A word about Mr. Schmitt and his doctorate

Pál SchmittOver two weeks have passed since HVG has first reported on the alleged plagiarism in Pál Schmitt’s doctorate and tensions around it are still unabated. Index was the first to caricature him with a series of pictures, which was followed by condemnations, official denial by Pál Schmitt in a radio talk and supports from the ruling Fidesz party: some more distinguished, some more pathetic. The allegations have stirred up much controversy in  Hungarian academic society as well: at first nobody wanted to join the committee  established for investigating the allegations of plagiarism for possible political implications, then it has been proposed that the committee would consist of foreign academicians, but in the end it’s been assembled from Hungarian academicians with their names classified.

About a week later HVG has revealed another work which was plagiarized in the thesis: an English research paper by Klaus Heinemann. This has set off another wave of protests, comments and general buzz around the controversy: it turned out that the thesis review process has been sped up solely by the big publicity it has received. The Mandiner blog has asserted that Mr. Schmitt should really consider his resignation given the circumstances around his thesis and István Stefka of Magyar Hírlap vigorously defends the president still.

All the facts aside I’d like to point out a few things: as it has been pointed out in a Mandiner post, Mr. Schmitt, despite his Communist past, has some major sports achievements, which brought fame not only to himself, but Hungary as well. He also performed well as a sports diplomat (despite or owing to the the fact that he snuggled up to whichever party that was ruling at the time) so throughout his career he brought fame, admiration and recognition to Hungary. And aside from the fact that within Hungary he’s become Fidesz’s yes-man in the last couple of years, his reputation abroad seems to be flawless still.

Plagiarism however is a serious issue. If the allegations turn out to be true, Mr. Schmitt needs to be stripped of his doctorate immediately. Failing to do so would have severe repercussions for Hungary’s reputation as a whole, especially among academicians. The reason for that’s quite simple: one of the few areas in which Hungary can still show its superiority over others is its support for innovation, science in general and the long(ish) record of Hungarian Noble price laureates. Hungarians themselves strive to maintain this reputation all throughout the nation: Budapest’s home to a hands-on science museum that’s quite rare in the region (Csodák Palotája), a planetarium, countless science exhibitions/lectures given to laymen and children to show the entertaining (and practical) aspects of science. Science (especially Hungarian science) is given an utmost importance on TV as well: a series of lectures have been by Hungary’s most reputable academicians and broadcast on MTV (Mindentudás egyeteme), major Hungarian scientific discoveries usually make it to the evening news (even at the commercial stations) and even the tabloid newscasts prominently feature Hungarian pseudoscientific discoveries every once in a while (mostly when they can’t tell it apart from real science). All of these efforts would take a huge blow if Hungary’s president would get to keep his title despite the fact that his thesis was mostly a mixture of direct copies from prior works, not speaking of the demotivating effect it would have on all the university and college students. And last but not least: let’s not forget about the fact that it’s also the president who appoints and releases professors and rectors.

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