28 May 2012 | EN
Chulalongkorn University: under fire for not taking action on plagiarism allegations
[MANILA] A four-year dispute over allegations of plagiarism took a new twist earlier this month when Supachai Lorlowhakarn, director of the National Innovation Agency (NIA), who is alleged to have copied parts of the PhD thesis he was awarded by Chulalongkorn University, faced charges of forgery in a Bangkok courtroom.
The charges have been brought by a British agricultural consultant, Wyn Ellis, the principal author of one of the works which he claims was plagiarised — a technical report on the export capacity of Thailand's organic agriculture that was published in 2006 by Thailand's International Trade Centre (ITC).
Ellis declined to comment to SciDev.Net about the new case, which focuses on documents produced by Supachai relating to Ellis's employment as a consultant to NIA.
But he has called on Chulalongkorn University, one of Thailand's top academic institutions, "to clarify its position urgently, and show its commitment to upholding academic ethics by finishing [the dispute over the plagiarism allegations] once and for all".
In 2008, Chulalongkorn University awarded Supachai a PhD in agricultural technology. A year later, a local newspaper reported that some of Supachai's material had been copied directly from other sources, including a technical assistance report published by the UN.
However the university has yet to withdraw the PhD that it granted to Supachai, even after an internal investigation is reported to have confirmed the charge that he had copied parts of his doctoral thesis.
Last year, the Ministry of Science and Technology announced that it planned to impose disciplinary action on Supachai, following the disclosure by the university of its findings.
Chulalongkorn University's failure to act has sparked intense debate among academics and scientists both in Thailand and overseas, with several commentators expressing concern that the affair is damaging Thailand's academic reputation.
Apirux Wanasathop, former NIA director and an alumnus of Chulalongkorn, told SciDev.Net that he is "upset and feels ashamed" of the university council's lack of action on the case. Asked how this incident will affect Thailand's academic reputation, Apirux replied, "very badly".
Erika Fry, the journalist who first reported the plagiarism case for the Bangkok Post, agreed.
"It makes you question the legitimacy of the whole system when a top university like Chulalongkorn doesn't even honour its own academic standards," she told SciDev.Net.
Shortly after the publication of Fry's investigative report, Supachai sued both Fry and Ellis for defamation. Fry left Bangkok and is now based in New York, working as assistant editor of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). She later wrote about her experience in Bangkok in CJR's September 2011 issue.
Ellis had previously asked the Thai Journal of Agricultural Science (TJAS) to retract a paper by Supachai that it had published, on the grounds that some of its content had been copied from Ellis' own work.
But TJAS Editor Irb Kheoruenromne said that he does not intend to retract the article unless there is a court ruling that will prove that it was definitely plagiarised.
Both Supachai and the Ministry of Science and Technology failed to respond to requests for comment from SciDev.Net.
Don James ( Thailand )
29 May 2012
Chulalongkorn University seems willing to cast its reputation to the winds to avoid red faces among some of its senior academics. I simply hope they will soon realize this high price simply isn’t worth paying.
The refusal of the Thai Journal of Agricultural Sciences to withdraw the plagiarized paper raises even wider questions. Scopus-accredited academic journals such as TJAS take on a gatekeeper role in maintaining standards of scientific inquiry. In this case, instead of acting on Wyn Ellis’ complaint, it appears that TJAS’ editor (Irb Kheoruenromne) launched a nasty personal attack on Wyn Ellis. I hope Scopus will take note.
Don James ( Thailand )
4 June 2012
An update: this week a Thai journalist from Thaipublica.net asked Chula’s president Prof Pirom Kamol-Rattanakul to explain the delays in acting. The site quotes Pirom claimed that (a) ‘’Foreign reporters may not understand the complexity of the investigation”; (b) the ‘investigating committee’ faced delays because it could not force outside witnesses to come and testify; and (c) there are several possible outcomes. He promised that the Council would decide by the end of June.
Hmm. Frankly, these excuses sound lame at best. Having found 80% plagiarism in the thesis in April 2010, the investigation was over and at that point became a disciplinary matter, in which revocation of any fraudulently obtained degree would be an automatic and required formality, without requiring testimony from any new external witnesses.
Perhaps Dr Pirom could tell us why 2 years on, the university has yet to act on its own findings? And, in hinting at several possible outcomes , is he prepping us for a whitewash?
That Dr Pirom, supposedly an expert in good governance, should resort to blaming foreign journalists for ‘failing to understand the complexity of the investigation ‘ is itself extraordinary, and speaks volumes. Perhaps there is a more obvious reason, which foreign journalists understand only too well?
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