Doctor no more: Thai official finally loses title

A senior government official in Thailand has finally had his doctorate rescinded more than two years after a university investigation concluded that 80 per cent of his thesis on organic asparagus production had been plagiarised.

As reported by Times Higher Education ("Innovation boss in duplication row", 19 April), Supachai Lorlowhakarn, director of Thailand's National Innovation Agency, was awarded a PhD from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University in 2008 despite accusations of plagiarism.

An investigation by a Chulalongkorn panel concluded in April 2010 that a large proportion of his thesis had been plagiarised from several sources, including a United Nations report and a field study commissioned by his own agency.

The university's governing council told the Thai press last week that it would rescind the doctorate.

Mr Lorlowhakarn did not respond to THE's questions about the verdict, but sent a detailed document rejecting the allegations.

According to the Bangkok Post newspaper, he has also indicated that he will take legal action against the university for carrying out a "rash and unfair" investigation.

One of the co-authors of the UN report and the source of the original plagiarism allegations, agricultural consultant Wyn Ellis, described Mr Lorlowhakarn's rebuttal as "demonstrably false". He said the Chulalongkorn panel ruling was the outcome of "four years of struggle" for justice.

"The university has demonstrated its seriousness in addressing academic fraud," he said. "Lessons have been learned and tougher checks and balances will surely be implemented as a result. The action sends a clear message that there is no place for cheats in academia."

Mr Ellis also called on the Thai Journal of Agricultural Science to retract a 2008 paper based on Mr Lorlowhakarn's thesis, on which the official is listed as first author.

The journal's editor-in-chief, Irb Kheoruenromne, a soil scientist from Bangkok's Kasetsart University, previously told THE that he would not retract the paper unless he was presented with a court document proving that it constituted a breach of copyright. However, the "chances are high" that he will now retract the paper, he said.

Chulalongkorn did not respond to THE's questions about why it had taken so long to rescind the PhD.

Online news agency ThaiPublica reported that the university's president, Pirom Kamolratanakul, had told a press conference that the university had distributed pamphlets and held seminars on plagiarism for graduate students. It has also developed a plagiarism-detection programme, he said.

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