Thai ‘plagiarism’ saga takes a new turn

Chulalongkorn University: under fire for not taking action on plagiarism allegations Copyright: Flickr/zoonabar

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[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.