the kicker

Escape from Thailand: Epilogue

Plagiarizer gets his just deserts for asparagus dissertation
June 25, 2012

In September, I wrote the long and unusual story of how I had become the subject of an arrest warrant in Thailand. At its heart was a dissertation on organic asparagus.

The story began in 2009, when I was working as an investigative reporter for the Bangkok Post and was asked to look into allegations that Supachai Lorlowhakarn, the director of the National Innovation Agency—and as such Thailand’s steward of intellectual property—had plagiarized much of this dissertation. He had, it turned out—all but 16 of 141 pages.

I reported this quite evident and ascertainable truth, and for it, in a slow but stupifying series of events, was charged with criminal defamation, jailed, and barred from leaving Thailand. The Bangkok Post was not particularly good to me during all this, and in July 2010, I jumped bail and fled Thailand.

When I left and when I wrote my story for CJR, Lorlowhakarn still had his PhD. I had come to think, because that’s just the way that Thailand works, he always would. And so I was surprised to learn last week, that at last, the man’s PhD had been revoked after Chulalongkorn University found that disseration had been substandard and violated acaedmic ethics.

Bloggers suspect the university’s sudden decision was spurred by the fresh and unflattering press the case received in a recent British Times Higher Education story. The PhD revocation was widely reported in the Thai press, and even made some front pages.

The development doesn’t completely resolve matters—the initial whistleblower and one of the authors plagiarized, Wyn Ellis still has outstanding legal cases (I assume I do too)—but Supachai being stripped of his PhD should certainly make those battles easier. And it’s progress, even if late and long-in-coming, for Thailand and the integrity of its acadmic institutions.

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.