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Innovation boss in duplication row

Paper sprouts fresh charges against Thai official found to have plagiarised PhD. Paul Jump writes


Innovation boss in duplication row
Credit: Alamy
New crop: asparagus paper queried


Concerns have been raised that a leading university and an academic journal in Thailand have failed to act against a senior government official, who was found by a university investigation to have plagiarised his PhD thesis and who has also been accused of plagiarising an academic paper about organic asparagus production.

Supachai Lorlowhakarn is the director of the National Innovation Agency, an agency of Thailand's Ministry of Science and Technology. He was awarded a PhD from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok in 2008, despite already being the subject of plagiarism allegations.

Times Higher Education understands that an internal investigation by the university concluded in April 2010 that 80 per cent of Dr Lorlowhakarn's thesis was plagiarised from several sources, including a United Nations technical assistance report and a field study in organic asparagus production commissioned by his agency.

Dr Lorlowhakarn did not respond to requests by THE for comment.

Chulalongkorn's governing council is reported to have appointed another committee in January 2011 to consider whether Dr Lorlowhakarn's PhD should be revoked, but the university has released no information on the subject and did not respond to THE enquiries.

It is also alleged that an article published in 2008 in the Scopus-indexed Thai Journal of Agricultural Science, "Organic Asparagus Production as a Case Study for Implementation of the National Strategies for Organic Agriculture in Thailand", on which Dr Lorlowhakarn is listed as first author, was also plagiarised from the same sources, as well as from an article previously submitted to another journal by the authors of the UN report.

PhD students at Chulalongkorn are required to publish a paper in an international peer-reviewed journal in order to graduate.

Wageningen Academic Publishers, which holds the copyright of the original article - eventually published as a book chapter - has demanded that the Thai journal retract the paper.

However, the company's editor, Lieke Boersma, said she had been "unpleasantly surprised by [the journal's] unwillingness to approach the situation in a serious way".

The journal's editor-in-chief, Irb Kheoruenromne, a soil scientist from Bangkok's Kasetsart University, told THE that he would not retract the paper unless he were presented with a court document proving that it constituted a breach of copyright. He said there were many reasons for this, chief among them being the fact that the paper was published "before any other documentation that shows the copyright".

He also said that one of the authors of the UN report and of the paper allegedly plagiarised, agricultural consultant Wyn Ellis, was also the original source of the plagiarism accusations and a fellow PhD candidate of Dr Lorlowhakarn at Chulalongkorn.

Mr Ellis declined to comment.

Apirux Wanasathop, a former member of the National Innovation Agency board, said that Chulalongkorn must punish Dr Lorlowhakarn if it wanted to live up to its slogan of being "the pillar of the kingdom".

He described the case as "a shame to the country, the ministry and the university".

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Carl Hogan: "It can only be wondered if the Thais' really understand the wider implications of this case?" They would, perhaps, if they were even allowed to read about it. There is another dimension to this case, namely defamation suits and the suppression of journalistic freedom to investigate as the Bangkok Post Erika Fry case as reported in the Columbia Journalism Review clearly shows: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/fry_in_thailand.php?page=all The possibility of criminal defamation suits and financially crippling lawsuits puts a damper on the possibility of running investigative journalism pieces, something that is sorely needed for informed citizenship.

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  • Irb Kheoruenromne: Peter Fernquest said it better than I possibly could. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether the tone and content of your posting are worthy of an esteemed academic and Editor-in-Chief of an international scientific journal. I will simply say that my ‘motives’ are no concern of yours; after all, exposing academic fraud is your duty and mine, and to do so should require no further defence. Your posting also contains some factual errors: allow me to set the record straight. First, I am plain “Mr”, not “Dr”. Second, my PhD thesis topic has nothing to do with asparagus, organic or otherwise. Otherwise, my thesis topic is a private matter in which you have no legitimate business to intrude. Again, I ask you to please stick to the facts you know, and respect my personal boundaries. I fully support Peter Fernquest’s suggestion to remain focused on the single key issue in this dispute– whether or not the TJAS paper was plagiarized. Should the balance of available evidence support the allegation, I submit TJAS has both an ethical and legal duty as publisher to retract the paper NOW without further wrangling. Retraction is no disgrace: indeed, to the contrary, it demonstrates the journal’s commitment to stamp out the growing crisis of academic fraud, adding to its credibility. So what of this ‘supporting evidence’? Well, there is quite a bit. There are the three court verdicts and the report of the Chulalongkorn University investigation, which all ruled on the provenance of the reports upon which the disputed TJAS paper was based? Or the March 2010 report of the Ministry of Science and Technology investigation? Last year, Wageningen Academic Publishers and members of TJAS’ own Editorial Board also demanded that TJAS retract the paper. You've seen the source documents. I simply ask: what more could an unbiased observer possibly need to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt? To continue to sit on your hands in the face of this prima facie evidence makes your postion increasingly untenable. To move things forward, I have two proposals which I hope you will find constructive. First (and this has also been advocated by members of TJAS Editorial Board) why not demonstrate your impartiality by asking an independent panel of respected overseas academics to arbitrate? This would protect you from ‘local politics’, deliver an authoritative ruling respected by all sides, and allow a dignified closure to this protracted dispute. Second, since some readers may be curious to read the paper, in the interests of transparency would you be willing to post a link to the TJAS paper on this blog (I note you took the rather drastic step of taking the entire journal offline some time ago)? With the consent of the original intended publisher I’ll be happy to post a link to the unpublished proof copy of the original article. Readers can then judge for themselves the similarities, and also the academic standard of the TJAS paper, which I also challenge. I hope you will respond constructively to these two challenges; let’s at least try to resolve our differences like grown-ups.

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