Keynote: Misuse of Power in Academia: Does whistleblowing help?

Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff (c) 2018 HTW Berlin / Nikolas Fahlbusch


At times German universities and research institutions might seem to be throwbacks to medieval times: At times there is one strong person, the PI or the professor, who is the king or queen in charge of everything and dictates what is to be done and how it is to be done. Their word is law, people don’t dare contradict. The bosses demand that the people who work for them spend more time working that they are getting paid for.

They insist on things being done that feel uncomfortable. But there are so few jobs in German academia, and so many are only temporary. Some people feel like serfs, oppressed, unable to to say anything to the boss directly for fear of losing their jobs, so they choose to remain silent and bear it.

Others choose the path of whistleblowing, pointing out the problems in their lab or working group. These problems can reach from the atmosphere in group, over questionable research practices, or even to academic misconduct such as FFP: fabrication, falsification, plagiarism. But this can risk a temporary contract not being renewed, or other problems at work.

Is there anything in between? Let’s discuss!

About Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff

I teach various media and software-oriented subjects. Projects on Internet and eLearning interest me, as well as my work on detecting and educating about plagiarism.

Check out my plagiarism FAQ, my portal with the Plagiarism Detection Software Tests, my blog about good scientific practice, and my eLearning unit “Fremde Federn Finden“.

My book on plagiarism, “False Feathers: A Perspective on Academic Plagiarism” was published in 2014. I published a chapter in the “Handbook of Academic Integrity” on text-matching software in 2016.

Online I am active in the VroniPlag Wiki group, which documents plagiarism in dissertations, and in the Wikipedia project. I use the name WiseWoman in both projects. The new text comparison tool similarity-texter was produced by a student, the old one is here.

I am a founding member of Wikimedia Deutschland, there is a Wikipedia page about me and I can be found as Q1181545 on Wikidata.

I am fellow of the Gesellschaft für Informatik and a member of the GI working group “Computing and Ethics“. Our book, Gewissensbisse, was published in October 2009. We blog at Gewissensbits.

Originally published at