A newspaper story about how the director of Thailand’s ‘National Innovation Agency’ allegedly plagiarised his PhD thesis and an academic paper about organic asparagus production from other academics, has been given new life in the British’Times Higher Educational‘ this week.
In a story of intrigue, machiavellian legal cases, and journalistic ethics, Britain’s most prestigious higher education magazine, formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement is asking why nothing has been done.
The magazine, says that concerns continue to be raised into why Chulalongkorn University has failed to take any action against Supachai Lorlowhakarn, Director of the NIA, who has been accused of plagiarising both his PhD thesis and an NIA sponsored academic paper about organic asparagus production.
The whole story has a worse odour than the vegetable, the subject of the plagiarised academic studies, is said to give to human urine.
“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.” said the article’s author Paul Jump.
“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.”
The original story was published in the ‘Bangkok Post’ but later the newspaper pulled the story from the web after a deal struck with Dr. Lorlowhakarn..
‘Dr’. Lorlowhakarn took out libel suits against Erika Fry (left), the American reporter who exposed the alleged plagiaristic acts in the ‘Bangkok Post’, and also the newspaper’s editor and the publisher.
Dr. Wyn Ellis, an agricultural consultant, the man who complained about his and his colleagues work being copied, received ten law suits alone, nine of which have either been withdrawn or dismissed, such as one brought by the National Innovation Agency itself. Wyn Ellis put academic integrity above Thai cultural sensitivities and in fact claimed he had warned Dr. Lorlowhakarn about against taking his intended actions.
Dr. Ellis (right) claimed that since the controversy reared up he has had bricks thrown at his car smashing the rear windscreen, and received multiple visits from Immigration and tax authorities. Work of course is harder to come by, not because his reputation has been tarnished in any way but because he has become a hot potato.
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,” reported the Times Higher Educational Supplement.
“It’s a shame to the country, the Ministry and the University.”
Erika Fry left Thailand while on bail. She survived and is currently working as a journalist on the political campaign trail in the U.S.
But last year she reported in article headlined ‘Escape from Thailand’ in the Columbia Journalism Review that she did not believe the assurance of the editors of the Bangkok Post and gave the impression that they were hanging out herself and Ellis, the foreign journalist and foreign professor, to dry as a matter of Thai expediency.
Of the article itself she said:
“The evidence of all this, particularly the plagiarism, was beyond dispute, and the article had been vetted by lawyers and editors at the Post, the English-language newspaper for which I had worked since 2006.”
The Bangkok Post’s Pichai Chuensuksawadi writing in reply, emphatically denied her allegations but then astonishingly admitted that the Bangkok Post had asked Erika Fry to give evidence against her informant (Ellis) in a case Supachai was taking against him.
This is what Khun Pichai wrote:
“The plaintiff (Supachai) said the Bangkok Post editor Pattnapong Chantranontwong and Ms Fry were not his prime targets.
The plaintiff offered to drop the case against the editor and Ms Fry (after Ms Fry testified in court that her interview with Mr Ellis was correct) and if the Bangkok Post took the story off its on-line archive.
“The editor consulted Khun Ronnachai (Bangkok Post lawyer) who advised that the request to withdraw the article from the online archive had nothing to do with the case against the Bangkok Post. The online withdrawal request was a face-saving move since the Bangkok Post had made it clear that it would not retract its story and fight the case in court.
“A reporter being called by the defendant to testify as a witness against a plaintiff in defamation cases is normal. The defendant merely wants the reporter to reaffirm that the interview given by the plaintiff (Mr Ellis) is correct. It is not a confession of guilt or error. It is a reaffirmation that the interview was accurate and correct.
“Many newspapers and reporters are sued as plaintiffs so that defendants can use their testimony against other plaintiffs in the case.”
In fact betraying a source in any form is completely unethical and unacceptable in journalism outside Thailand, unless the source has deliberately lied, even if Pichai says it is normal within the country.
Moreover the Bangkok Post publishes under the slogan ‘The Newspaper You Can Trust’ and Wyn Ellis, who assisted the newspaper in its enquiry, should have been able to rely on its support.
Had Mr. Supachai wanted Erika Fry to give evidence stating the interview did take place, all he needed to do was take her evidence-in-chief in any case brought against her, or indeed brandish a copy of the Bangkok Post article and confirm it in court with Mr. Ellis.
Pichai has stated: ““Your reporters are most important. They’re the lifeblood of any newspaper no matter how high you go.”
The matter is controversial because Chulalongkorn University is one of Thailand’s top two universities. Many people look to its professors as a guide to the future of Thailand politically, economically, and academically. It’s Thailand’s Oxford.
Academics from all over the world, many of whom have associations with Chulalongkorn, will have read the article in the Times Higher Education.
The whole matter seems to have come down to a matter of saving face. Plagiarism is not hard to prove, especially when it’s alleged that 161 pages of 175 pages of a report are a direct copy from elsewhere, and the courts have at last been coming down on Ellis side even though questions remain as to why they accepted some of the complaints in the first place.
Thus under scrutiny are Thailand’s top university, the justice system, officials of the Ministry of Science and Technology, and of course the National Innovation Agency itself.
But worse may come. There are other allegations out there which could escalate the story radically if published. The powers that be at Chulalongkorn may be aware of this and as it involves other officials it may explain their silence.
NB: Declaration of interest. In cases ten years ago originally defended by myself and the Bangkok Post the newspaper subsequently left the me to defend myself in two libel actions brought by the owner of a Pattaya Commercial gay sex business and came to an arrangement with the plaintiff, who said the Bangkok Post or its editors were not the prime targets. The Post also printed grovelling apologies before I won both cases on appeal. I have subsequently posted comments under Erika’s article on the Columbia Journalism Review site.