Pseudo-Doctorates in the Duma

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Several years ago when I was living in Moscow I would often see people in the metro holding signs selling doctoral degrees. I even had a friend of a friend who earned money writing them on order. Fake diplomas, theses on order, and plagiarism. Already in 2006, Mikhail Kirpichnikov, the then head of State Commission on Academic Degrees, called the selling of diplomas and dissertations in the metro a “illness of society.” But it’s not just the buying of doctoral degrees that’s a problem in Russia. Plagiarism is quite endemic as well. In 2006, Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute, found that Putin had lifted sixteen pages of his dissertation from a Russian translation of William King and David Cleland’s Strategic Planning and Policy. Indeed, Dmitry Livanov, Russia’s Education and Science Minister, admitted in 2014 that plagiarism was widespread, so much so that a 2013 study conducted by the Russian State Library estimated that ten percent of recent dissertations in history were plagiarized. Many of them were written by Russian officials.

The State Commission on Academic Degrees (BAK) is trying to stem the tide. In addition to adopting guidelines for awarding a masters or doctorate degrees, last year the agency drew up a list of 164 legitimate presses and academic journals for scholarly publications. This list was a extreme paring down of the 2269 on BAK’s 2014 list. The idea here was to especially eliminate the “large number of garbage journals” that will print anything if you’re willing to pay.

But the real fight against academic charlatans lies elsewhere. Dissernet, a crowd sourced project, stands in the front lines in the battle against fake or purchased dissertations and plagiarism in Russia. After many months of research, Dissernet in conjunction with Novaya gazeta, released the results from investigating the dissertations of State Duma deputies. They found that 57 members, or 12 percent of the Duma, had plagiarized, faked, bought or had their dissertation ghostwritten. Given that even Russia’s top dog did it, it’s not too surprising.

Below is a translation of the results.

A Mandate with Plagiarism
Dissernet and Novaya gazeta‘s guide to State Duma deputies’ dissertations.

We met Zayakin about three years ago. In January 2013, the physicist published his first examination of Duma deputies’ dissertations. Deputies Tatiana Alexeeva, Nikolai Bulaev and Richat Abubakirov were “busted.” You’ve probably heard that on November 20, 2015 the State Commission on Academic Degrees finally stripped Abubakirov of his doctorate in economics. This was the first such case in the history of the State Duma. And it all started with posts on Live Journal.

Over the years, activists from Dissernet, of which Andrei Zayakin is the co-founder, with the aid of Novaya Gazeta and other public and anonymous helpers have examined the dissertations of almost every Duma deputy. Here are the results of this work.

Regular readers of Novaya Gazeta will recall that Dissernet published its analysis as interactive tables where the cells were partially or fully filled with different colors. The more colors, the more examples of plagiarism. We decided to issue the final results about the State Duma along the same lines. Only it’s not a table, but a diagram of the parliament chamber on the Okhotny Ryad. And there are parliamentary seats instead of cells. “We need a smart ass infographic!,” demanded some Editor-in-Chief for some other reason. Here it is.

I clearly remember the meaning of what Zayakin told me in an interview three years ago: “The battle against swindlers and thieves should not be carried out with seriousness. It should be fun, like Carlson playing the bogeyman—ferocious, but loveable. It’s like fighting Freken Bok. After all, if you remember, at the end of the story, Freken Bok found a dignified gentleman and became a very nice lady, and not a terrible housekeeper.”

Nikita Girin, Novaya Gazeta

Research was conducted on all current State Duma deputies. The green group are dissertations we examined and found nothing. This does not mean that these deputies wrote these works themselves. It only indicates that we weren’t able to find any plagiarism.

A number of dissertations fell into the grey group because, for a variety of reasons, we didn’t get around to them, even if we wanted to. There are a few dissertations we didn’t check simply because we didn’t have the time (due to the turnover in the Duma and the bottleneck at Dissernet), but want to check because they don’t fall into the “old dissertation” category discussed below.

In some of the “grey” dissertations we found matching content, but the presence of collaborative work and co-authors in the dissertation doesn’t allow us to make definitive conclusions that these borrowings are wrong or we think there could be additional sources. All such cases are classified as “There are signs of matching content. Our work continues.”

The most interesting group among the “grey” are the phantoms, that is, dissertations that don’t exist. In early November, Novaya Gazeta sent twenty-four requests to dissertation authors and abstracts that don’t have references in the Russian State Library, the St. Petersburg Public Library, or TsITIS. Even the titles of these works are unknown. We received six responses: In one case, it pointed us to an old work, which we missed, in three cases the dissertations were classified, and two cases of fake dissertations. These are useless scraps of paper produced in “mickey-mouse outfits” and not recognized by the State Commission on Academic Degrees. According to our findings, such “dissertations” belong to Elena Drapeko (according to her comments to the press, her dissertation defense was held at a certain International Academy of Education), Victor Pautov (at the International Academy of Authors of Scientific Discoveries and Inventions) and Sergei Chizhov (his “degree” was awarded by the Higher Inter-Academic Attestation Commission of the International Inter-Academic Union of the Higher Expert-Qualification Committee). That said, Sergei Chizhov told Novaya Gazeta (quite truthfully, we might add) that he doesn’t have a scholarly degree, and after our inquiry he removed information about it from his State Duma website. That’s when we first made screenshots of these pages.

As a rule, if a deputy has a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation, this table will only have the doctorate. Master’s theses are usually written in more ancient times, and they are not so interesting to verify. The exception was United Russia’s Sergei Naryshkin and Alexandr Remezkov, who we have an interest displaying a master’s thesis and doctoral work, as it’s noted in the diagram.

Some dissertations weren’t checked because they were written a long time ago and, as a rule, before the deputy had a political career. Such dissertations are difficult to obtain and aren’t interesting to analyze, and in our experience, if there is plagiarism, it is practically impossible to dig it up. Therefore, we assigned such dissertations with the color purple.

Andrei Zayakin, co-founder of Dissernet