Today’s world is said to be a post-truth environment. That is a melodramatic response to today’s information overload, but the essential message holds merit. The trend can be seen in politics, especially in the run-up to November’s mayoral elections. Facts are facts, but they are routinely manipulated by politicians, and voters must evaluate what they are told.
The politicians, of course, are betting they will not, human nature being what it is.
When Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Wang Hung-wei (王鴻薇) in July accused then-Hsinchu mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) of contravening the Copyright Act (著作權法) in a thesis submitted to Chung Hua University in 2008, she set off a string of plagiarism allegations. Almost immediately, accusations were leveled at Nantou County Council Speaker Ho Shang-feng (何勝豐) of the KMT, Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華), the KMT’s candidate for Nantou County commissioner, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如). Soon, plagiarism became a handle on which to hang political manipulation.
On Sept. 3, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Keelung mayoral candidate Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) denied plagiarism accusations, and on Tuesday, TPP Legislator Ann Kao (高虹安), the party’s candidate for Hsinchu mayor, defended herself against media reports that she plagiarized two studies, which she had coauthored, for her doctoral dissertation.
During a news conference, Kao cited an e-mail from Jane Strasser, senior associate vice president for research and research integrity at the University of Cincinnati, where she obtained her doctorate, saying that Kao “has entered the political arena, which may be the motivation for the allegations (or not).”
Strasser got that right.
Kao subsequently committed an unforced error by revealing her academic elitism, belittling Chung Hua University — where Lin received his degree in 2008 and which is in the city Kao wants to govern, therefore damaging her chances of succeeding.
However, the allegations, for now, hold little water.
Late last month, former premier Simon Chang (張善政), the KMT’s candidate for Taoyuan mayor, was accused of plagiarizing reports commissioned by the Council of Agriculture during his time at Acer Inc. He is still working to refute those allegations, and held a news conference on the issue yesterday morning.
Chang might well be exonerated, despite lingering questions about his integrity, in a way that Lin will probably not be: The National Taiwan University academic ethics committee confirmed that he had plagiarized content for his 2017 master’s thesis and recommended that his degree be revoked.
Many plagiarism accusations are politically motivated, but this does not mean they are unfounded.
In July 2020, Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee (李眉蓁), then the KMT’s candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election, was accused of plagiarizing content for a master’s thesis she submitted to National Sun Yat-sen University. She denied the allegations and called them politically motivated.
However, an investigation found she had plagiarized 96 percent of her thesis, and her degree was revoked. Lee said she “accepted the decision” and apologized for her “personal failings.”
Plagiarism is rife, and it goes across the board of Taiwan’s political parties, but that does not mean all politicians are guilty as charged. Denial is a symptom of the disingenuousness of a political class that believes an apology and wringing of hands absolve responsibility, and that denials are a sufficient hedge — because supporters will believe them, and detractors will not, whatever the facts. Plagiarism allegations are the flip side to this, and once made, politicians will refute them.
Voters must take a critical view and seek to see through the political manipulation, not just allow the political parties to make unfounded claims to damage their opponents.
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