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Russian politics faces epidemic of Ph.D. plagiarism – Inside Higher Ed



Researchers have exposed widespread Ph.D. 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 about half of those governors who had a Ph.D. had committed plagiarism, according to two Russian-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, Ph.D.s have become a “status symbol” and a sign of “conspicuous consumption,” said co-author Anna Abalkina, a sociology researcher at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich and an expert on academic misconduct.

The degrees were obtained in order for “a lot of businessmen and politicians to write ‘Ph.D.’ on their business cards,” she said, with a subset of professors turning a blind eye to plagiarism during the doctoral defense. Just over half of regional governors had Ph.D.s, plagiarized or not.

The study builds on the plagiarism-hunting of the Russian site Dissernet, set up in 2013 by Russian academics and journalists to root out the practice. Scanning dissertations deposited online, it has unearthed nearly 10,000 cases of substantial plagiarism, snaring parliamentarians and university rectors.

As well as shedding light on the scale of plagiarism in Russia, the study also found that governors with plagiarized Ph.D.s performed worse 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 behavior and incompetence,” said Abalkina. “It says something about [the plagiarizer’s] personality.”

But this does not necessarily mean that the other governors actually wrote their Ph.D.s — 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 PhD theses themselves,” says the paper, published in Scientometrics.

It cites a thriving market for ghostwritten academic work and notes that the average governor defended their Ph.D. in their early 40s, far later than average.

“This suggests that most governors defended their dissertations while having a full-time job, and 18 individuals in our sample defended their dissertations the same year that they were appointed governors,” it says.

It is “absolutely impossible” to have written an intellectually honest dissertation while working as a governor, said Abalkina.

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Week In Politics: Trump Acknowledges Transition Of Power, But Stops Short Of Conceding – NPR



We look at what a concession from the Trump White House might look like, and what the president might be able to get done in his remaining days.


President Trump signaled this week he would accept the results of the election once the Electoral College declares Joe Biden the winner after weeks of mounting failed legal challenges and making unfounded allegations of voter fraud. But after that moment of lucidity on Thursday, the president returned to calling the elections, quote, a “massive fraud” and a “big scam.” He tweeted more of the same yesterday.

NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Is this as close as we might come to hearing a concession, if not the word?

ELVING: You know, it’s all over, perhaps, but for the tongue-lashing the president’s lawyers keep getting in the courts. Yesterday, it was a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania saying that, quote, “calling an election unfair does not make it so.” This in the same week the president called in to a Republican event – it was in Gettysburg, as it happens – and he then ranted about how he just needed to get, quote, “some judge” to listen to him.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the recount the Trump campaign sought and paid for is actually enlarging Biden’s lead, at least in the largest county. So as states continue to certify results, we’re moving toward a vote on the Electoral College in two weeks and two days. That will set up the situation the president said would cause him to leave the building.

So we can expect the president and his most devoted course of supporters will continue to deny it not necessarily because they think they can stop the train, but because there are other reasons to resist the inevitable.

SIMON: And those reasons are?

ELVING: Well, the president has always been interested in controlling the narrative, and he’s not eager to be cast with those other one-term presidents, like the first George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover. He’s not willing to be one of the losers. So even in defense – even in defeat, he may want to remain in denial. And he can do that. He just needs friendly media venues where he’s a victim of injustice.

SIMON: Earlier this week, we saw the implications of an expanded conservative majority that President Trump put on the Supreme Court when they delivered the decision upholding challenges to pandemic restrictions on the size of crowds gathered for worship at religious services. Those restrictions had already been lifted. Does this decision look like what amounts to President Trump’s legacy?

ELVING: You’re right to say this decision was of limited effect in an immediate sense in New York or elsewhere, but it was clearly a signal that the court has a new majority, five justices willing to vote to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts, five justices eager to be seen as champions of religious liberty and willing to defend that principle even in the face of public health advisories. Three of these five are Trump appointees. So, yes, this is indeed a singular achievement for the president and a salient feature of Donald Trump’s legacy.

SIMON: President pardoned Michael Flynn this week, which may not have been so surprising. But what else do you believe the president can do between now and January 20, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn into office?

ELVING: There is a great deal the president can do. The question is how much of it can be undone and what permanent effect will be left after January 20. We’re also seeing a flurry of orders from Cabinet members governing their various jurisdictions. Some of those are draconian and may be swiftly reversed, and others may remain on the books for some time.

As for pardons, that is a presidential power with very few restraints. And the pardons he grants for federal offenses are permanent and not reviewable.

SIMON: And we must ask this weekend, what about prospects for military action? It was reported that the president was quite recently talked out of bombing an Iranian nuclear facility. And, of course, he has recently ordered the withdrawal of more U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

ELVING: There’s real concern about what Trump could do as commander in chief, anxiety about him deciding to make a mark on his way out the door. So when we see a key figure assassinated in Iran, we wonder whether that shows the hand of the U.S. in any way.

But right now, it seems the president is preoccupied with projects closer to home, things that have always interested him more than foreign affairs, including his challenges to the election and pardons for former associates in criminal difficulty and measures he may take to insulate himself or his family against legal or financial consequences down the road.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey – Nanaimo News NOW



“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses. 

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.” 

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure. 

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Rascals, rogues and colourful speakers: We seem to have fewer characters in our politics these days –



Danny Williams, seen during election night in 2007, was rarely quiet during his two terms in office — and knew how to push political buttons. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

There’s a certain kind of litmus test for politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador: would Mark Critch want to play you in a sketch on 22 Minutes?

That notion came to mind after a conversation I had with a younger colleague last week about a story with long roots, and we wound up talking about a particular cabinet minister from an earlier age. His name didn’t ring a bell with her, so I mentioned a few yarns from decades back, including a mini-scandal or two.

“He was quite the character,” I said. Her response boiled down to this: do we have fewer characters now in politics, or what?

I thought about it, and came to this conclusion: yes, we do.

Maybe it’s for the better, maybe it’s not, but it seems like we no longer have the kind of political types to which we have long been accustomed. In a saucy take on a roguish persona that was more familiar years ago, the late, great Ray Guy once described Newfoundland politicians as the sorts of people whose mothers count the silver after they’ve come over for tea.

While Ray was talking about rascals drawn to politics, his comment is also about our political culture: we love talking about politics, and — admit it — everyone loves it when they act up.

Take no prisoners

Over the years, we’ve definitely had a political stage filled with colourful players: larger-than-life personalities, bombastic speakers, quick wits, quirky souls. Think about Brian Peckford, whose career started with earnest patriotism and fishermen’s sweaters, ending with sour cucumbers and fur coats (with police protection on the campaign trail in between).

John Crosbie was unapologetic about making controversial remarks during a career that took him from St. John’s city council to the House of Assembly to the House of Commons. (CBC)

Think about John Crosbie and his townie drawl, flaying his political opponents over a decades-long career, and well into his retirement. Think about John Efford, whose unabashed partisanship was matched by his good humour. Think about Brian Tobin, whose preferred campaigning style was take no prisoners and whose rhetorical pitch could go to 11.

And there was Joseph R. Smallwood.

Ah, Joey … or, to be more precise, “Joey.” Smallwood didn’t go by the name himself — his associates called him just Joe — but crafted the “Joey” persona as a political weapon that helped keep him in power for almost 23 years. Smallwood may have formed and broke the mould for political personality for a generation. How many future politicians grew up to be influenced by that rhetoric?

Joseph R. Smallwood leaned into his ‘Joey’ persona during his lengthy political career. These items are among the memorabilia on display at the Smallwood Interpretation Centre in Gambo. (CBC )

Smallwood was frequently criticized for hogging the political stage for himself, accused of hiring cabinet ministers whose skill he most admired was nodding. He grew into the stature, that’s for sure.

Rex Murphy described being a young broadcaster at VOCM whose duties included collecting tape for a segment called Conversations with the Premier. In a speech, Murphy recollected that once, he just stuck his microphone into Smallwood’s car when he pulled into the lot, and then took it back when Smallwood was done. He didn’t get to hear the “conversation” until he got back inside. (Crosbie, who quit Smallwood’s cabinet with future premier Clyde Wells, at least once called the segment “Monologues with the Master.“)

After Smallwood came Frank Moores, who in the ’70s leaned into a devilish style while proving to Newfoundland and Labrador you could have a different party in government. I recall Donna Butt, whose Rising Tide Theatre has been mocking politicians for decades in the annual Revue shows, describing Moores as a “good time Charlie.”

Making a racket

More recently, there was Danny Williams, who was not above over-the-top quotes (“they should be shot,” he once said of Eastern Health‘s leadership), stomping out of meetings, pulling down flags and banning reporters during live interviews. Like Tobin, Williams enjoyed popular support by making a racket. It’s a card that’s been played many times over the years.

WATCH | Mark Critch talks with (and scares) Danny Williams about his heart surgery in this 2010 clip: 

Mark Critch visits Premier Danny Williams after heart surgery. 2:09

It’s all a bit of a boys’ club, huh?

I remember speaking a few times years ago with Ann Bell, the first president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women. By all rights, Bell and quite a few other women ought to have been inside the House of Assembly, not outside advocating for ways to get women in the scene. Bell, who organized for the PCs back in the day when Tories could more easily be progressive on social issues, lamented how party brass would agree to a woman candidate — in districts where they were having trouble recruiting.

At St. John’s city hall, we had Dorothy Wyatt, whose “I don’t care what you think” attitude involved far more than her personal style (cartoonists loved her headbands and glasses as much as they loved Crosbie’s look). Wyatt called them as she saw them, a style that shook up council.

John Efford, seen during a 2019 interview, never shied from expressing his opinions, even if they put him at odds with political leaders. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

In the ’80s, we had the infamous “debates” — they were often more like comic shouting matches — between John Murphy and Andy Wells. For a while there, they had a recurring role on CBC Radio’s As It Happens, which dined out on their caustic, often hilarious exchanges. In their midst was Shannie Duff, who became mayor in the ’90s; while she felt under siege from Andy Wells, she was known for speaking her mind, as frankly as anyone else.

Where are we now?

And now … things have been a lot more quiet. On the provincial scene, after Williams, we had a string of PC premiers (Kathy Dunderdale, Tom Marshall, Paul Davis) whose style emphasized caution, even amid controversy.

Then came Dwight Ball, whose political style was (to tweak a phrase that’s been very popular in the pandemic) an over-abundance of caution. Though an image of Ball with his teeth bared gained traction as a meme, Ball took care to steer to the neutral. Ball wanted things to be calm, so much so that things backfired and he wound up with tumult both internal and external.

Now we have Andrew Furey, whose early premiership is being tested by an ongoing pandemic and a series of economic crises. We’ll see in time what his personal style is like.

It seems like local politics has been strongly influenced by a contemporary playbook used far and wide: say little, be cautious. Politicians often now eschew interviews and off-the-cuff constituent meetings for written (and often very brief) statements and bland, manicured speeches that emphasize positive but vague phrases. In the end, those comments don’t reveal much — which is exactly the point.

Which is a shame. Many of the politicians I mentioned above had their lovers and haters, but — like many, many others over the years — they were genuine. They told you what they thought. (Sometimes they yelled it.) They were, truly, characters.

Joey and Danny, Dottie and Shannie, the Brians … we’ve had so many characters over the years. I hope we’ll see a great many more for years to come.

Read more from CBC Newfoundand and Labrador

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