September 13, 2013

The de-habilitation of a serial salami slicer

Professor Ulrich Lichtenthaler had his habillitation revoked by WHU, the university announced today.

Here is my composite translation of the German language press release, based on the Google, Bing and Systran translations
Allegations of dishonest academic practice against Professor Dr. Ulrich Lichtenthaler: Senate WHU decides to withdraw teaching qualification

Vallendar [Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany] 13 September 2013.

At its meeting on 11 September 2013, the Senate of the WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management unanimously decided to withdraw the teaching qualifications [Lehrbefähigung] that Professor Dr. Ulrich Lichtenthaler gained at WHU. The withdrawal was preceded by an intensive investigation into the allegations of scientific misconduct, which had the goal of producing a complete investigation.

After a thorough examination and discussion of the Senate of the WHU has come to the conclusion that an essential condition for the granting of the teaching certificate was not met. Prof. Lichtenthaler may appeal the decision.

Course of the Procedure

After the Dean of WHU in summer 2012 had learned of statistical defects and other scientific shortcomings in the work of Prof. Lichtenthaler, these were investigated in detail. The existing commission for safeguarding good scientific practice at WHU presented its final report to the Dean of WHU on June 13, 2013, after a thorough examination of the scientific works of Professor Dr. Lichtenthaler. The report was the basis of the examination by the Senate, which had begun on June 20 and on September 11 led to the decision on the withdrawal of the teaching certificate. The decisions are based on principles and rules of procedure of the WHU for the handling of scientific misconduct and the habilitation procedure.
For those of us outside Germany, Wikipedia helpfully explains that the Habillitation is a post-doctoral examination (in German-speaking Europe) that is the prerequisite for the Lehrbefähigung (teaching certificate). I don’t know what normally happens to a professor who used to have a Lehrbefähigung but no longer has one — since I imagine this doesn’t happen very often.

The outcome is a validation of the faith that many of us had that the system would eventually confront the serious charges here and not sweep them under the rug. It appears that the desire of the WHU faculty to distance themselves from their tainted alumnus outweighed any desire to cover up or explain away the problem.

The decision appears not to impact the PhD that Dr. Lichtenthaler earned at WHU. It is unclear what impact it will have upon the investigation by his current employer, University of Mannheim, and his chaired professorship. I’m told that it’s very difficult to fire or demote a German professor because of civil service rules.

I am concerned that administrative punishments might also short-circuit the remaining (and long overdue) investigations into some questionable papers that have been published. R&D Management has published 5 articles and retracted none, so it’s hard to imagine that his integrity batting average was 100% at this journal when it was 50% (or 0%) at other journals.

According to someone who closely examined Dr. Lichtenthaler’s entire publication output, five articles remain that have the same level of problems as the 12 retracted articles, including a 2009 article at R&D Management and articles at Organization Studies and Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice. However, there isn’t much transparency as to whether these journals are investigating these problem articles or plan to do so.

As someone co-editing a book and a special issue of a journal on open innovation, this uncertainty is a problem for our field. Of this prolific output, what can we cite and what can’t we cite? Some individuals are erring on the side of caution, but others are continuing to cite the non-retracted articles on the assumption that they are as valid as any other in that journal. What if these articles are retracted later? What if they are seriously flawed — to the point that they never should have been published — but are never retracted? What does this mean for the integrity of our field and the lessons that today’s doctoral students will draw for their own careers?


Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2009). “Outbound open innovation and its effect on firm performance: examining environmental influences,” R & D Management, 39 (4): 317-330. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2009.00561.x

Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2008). “Intermediary services in the markets for technology: Organizational antecedents and performance consequences,” Organization Studies, 29 (7): 1003-1035. DOI: 10.1177/0170840608090531

Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Miriam Muethel (2012). “The Impact of Family Involvement on Dynamic Innovation Capabilities: Evidence From German Manufacturing Firms,” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36 (6): 1235-1253. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6520.2012.00548.x


Asdf said...

Dear Joel,

I appreciate your coverage on this case. Given the recent development I would like to highlight that also the work of Holger Ernst suffers from similar statistical errors found in lichtenthaler's retracted papers.

The results in one of Holger Ernst's most prestigious publications in marketing science (2010), for instance, show errors. Table 3 on page 88 of this publication reports a coefficient of 0.28 with a standard error of 0.20 as significant on the 5% level. The table contains more errors like the one quoted here.

I wonder whether there is a similar system in Ernst's work as in Lichtenthaler's work.

Full reference:

Ernst, H., Hoyer, W.D., Rübsaamen, C. 2010. "Sales, Marketing and R&D Cooperation across New Product Development Stages: Implications for Success", in: Journal of Marketing, Vol. 74 (5), pp. 80-92 - see

inesmergel said...

'Lehrbefaehigung' is only part of the definition. Habilitation is similar to tenure & promotion. So he is basically set back to his last degree (PhD) and will probably lose his title and position.

cc.franzoni said...

Concerning citations to retracted articles, this paper offers an interesting overview:

My takeout is that the whole field may suffer from such cases.