So What Does it Take to Lose a University of London Ph.D?

Evidently, 1200 words taken without proper attribution aren’t enough to lose you a Ph.D. As previously posted here and here, I found that much in Saif Gaddafi’s dissertation in a hour or so with google. The Saif Gaddafi plagiarism wiki has more. So we now know a lower bound for the acceptable level of cheating –the question that remains to be determined is how high you can go.

This morning, the London School of Economics released its Woolf report on its ties to the Gaddafi family and how that subverted its academic integrity.

Prominent by its absence in the report is any real discussion of the plagiarism in Saif Gaddafi’s Ph.D thesis. Granted, Saif Gaddafi has more serious problems at this point, but I’d like to think an institution of the standing of the London School of Economics would pay a bit more attention to the issue of plagiarism. The text of the report itself uses the word “plagiarism” once, though there are a few more references in footnotes. There’s no substantive discussion of what happened in Gaddafi’s dissertation.

The reason seems to be that the question of plagiarism was outsourced from the London School of Economics to the University of London, which had authority over LSE Ph.Ds at the time Gaddafi did his work. In contrast to the voluminous Woolf report, the University of London’s discussion of the matter is laughably short. In a page with the ironic heading of “1836-2011: Celebrating 175 Years of Academic Excellence,” the University of London explains that it has investigated the plagiarism allegations, passed them on to the LSE, and any details (what was found, who found it, what standards for acceptable plagiarism were employed) are confidential.

So what did the University of London conclude? Since it won’t say, we have to turn to the LSE for an answer. It’s not much of an answer. The LSE tells us “The University of London has concluded that the PhD should not be revoked. The PhD thesis has been annotated to show where attribution or references should have been made.” Move along, nothing to see here.

As you might expect, this leaves me with a couple of questions. What exactly were the grounds for concluding that the Ph.D shouldn’t be revoked? Do we now have a precedent for acceptable levels of plagiarism? Granted, I live in a more litigious society, but if I were disciplined for plagiarism at the LSE or the University of London, I’d be counting words and prepping my case.

But here’s what I really wonder: who’s the poor graduate student who got to go through Saif Qaddafi’s Ph.D thesis and fix his faulty footnotes? I’ve heard of some bad jobs in grad school, but that would seem particularly soul-destroying. In a more self-serving vein, I found at least some of the plagiarism that’s floating out there: when do I get my thank-you note from the LSE for helping them with their corrections?

One last piquant note. David Held, one of Qaddafi’s advisers at the LSE, said “The evidence for plagiarism is not as great as people think and the issue will be: to what extent did he have help from an outsider? I don’t know what the evidence is at this stage.” Held is now heading to the University of Durham. That’s the home of Joe Painter, one of the people Qaddafi plagiarized. AWKWARD!

One Response to “So What Does it Take to Lose a University of London Ph.D?”

  1. London PhD Holder says:

    ‘The PhD thesis has been annotated to show where attribution or references should have been made.’

    If one takes all the instances of passages that should have been noted as citations and places them either in quote marks or as set-out quotes, how much original text will there be? Very little, I wager.

    Perhaps the most fitting thing now to happen to ‘Dr’ Saif Gaddafi is for him to be made to research and write a PhD thesis in the manner that I and many thousands of others have done. Now that would be a punishment.

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