ickes and Fiona Hill so I'm sure he knows what he's talking about.

W. Shedd said...

Yes, I agree with what you are saying Alex(ei) and maybe I should have been more clear in that. My writing on this topic was a bit muddled and I was hedging my opinions to avoid offending someone (a bit of a mistake).

I agree the story is plausible, and that his degree isn't taken too seriously anyway. I didn't want to come across as harsh in judging this however - for a few reasons. The first one is Putins supporters are quick to pick up on any insult or slight (particularly if it is coming from outside Russia) and second, I think it isn't seen as such a serious or uncommon offense in Russia.

But it will undermine him a bit in the eyes of others, both inside and outside of Russia - because as you say, "have you done anything YOURSELF in your life?"

Alex(ei) said...

Let's wait and see what the response will be... By the way, I think Putin is only a "kandidat," roughly a PhD, but Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky are both "doctora nauk." Both got their doctorates in the 1990s. Not that Zhirinovsky isn't smart enough but that was a bad joke, definitely.

I've just thought of an interesting detail: Putin's thesis advisor was Vladimir Litvinenko, now head of the Mining U. in St. Pete. I've read that Putin's thesis reflected Litvinenko's ideas on how the state should manage extractive industries, and that Putin the president seems to follow the logic of his thesis. Now it turns out it wasn't Litvinenko's ideas after all.

jane said...

considering the complacency with which all of my students (including all of my adults) view cheating, (or how they don't consider plagiarism unethical) this doesn't surprise me in the slightest....

Lyndon said...

Of course this is not surprising, but it is interesting for several reasons. I was at the presentation by Gaddy and others at Brookings last Friday, and they talked more about other aspects of the story than about the plagiarism. For example, they tried to highlight the way that one of the American business school textbooks plagiarized could be seen as some sort of roadmap to Putin's philosophy of governing - Kremlinological tea-leaf-reading at its finest. More interestingly, they also noted that Litvinenko, under whose aegis Putin "wrote" the dissertation, is not just an academic - he has substantial interests in SPB shipping concerns, apparently, and there was some discussion of whether this was a story he could have used for blackmail purposes against VVP. Anyway, it's an interesting story, and I'm glad you've written about it since I unfortunately haven't had time to.

As a postscript, maybe this is not the case for Wally, but others who have discussed this issue have seemed to treat it very carefully - I guess everyone sees that if you can be barred from Russia even as a friend of the government (Browder), who knows what might happen to your ability to travel there if you jump on the bandwagon criticizing the Dear Leader?

Alex(ei) said...

Lyndon, that's what I was driving at -- Putin lifting his great ideas on government from some American PolSci wiseguy. That would have been multiply ironic. But then, Marx wasn't exactly Russian either.

You're talking about the Browder of Hermitage Fund, I suppose? Thanks for pointing that out. I'd expect that to be settled but the story shows how Putin's bureaucracy can screw things. The right to refuse entry to any foreigner on any grounds is in itself a sovereign state's natural right, as hosts of hopefuls applying for a US visa get painfully reminded daily. Putin's boys are bound to abuse it, of course. (Not that things were perfect under Yeltsin -- Boris Jordan was shut out for months and months in 1996.)

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I was at the presentation by Gaddy and others at Brookings last Friday, and they talked more about other aspects of the story than about the plagiarism. For example, they tried to highlight the way that one of the American business school textbooks plagiarized could be seen as some sort of roadmap to Putin's philosophy of governing. Como enamorar a una amiga
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I agree the story is plausible, and that his degree isn't taken too seriously anyway. I didn't want to come across as harsh in judging this however - for a few reasons. The first one is Putins supporters are quick to pick up on any insult or slight

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