By Helen Petousis Harris 14/01/2016 83


Wollongong University has accepted a Doctoral thesis so fatally flawed even an arrested Koala could spot the shortcomings.

The offending work is entitled “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy” and well established antivaxer Judy Wilyman was recently accepted as fulfilling the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

If you are going to blow off every major global health organisation including the WHO, every government, every medical college of experts, you should have a damn good argument. The work has been heavily criticised by Australian experts for good reason. It is almost hard to know where to start and I am just going to explore the one page abstract here. Below my musings are a number of links to further discussion about Wilyman and her ‘work’.

A look at the one page abstract is enough to raise red flashing lights. Let’s go there…

Normally the abstract for a thesis in humanities (and any other academic discipline) needs to include a statement of purpose – like why are you doing this; your methods or approach – what you did; results – what you found and your conclusions and how they fill the gap. Wilyman does none of this in her abstract, it is just a rant.

First sentence:

Vaccination policies in Australia need to be scrutinised because the use of a medical intervention in the prevention of infectious disease has serious health and social implications.

This is not a statement of intent or the identification of a gap in knowledge, it is a conclusion that appears to come before any observation. Who starts an abstract off with their conclusion? This is effectively a priori – you have decided what you expect independent of experience.

So what evidence does she provide in support of this assertion – that vaccines have serious health and social implications? I went to the chapter about evidence underpinning claims about vaccines, a topic I am acquainted with. It starts with:

The aim of this thesis is to assess the rigour of the claims supporting the efficacy, safety and necessity for the use of an expanding number of vaccines in the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program (NIP).

First there is a discussion about semantics – the importance of the terms vaccination and immunisations (seemingly this has everything to do with vaccine effectiveness). Apparently because the government use the term immunisation on their website they are misleading the public into thinking all people who get vaccinated are immune. This argument is a complete red herring in any discussion about efficacy or safety of vaccines.

The general message from this chapter is that there is little evidence to support the efficacy or safety of vaccines. Her references to support these outrageous comments are from the bottom dwelling literature that includes 50-year-old discussions along with well-established, thoroughly debunked pseudoscience.

At no point does she mention any of the vast scientific literature that includes large clinical and epidemiological studies – or attempt a critique of it. An example is the nonsense from Tomljenovic and Shaw which she accepts without question and serves up as proof of the dangers of HPV vaccine.

Given that this is a core aim of the thesis it begs the question….Did anyone qualified in clinical trials or epidemiology and in particular, vaccinology, examine this work?

Also in the first paragraph:

The Australian government’s NIP, like all member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is recommended by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

What a load of bollocks! GAVI are dedicated to bringing vaccines to the poorest counties of the worlds, they have no interest in Australia and Australia do not base their immunisation programme on the needs of developing countries. The Australian NIP is the result of the recommendations of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation of the Australian Government Department of Health (aka ATAGI) who in turn are informed by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunisation (SAGE) and science based medicine.

Wilyman should have at least got that bit right given it appears to be central to her work. The experts on SAGE are completely independent from industry as are those on ATAGI and the conflict of interests statements are kept up to date on the website.

Second paragraph first sentence:

It is important that independent research is carried out to assess whether all the vaccines being recommended today are safe, effective and necessary for the protection of the community.

Fact: Vaccines are the most rigorously researched medicines and the evidence is vast. Wilyman has chosen to ignore it.

Second paragraph second sentence:

It is also important to have comprehensive evidence that it is safe to combine multiple vaccines in the developing bodies of infants.

Fact: Every new vaccine is tested in combination with the other vaccines it is likely to be co-administered with.

Second paragraph third and fourth sentences:

The framework for undone science is used to analyse the Australian government’s claim that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. Whilst the government claims serious adverse events to vaccines are rare this is not supported by adequate scientific evidence due to the shortcomings in clinical trials and long term surveillance of health outcomes of recipients.

‘‘Undone science’’ refers to areas of research bereft of funding and perhaps ignored but that social movements or civil society organisations often identify as worthy of more research. In the case of vaccine safety the science is hardly bereft of funding and most definitely not ‘undone’ it is simply that Wilyman refuses to include any of the actual evidence. This is a gross example of cherry picking among a million orchards of heavily laden trees.

Getting to the end of the abstract:

Her arguments with regard to HPV deny germ theory and call upon the usual antivaxer rhetoric and pseudoscience which she shamelessly cites while dismissing the global scientific data on the topic. What can I say!! Here is just one sentence:

Although an analysis of the postlicensure safety surveillance data for the HPV vaccine has been performed, the analysis only included adverse event data from the US (Slade et al 2009).

This is incorrect. Here is my summary of global post licensure safety data with links to the evidence but there are literally countless others.

Her denial of the 2009-10 influenza pandemic is offensive and disrespectful to all those who lost family members to the disease.

From what I have seen of Wilyman’s work (the term ‘thesis’ implies there was actually a theory to be proved) it is litany of deceitful reveries. How it could possibly pass as a piece of Doctoral level work is inexplicable and it has made no contribution to knowledge. Shame on you University of Wollongong.

Additional links:

See other Sciblogs posts on the University of Wollongong thesis here.

Featured image: Flickr CC, frankieleon.


83 Responses to “A PhD By Stealth (BS) – What are University of Wollongong thinking?”

  • thanks Dr Helen. Readers please note that Australian lobby groups such as ‘Stop the Australian (anti-) Vaccination Network are trying to instigate a full independent investigation into this travesty of academia. We can be found at https://www.facebook.com/stopavn. (We have many Kiwi members, another example of our cousins’ good works.)

  • On the Skeptics Guide to the Universe page a commenter has said:

    “I didn’t get much further than the Smallpox errors. Complains of no controlled trials of smallpox vaccine, But doesn’t ask the obvious question about this, “why might that be”. ”

    I am going to use the pdf search function on the document in question & if I can find the exact wording I am jolly well going to do a follow-up post. With pictures. Of smallpox.

  • This wouldn’t even pass muster as an honours thesis or an essay. You can’t fail to do a decent literature search and just pretend the literature doesn’t exist.

    It would be like me being given an essay topic on cancer treatment and because it’s too hard to read and understand all that biology and chemistry, to just say ‘Cancer is a terrible, deadly disease. In the absence of any treatments families are left with only prayer and tears to fight the scourge’. I mean, yay me for finding a way to get out of doing the actual work, but surely no one would ever pass that essay. Right?

    • It’s conceiveable that someone, somewhere, might give you marks for the poetic nature of your prose. Me? I’d just give a fail.

    • Apparently wrong, but you probably need to do it under Professor Martin and you will e sweet.

    • The other major concern over that comment highlighted in Alisons article concerns relating to clinical trials is that the author implies that Jenner should have conducted a clinical trial. She and the supervisors/examiners etc seem unaware that in the 1800’s , clinical trials didn’t exist! Ideas were usually tested on unsuspecting patients and the outcomes measured by – did the patient survive/get better or not. Outcomes (if reported at all) were published in local newspapers or passed on verbally at small meetings of physicians. In 1800, only 30 medical journals existed worldwide. This is medical anthropology/sociology and SHOULD fall into the examiners area of expertise.

  • My immediate response to the statement “Vaccination policies in Australia need to be scrutinised because the use of a medical intervention in the prevention of infectious disease has serious health and social implications.” was to rather surprisedly think “yes, I should hope so!” If medical intervention in the prevention of infectious diseases did not have serious health and social implications, then they must be pretty ineffective activities. After all, what is the fundamental purpose of medical interventions! Of course, reading on I came to realise that there was a great inference in the notion of ‘having serious health and social implications’ meant BAD and NEGATIVE implications, which clearly failed any test of fair-handedness or balanced treatment of a topic.

  • Couldn’t agree more Helen. I hold a PhD in microbiology (molecular epidemiology – virology, rotaviruses) and worked for many years in infectious diseases, including Fairfield Hospital. Have read a few areas from the thesis and as you’ve already pointed out, almost every sentence/paragraph is laden with errors, omissions and/or unsubstantiated claims/conclusions. Some of the errors are so incredibly basic I’m appalled that they were not detected by the supervisor and/or examiners (which according to a spokesperson from the UoW were experts with “unchallengeable knowledge” of the area. If this is the standard of academic rigor now acceptable to Australian Universities as worthy of a PhD, I want to hand mine back.

    • Who on earth possesses ‘unchallengeable knowledge” is what I want to know. They must be omnipotent. Oh, now I know who the examiners must be, it’s Omnipotent Q and Dr Manhattan.
      Please don’t give your PhD back, Aussie PhD’s are generally considered very flash!

      • HI Helen – agree – the experts with “unchallengeable knowledge” of the area statement was ridiculous. Science is challenged everyday – it’s what scientists do. Challenge happens all the time and the only constant in science is change – where as faith or belief is maintained by denying change or new information. In the immunology section, this thesis draws heavily on immunology theory from a text written 50 years ago…immunology was in it’s infancy at this time and is far more complex than reflected in the thesis.

    • Oh Dr Sue. I am an Immunisation Program Nurse, my first degree was a BA, second degree Nursing, and post grad certificate in immmunisation. I have the basic skills to analyse a work within humanities, and a reasonable knowledge of immunology. Like a fool, I undertook to review the thesis. It has been a hard slog. Every single page has errors, and the review/critique is becoming almost as large as the thesis. Of the many problems, the one I had particular difficulty with was the assertion that the number of adverse reactions to vaccines is unknown. It takes about a minute to get those stats. Even if we allow anecdote, I have never seen an adverse reaction having administered thousands of vaccines, and my colleagues have seen few. Even at this low standard, I cannot understand how she was not challenged by her supervisor on this and hundreds of other errors, omissions and falsehoods. As a work of persuasion from within a humanities framework it also fails, but I won’t bore you with that.

      • I commend your bravery in admitting to examining this thesis.
        Were given the option to fail it? Your comments implied that you thought this should have been its fate..

        • Thanks for the input John and you must certainly have a lot of patience! I have the same question as the previous poster – if this was your assessment, how did it pass? Or was the fail challenged and a further examiner appointed (as happens from time to time when a fail is recorded by one or more examiners)?

        • My review is an unsolicited one. I am currently on Work Cover and to make some good of my time off work, I undertook this task. It occurred to me that few people will ever read the whole thing, let alone scrutinise it at a fine level. That has meant checking all references and every statement/assertion made in the thesis. A big job, but I have the opportunity to do this so I am (it’s keeping my brain active too).
          As an immunisation program nurse, a big part of my job is education. That precludes ridicule and ad feminen attacks (here’s the touchy feely humanities side manifesting). Wilyman has copped a lot of ad feminen attacks, and it is notable that (as far as my research is able to ascertain) she has not commented on this issue publicly. Her supervisor, Brian Martin has made quite a few comments including a right of reply piece for The Australian. It will probably surprise many on this forum to learn that I have been in contact with Martin, and have offered him first read and right of reply on my review. That does not mean that he has any right to prevent my further sharing of my review, but the nursey optimist in me hopes he will take it on board, and perhaps share it with Wilyman and give her pause for reflection.

  • I hold a PhD in the social sciences and i am utterly appalled that this comprehensive load of pseudo scientific bullshit totally lacking any rigorous analysis was awarded a degree. I can understand an axe grinding candidate undertaking this research but I can’t understand a supervisor encouraging it in any way shape or form. I can just possibly understand a supervisor washing his hands of the thesis and sending it to its fate by rigorous evaluation of assessors although how s/he could accept it as fit for assessment is another matter. I cannot understand how examiners, no matter how carefully hand picked, could so demean their own standards to pass it.

  • Oh dear Lord, her supervisor has also written on the fluoridation “debate” So now we know he has a vested interest in woo, can he be removed as a supervisor by OUW?
    His range of publications is frightening in its spread. I just am too depressed to go any further- http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/controversy.html

  • Excellent blog post and i hope The Australian gives it some exposure as a counter to their coverage of such an asinine “thesis”.

  • OK, so the MSc is also available on line & here is a paragraph from the Conclusions:
    Prior to the implementation of mass vaccination programs, Burnet M, (1952) indicated that there were many gaps in scientist’s knowledge about the functioning of the human immune system. Fifty years on it is known that vaccination doesn’t provide lasting immunity and a ‘modified infection’ means bacteria or virus’s that are treated with preservatives, antibiotics and stabilizers that parents are not informed about. These chemicals are known allergens and neurotoxins such as mercury, formaldehyde and aluminium. In the twenty-first century the effects of these chemicals on biological cells are well known and parents are trying to avoid them in their children’s diet. Yet parents are not being told they are injecting them into their babies bodies at the most vulnerable stage in their development. Evidence suggests that doctors are also unaware of the quantities of these chemicals in each vaccine.
    This is a Master of Science degree – howinhell did that get past a reviewer?

    • Thanks Ken – but I’ve already submitted my critique to UoW. As a past supervisor and examiner of PhD’s I’ve addressed very fundamental flaws, not so much the “details” of the vaccine myths etc. The thesis should be failed on those issues alone before even addressing some of the content.

  • Wilyman appears to be allergic to apostrophes. No doubt the result of childhood vaccine damage.

  • The issue is no longer whether this polemic can be accepted as a dissertation. The issue is whether the University understands, acknowledges and exacts the intellectual rigour the academic world demands in a dissertation. This is a matter of intellectual probity and governance. Was there a competent defence of the thesis? Who were the examiners? In the world of science – and of academia – there is no such thing as ‘unchallengeable knowledge’. A dissertation is formally challenged at the event of ‘defence’, by examiners chosen as fully conversant, openminded and dispassionate. The Vice Chancellor of Woollongong University should already have stepped in, and ensured a competent process of examination. Obviously that has not occurred. That besmirches the reputation of the University, and the degrees it has awarded. It is now a matter for the Vice-Chancellors of the Australian Universities to collectively remonstrate with the Vice-Chancellor of Woollongong University. It is the intellectual integrity of Australian academe – and Australian science – that is now up for question. This is not a ‘storm in a tea-cup’.
    It is an enormous pity if a degree has been awarded. But to maintain the reputation of the other degrees awarded by the University of Woollongong, dissertation must be properly challenged, and if it cannot pass muster in a competent event of defence, this degree must be rescinded.

  • I have no sympathy for the University of Woolongong; they were warned many times over several years that Wilyman was a crank. Indeed a formal complaint was submitted about her MSc ‘thesis’, which was just a smaller version of her PhD with all the same misrepresentations and incompetence, but that was rejected. They were also warned that she intended to go, (using UoW funds) to a fraudulent crank conference in the USA, and that she harassed grieving parents. But the UOW used the nonsensical claim that they stood by her ‘academic freedom.’

    So now the UOW is to examine the process of awarding PhDs, but not any particular PhD. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be pleased.

    It’s time for academia to realise that it is an industry just like any other, it has inputs, costs, assets and outputs. Among those assets is reputation. In aviation such dishonesty, misrepresentation and incompetence would never had led to a qualification, and if that had slipped past the examiners or management and been detected by other members of the industry, the qualification would be cancelled. It’s time for academia to catch up

    Until the UOW or the relevant government ministers convene a complete independent investigation, this will not go away, and the UOW’s name will be mud.

  • (Written last night so I will have crossed over a few comments.)

    Dr Sue Rodger-Withers (18/01/2016 at 12:54 pm): “As a past supervisor and examiner of PhD’s I’ve addressed very fundamental flaws, not so much the “details” of the vaccine myths etc. The thesis should be failed on those issues alone before even addressing some of the content.”

    I don’t know your points, but there must be issues around the various review steps that a thesis passes through (proposal, interim reports, examination, etc) – I focused on this in my own short post on this.

    Furthermore, there are basic standards of investigation that a thesis should uphold.

    Both of these aspects, in turn, reflect the standards to be upheld to hold the accreditation rights that a government bestows on a university to award higher degrees. The responsibility to maintain the standards expected from accreditation rights is passed on to those involved in supervising and assessing higher degrees, and the university has a responsibility to ensure that they have been upheld.

    With that in mind I’m more than a little surprised at the university’s ‘soft’ approach to this.

  • Wow! As I continue to scratch my head and wonder ‘how could this happen?’. Twice.

    • Alt medicine and woo courses were money spinners for some unis, like Southern Cross, but to award a PhD for homeopathy just really beggars belief.

  • I guess when Ms Wilyman attempts to get her “results” published in a peer-reviewed journal, and has them rejected, she will claim it a conspiracy. I will see it as vindication. Enough to all this junk “science”.

    • Unfortunately there are a number of predatory “pay to publish” journals around who would be more than happy to take her money. While most academics are aware of these journals, the general public isn’t and will quote them as “proof”.

  • The essence of the Wilyman thesis is that parents should not have their children vaccinated. I contend that the thesis demonstrates that Ms Wilyman is acting as a complementary and alternative health practitioner, that her writings should be viewed as complementary and alternative health advice, and dealt with as such. Health practitioners provide advice, offer and undertake treatment modalities. At times that advice may be not to undertake any formal treatment, and leave matters as they are. In the medical context (I am a practicing GP) the advice not to do anything can be held as negligent as the advice for, and the undertaking of, explicit treatment. I consider that the advice not to vaccinate children can reasonably be viewed in that light.

    If parents fail to competently provide for the well-being of their children, the state will step in, observe, advise and supervise, and in cases of substantial neglect will remove children from the care and custody of their parents. Can failure to vaccinate be viewed in this light? Now, in three States of the United States of America, failure to vaccinate is viewed in this light. A very authoritative description and position statement has now been published in Medscape, at…

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/856942?nlid=97108_430&src=wnl_edit_medp_fmed&uac=92890MZ&spon=34&impID=960247&faf=1

    I cite it in full…

    “Hi. My name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

    Most of you know that the state of California eliminated its philosophical exemption to vaccines. Therefore, the only exemptions in California are medical exemptions. Why did they do that? The reason is that southern California, specifically Disneyland, served as the epicenter for a massive measles epidemic—one that spread across the United States, involving about 25 states and affecting about 158 people, mostly children. The epidemic also extended northward into two Canadian provinces, where it affected hundreds more people. What happened in California was, they asked the question, “Is it your right to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection?”

    They decided in California that the answer was no. This is the third state that now has only medical exemptions to vaccines. The other two states are Mississippi and West Virginia. [] The roots of this are in Mississippi, in a case that occurred in the late 1970s called Brown v. Stone. The question that came up in Mississippi was, “Is it your right not to be vaccinated?” and the decision was made that only medical exemptions made sense. It was a 14th Amendment argument—specifically, the second clause of the 14th Amendment—which states that all citizens of the United States should have equal protection under the law. Even if your parents have ill-founded beliefs about vaccine safety, that doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t be protected. Essentially it became a civil rights issue.

    If you go to these rallies in California or Vermont or Michigan, you often hear parents say, “It’s about my rights. It’s my parental right to raise my child as I see fit.” But what about children’s rights? Who represents them? In this country, for example, if you are an African American and you feel that you are being treated badly, there are places you can go and people who will represent you. If you are Jewish and you feel that you are being defamed, there are groups you can go to who will defend you. But [] if you are a child, it’s assumed that your parents represent your best interests, and that’s not always true. When it’s not true, as in this case where parents have a false belief that vaccines cause autism and they don’t want to vaccinate their children, who do those children go to?

    The answer is, they go to the state. That’s what happened, frankly, in California, which basically used a child’s rights issue as the central focus of how they made that change. A little boy who had leukemia would go out to those meetings and say, “What about me? Don’t I have rights, too? I can’t be vaccinated. I depend on those around me to be vaccinated.” In the end, in many ways, this is a child’s rights issue. It is a civil rights issue with a child, and it’s a right that is protected by the 14th Amendment.

    Thank you for your attention.”

    One of the Coroner’s recommendations from the Inquest into the death of Ms Dingle (cited by Grant Jacobs above) is as follows…
    http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2016/01/19/wilyman-thesis-not-included-in-wollongong-thesis-review/

    “I recommend that the Commonwealth and State Departments of Health review the legislative framework relating to complimentary and alternative medicine practitioners and practices with a view to ensuring that there are no mixed messages provided to vulnerable patients and that science based medicine and alternative medicine are treated differently.”

    The thesis of Ms Wilyman is a statement of alternative medicine. In promulgating these views Ms Wilyman makes herself a practitioner of alternative medicine, aided and abetted by the University of Woollongong.

    It is reasonable that the thesis, its author Ms Wilyman, and the University of Woollongong be the subject of a ‘mandatory complaint’ to AHPRA. A complaint I am prepared to make.

    It would be valuable to have other signatories to that complaint.

    The completed mandatory complaint will be copied to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Woollongong.

  • Not that I am about to trawl thru a 100,000 word ‘thesis’ but rather than just comment on the Abstract but it is worth mentioning that on page 15 under the heading “Publications in support of this thesis” – everyone she mentions she authored herself!

    PUBLICATIONS IN SUPPORT OF THIS THESIS
    Publications in Peer-Reviewed Journals
    Wilyman J. 2013. HPV Vaccination programs have not been shown to be cost-effective in
    countries with comprehensive Pap screening and surgery. Infectious Agents and Cancer. 8:21
    (June): pp1-8.
    Tomljenovic L, Wilyman J, Vanamee E, Bark T, Shaw C. 2013. HPV Vaccines and Cancer
    Prevention: Science versus Activism. Infectious Agents and Cancer. 8: 6 (Feb): pp1-3.
    Other Publications
    Wilyman J. 2011. Questioning the Evidence for HPV Vaccine. ABC online Health Report,
    October 13. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/10/13/3337950.htm
    Wilyman J. 2011. The Ethics of Childhood Influenza Immunisation. Medical Veritas. 7: 2
    (Jan)
    http://www.medicalveritas.org/MedicalVeritas/The_Ethics_of_Childhood_Influenza_Immuni
    zation.html
    Wilyman J. 2011. The pathogenesis of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in the development of
    cervical cancer: are HPV vaccines a safe and effective management strategy? British Society
    of Ecological Medicine (BSEM), Conference Proceedings, published online September 2011.
    Wilyman J. 2009. A new strain of influenza or a change in surveillance? Australasian College
    of Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (ACNEM). 28: 4 (Dec): pp6-7.
    Wilyman J. 2009. Whooping cough: is the vaccine effective? Intouch Newsletter (April),
    Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).
    Wilyman J. 2008. Coercive and Mandatory Immunisation. Australasian College of
    Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (ACNEM). 27: 2 (Oct): pp.6-9.

    • Good observation Kim … Another question: are published conference proceedings actually peer reviewed, or does the conference simply publish submitted papers?

  • On my blog there is a link to the reviews of the second peer-reviewed paper in support of her thesis. It’s pretty revealing: http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2016/01/19/wilyman-thesis-not-included-in-wollongong-thesis-review/#comment-136443

    Must put in a comment explaining to people what this shows. (Basically “automatically” accepted by two referees with inappropriate expertise. The same journal as for her first peer-reviewed paper, so perhaps that’s the same and the two papers for her thesis are effectively not reviewed in what looks like a pay-to-play manner – ?)

  • “The framework for undone science is used to analyse the Australian government’s claim that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks.” This sentence seems to be a core part of her thesis. She argues that “undone science” has a “framework”. I suppose she means that science choosing not to pursue certain ideas constitutes a pattern, therefore she can argue that the rejection of research in those areas means rejecting the pattern. The framework of undone science is then the stuff “scientists” won’t consider useful. On that basis she can use any and every thing she can find to support her argument, on the basis that it is undone science and might be so. Her chapter on HPV demonstrated how truly silly her thesis is. I have read most of it. It is not relativist stupid, or POMO grandiloquence or libertarian arrogance, it is just tin hat dumb.

    • “Undone science” was also the refrain used by a previous student of Brian Martin’s. She dismissed the mountain of sophisticated genetic work showing that the Tasmanian Devil facial tumour is a transmissible cancer, and claimed that adherence to this dogma meant that no-one had looked into the hypothesis that it was caused by an environmental contaminant. She could not have been more wrong – in fact it was quite the other way around.
      It seems there is a pattern here …

  • Oh silly me – just twigged that this PhD was a ‘thesis by publication’. So wider question – aside from reflecting badly on UOW that she was awarded her doctorate, does it more so reflect badly on ‘thesis by publication’ in general? I mean, if she ticked all the boxes that the faculty required from an administrative perspective to get the PhD – Wollongong had no choice but to award her the degree.

  • It would be useful to confirm if the approach was ‘thesis by publication’ or not.

    To me, this suggests stronger examination of the publications is needed. One suggestion (on my blog) I made was that the reviewers reports to the publications be part of the examination process. That would still rely on examiners doing a proper job, of course…

    (In an earlier comment I’ve given a link to commenter who claims to have the peer-review for one of the papers.)

  • Wait – there’s more. One of her cited supporting publications is

    Wilyman J. 2011. Questioning the Evidence for HPV Vaccine. ABC online Health Report,
    October 13. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/10/13/3337950.htm

    This is actually an article written by Anna Salleh which merely quotes Wilyman. Claiming the publication her own is plagiarism.

    @ futher things of note.

    1) The article finishes up by quoting Professor Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance who describes Wilyman’s discussion of adverse events as “misleading”.

    2)According to the ABC website ” Anna Salleh Anna Salleh is a science journalist at ABC Science

    She has a PhD on the role of the media in debates over the risk of new technologies and is a research associate with the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney.”

    Perhaps another anti-vaxxer?

  • Is there any update on this issue? Is the thesis being reviewed? Has the University undertaken to re-examine the whole process? Or are they just hoping that if they are VERY quiet, maybe it will go away?

    • Hi Jane

      Not sure of all details but I know of one large university that is still preparing a report/response. Honestly, I doubt UOW (or any other authority) will strip her of the award as it only makes her a martyr – and attract even more attention. The horse has bolted. I think it’s more likely that the internal processes for PhD candidates/supervisors/examiners within UOW will be “under review” so that this doesn’t happen again (and I’m not talking about the topic of the project).

  • Answering a question above about who the examiners were: Freedom of Information requests (in NSW ‘Government Information Public Access’ requests, or GIPA) have been submitted. The UOW, on the advice of the guilty parties no doubt, has refused to release the names under the most spurious and dishonest grounds. See this article in The Australian.*

    Claiming threats of violence is Standard Operating Procedure in antivax circles.

    The campaign for a review of the entire shambles of the MSc _PhD process grinds on.

    * See https://www.dropbox.com/s/daunfb48ku6q26p/Oz_Examiners_Secret_02032016.pdf?dl=0

    • Am ambiguous as to whether a University should release this sort of information. Perhaps there may be a cause under extenuating circumstances (It would be interesting to discuss what those might be!). Personally I would love to know who thought the thesis was worthy of a doctoral degree (what were they thinking?). However would this set a president whereby any disgruntled person could request this level of information on anyone? Ultimately it is not the thesis that would come under fire, as presumably that has already happened, but release of such information would most certainly expose examiners to ridicule by a lunatic fringe. I imagine the argument goes that the thesis is in the public domain, as are any publications arising from said thesis and open to scrutiny. The University is most certainly to blame for this circus and indeed must sort out their processes. What say others?

      • Hi Helen.

        You raise a really important point, re the possible chilling effects on academic freedom.

        My own take, is that we shouldn’t fall prey to ‘slippery slope’ arguments. I don’t think demanding transparency, re the supervisors of a thesis that is an active danger to public health, is problematic.

        Indeed, I think because of the authority a PhD confers, there needs to be accountability around its awarding – especially in circumstances like this one: Dr Wilyman is now able to propagate her dangerous nonsense with UoW’s imprimatur, and I think the public has a right to know who’s responsible for enabling her to do that.

      • Helen – I wrote a post on this (just up this morning), admittedly under a teasing headline. (How dare I, etc.)

        However would this set a president whereby any disgruntled person could request this level of information on anyone?

        They’re only asking for the names, not correspondence, etc. – ?

        Ultimately it is not the thesis that would come under fire, as presumably that has already happened, but release of such information would most certainly expose examiners to ridicule by a lunatic fringe.

        It’s a fair point, but they chose to take the topic on – it’s something I mention in my post.

        Another thought: most finger-pointing is from speculating in the absence of information, when things are open there‘s less to speculate on.

        I agree, though, that the process leading to accepting the thesis to be done, the intermediate reviews, how the examiners were selected, etc., are all wider and deeper issues. (And hence my previous focus on this topic.)

  • Alex – you’ve made some important points and I agree with you. Basically Wilyman can now (and has been) present her work as academically sound because the UOW has deemed it as such. The problem here is UOW, not so much Wilyman.

    This is here say but I’ve been told by a number of PhD graduates from UOW that they (the student) were allowed to select their own examiners. This was never permitted at the University of Melbourne and it wasn’t until after my thesis was passed that I was aware of who had been selected as examiners.

    • As the supervisor of 56 PhD students over 40 years, and the examiner of about the same number, I’d have to say that releasing names of examiners would engender problems. Many potential examiners would refuse to do the job if they thought they would be outed, or they might be intimidated into being less than critical (well, would you want the anti-vaxxers after you?). It is the job of the Supervisor and usually the Head of Department to choose examiners who are truly expert in the field; sometimes the candidate is given an opportunity for some input. The Universities in which I have worked both insisted that at least one examiner must be international. The examiners should then be vetted by the Higher Degrees Committee of the University; they should check that they have international standing in the field (not too hard to do these days) and are not buddies of the supervisor (also not hard to check, through coincidence of home university, joint publications etc). This should be the case whether or not work has already been published. Thesis by publication is a relatively new concept in Australia. With the explosion of sham journals, there should be hard scrutiny of the journals in which the candidate has published; their standing in the field, impact factor, their Editorial Board. These strictures were obviously not taken very seriously by the U of W.

      • Hi Jenny.

        I agree with you – in a perfect world, there would be a milieu well suited to maintain necessary checks and balances; however, in this instance, the world is far from perfect. In this case, something is clearly broken in the UoW system. When things break down to the extent that public health is at risk, there needs to be a mechanism for scrutiny.

        And because it is the public’s health that is at risk from the UoW decision, that public has the right to know who was behind the legitimisation of anti-scientific, anti-intellectual promotion of disease.

      • Jenny this is also my experience and how I understand things to be. Certainly at the UoA the student may make suggestions but the Supervisor will select and they must be approved by the HoD as well as Board. Also, there is a Head of Department nominee who will represent one of the examiners in the viva. The chair of the oral examination must be from a different faculty. If a thesis on public health got sent to a professor of english literature someone would notice and visa versa. The examiners must also both be external to the University and preferably international. I would certainly hesitate as an examiner if I thought that my comments would find their way spread all over internet sites, knowing how pretty much anything can be twisted and convoluted. Even when one is confident in one’s comments being attacked can be intimidating regardless of how scholarly and defendable they may be. However what were these examiners thinking regardless of discipline? I am still ambiguous about the slippery slope argument. Can’t get myself to agree on this either way!!

  • Maybe it’s just my reading, but I think a few different issues are getting mixed up here.

    People are asking here for this particular thesis, given that major problems have been identified. That’s in the context of an enquiry, rather than general practice.

    I don’t think anyone is asking for the examiners report to be made public. Some have suggested that examiners’ name be associated with the thesis.

    As I noted in my post on this, I recall seeing some saying elsewhere that their examiners names are associated with their thesis – so it seems to be accepted practice elsewhere. It might be an idea to look to these examples? (Annoyingly I can’t relocate the tweets.)

    I agree the process is the deeper issue, though. In an ideal world that would cover the issues. (But ideal worlds are in rather short supply!)

Site Meter