The response of Birmingham University to your report on the controversy surrounding the PhD thesis by Charlotte Exon about Rudolf Schwarz ("University under fire for flawed PhD thesis", February 9) raises more questions than it answers.
The university defends the supervision, examination and quality of the thesis but states that, after detailed criticism of the research, it decided to institute a review even though it was "under no obligation" to do so. Yet, on the basis of reports about the faults in the thesis, it is hard to conceive how it would have been possible to do otherwise.
The university asserts that the thesis cannot be revoked or revised and does not even require a list of errata. This, too, is peculiar. The review of the thesis, which the university embraced, found that it contained "contradictions", "inaccuracies" and instances of "sloppiness" and "naive" use of sources, albeit they did not invalidate the thesis as a whole.
Normally, this would be enough to warrant referring a thesis back for correction and resubmission, referring it back for the award of a lesser degree, or failing it outright. While it may be awkward and embarrassing to do this retrospectively, it should not be impossible.
Unless Birmingham rethinks its position, will it be necessary to assume that every PhD it has passed in recent years may be marred by "contradictions", "inaccuracies" and "sloppiness"? Is there not a danger that by refusing to reassess one it risks compromising them all?
Royal Holloway, University of London
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