Friday, November 09, 2007

The real problem with Poshard's Ph.D. thesis isn't the plagiarism

A guest column by Mark Schneider in the SIUDE gets the bigger issue with the Poshard thesis: whether Poshard's work merited a Ph.D. at all.

Schneider writes:

His [Poshard's] dissertation reports the results of re-administering a survey of programs for gifted children conducted statewide by the Illinois State Board of Education six years earlier. Though he suggests that his interest is both descriptive and interpretive, he gathered no information upon which to base interpretations of his data. Thus, the dissertation is entirely descriptive.

What scholarly contribution might Poshard have hoped to make through this project? None, it seems, because his topic was not of academic interest. His results could have let the ISBE know whether gifted programs in the south of the state were expanding, contracting or changing in other ways, but were this of concern to the IBSE, it would have contracted for the research. The results would not merit dissertation treatment because they didn't allow for the sophisticated analysis which normally is required for a Ph.D.

This means Poshard's project never should have been approved by his dissertation adviser and committee.

Seen in this light, the plagiarism of the Poshard thesis is a small part of a larger academic problem at SIU. If Poshard's work merited a Ph.D., then every trademark survey person working a "likelihood of confusion" analysis should get a Ph.D. In reality, merely tabulating survey results isn't Ph.D. work.

One even has a conflict-of-interest issue here; Schneider writes: Most of the conclusions come out of thin air and seem geared primarily to applaud the efforts of the local Gifted Area Service Center, by which Poshard was employed at the time.

One notes that Poshard's defenders never even come to grips with the more serious plagiarism issues. See
Page 54 of the Poshard Ph.D. thesis: a real problem as to plagiarism.

Further, even the plagiarism at page 54 itself underscores the problem with the academic rigor of the thesis. If the "summary" of the 1984 thesis is copied from a 1975 book, how is the summary capable of addressing changes that happened between 1977 and 1983, the purported time region of interest of the thesis? Nothing adds up here for the quality of academics at SIU.

Separately, one notes text in an article about the plagiarism of Prof (former Dean) Tony Antoniou of Durham University:

Plagiarism among students is increasingly policed by lecturers using online programmes such as Turnitin, but there is little knowledge of how prevalent bad practice is among academic staff themselves.

The last line of the "Durham Dean plagiarism" article is:

A separate allegation relating to his doctoral thesis at the University of York is still under investigation.

Of "how" the Poshard Ph.D. thesis committee could have been so obtuse, consider the following text from Professor H. T. Kung ((Prepared for "What is Research" Immigration Course, Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University, 14 October 1987)):

2. Why Ph.D. thesis could be really difficult for a student


--> The work is judged by thesis committee (mostly advisor). This produces anxiety.

* Unlike other research you will do, the evaluation mechanism for thesis research is very unique.
* No clear contract
* No clear standard (we only know it is high)
* Recall the Stanford murder case (the former student said, after he had finished--he did finish something-- his jail term, that he might do it again under a similar circumstance).

One sees in the way the committee appointed by Trevino handled the Poshard plagiarism case that there was no clear standard (apparent to them) on plagiarism. Unmentioned was that there was no clear standard on "how good" the thesis had to have been.

IPBiz reminds readers that the Stanford student (Streleski) did only seven years of prison time for killing his advisor, and indeed expressed no remorse. See earlier IPBiz post on "The Bayh-Dole Act and Murder."


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