Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dubious Dissertations

I didn't realize it was possible, but apparently you can fake your way even through a Ph.D.

Rodney Glassman, a politician from Tucson, Arizona, liked to boast during his campaign for the senate seat last year that he earned a Ph.D. in Arid Land Studies from the University of Arizona. Then a real U of A Ph.D. scholar tore his dissertation to shreds:
"Rodney Glassman got a Ph.D. in Arid Land Sciences for giving 4th graders a test, leading them through some activities, and then retesting them again to see if they scored better.


While most science papers have figures made up of graphs and plots, his figures are…

Pictures of kids. Pictures of teachers.

There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but keep in mind that this is a Ph.D. we are talking about.

The actual plots that he does use consist of bar plots with two categories.

The categories are “incorrect” and “correct,” which refers to how the students scored on test. Since these have to add up to 100%, one bar plot would have contained enough information… in which case a single number would have been enough, but then you would be left with 42 less pages of fluff.

What is the big result? What did Glassman discover?

Apparently, if you lead kids through some hands on activities, they learn. And sometimes their scores will change, sometimes not."
You can read the full text of the dissertation here (which strikes me as the academic equivalent of watching scenes from The Room, movie so terrible it's funny).

All around really embarrassing for the University of Arizona, yes; but surely this doesn't happen at the big prestigious places?

It turns out not. You just need to be important enough, that's all.

Part of the ongoing comedy of the Qaddafi family now includes the fact that Muamar's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, plagarized his LSE Ph.D. dissertation. And it seems he was "allowed to commission research from Monitor, a consultancy, to pad out the thesis" (Schumpeter's Notebook)? Get the full details at Schumpeter's Notebook, an Economist blog, here. [And of course, in case there was any doubt, there's donations to LSE involved.]

So what? Well, if you're wise or cynical, then this is probably stale news. But in case you used to think that universities were really strict about conferring degrees, be appraised that they sometimes make "exceptions." Plus, it's pretty humorous too.

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