Details have come to light about the examiners’ assessments of Judy Wilyman’s anti-vaccination PhD thesis at the University of Wollongong, with “serious concerns” and “very critical” comments made about the anti-vaccination document that claims pro-vaccination conspiracies on a global scale.
Wilyman has taken leading a anti-vaccination role for some time, including presentations at anti-vaccination rallies and support for the Australian [anti]Vaccination-Skeptics Network.
Now, based on documents recently released by the University under a GIPA freedom of information request, it has been revealed that one of two unnamed examiners who reviewed the thesis suggested that it was definitely not worthy of achieving PhD status, and was more in line with a Master’s degree level.
That examiner expressed “serious concerns about a lack of engagement with existing literature and the lack of an appropriate theoretical framework”. They also felt that the thesis showed no evidence that Wilyman (pictured above) conducted original research, nor that it demonstrated that she had made “a significant contribution to the knowledge of the subject”.
In fact, the only areas where the examiner felt Wilyman had met with relevant standards were that it was presented in a manner and level appropriate to the field of research and that the literary standard was adequate. In other words, it met basic standards of presentation.
A second examiner, however, “praised the thesis and recommends awarding a PhD without revision”. A University summary of the opinions suggests that the second examiner said it represented “meticulous study”. While the correspondence released is heavily redacted, nowhere in what has been released is there an indication by this examiner that they thought the study was meticulous. In fact, when asked as a matter of course if they thought the thesis was “outstanding” and recommended for “special commendation”, they answered “no”.
Considering these stark differences, the University decided to ask a third examiner to review the thesis.
Of 32 PhD candidates submitted to a Thesis Examination Committee on December 3, 2014, Wilyman was one of only three where a third examiner was required.
That third examiner, also unnamed, judged that, while the thesis as assessed showed Wilyman conducted original research, it did not make a significant contribution to knowledge of the subject, had no indication of a broad understanding of the discipline within which the work was conducted, and that it was not suitable for publication.
They recommended that the thesis be resubmitted, and gave “extensive and detailed comments on areas that need to be improved”, sharing the same concerns as the earlier critical examiner.
These extensive comments by the third examiner have not been released, but their assessment was described as “very critical” by Patrick McGivern, senior lecturer in philosophy and Head of Postgraduate Studies, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University.
A revised thesis was presented by Wilyman, and only one examiner was asked for their views. The examiner who passed the original thesis without change was regarded as a given. Presumably the revised version was sent to the third examiner, and that the examiner who had “serious concerns” was not asked to look at the revised version.
This revised version was approved by the third examiner.
McGivern told Wilyman’s PhD supervisor, Brian Martin, that this was “Certainly a welcome result!”, perhaps indicating relief that the process was apparently behind them.
Wilyman’s PhD was approved by the University’s Thesis Examination Committee In November last year.
But if the University felt that that was the end of the matter, they did not account for the reaction when the PhD was announced. They suddenly found themselves faced with criticism, disappointment and even outrage from academics both within the University of Wollongong and elsewhere, concerned members of the public and the media. This criticism continues to this day.
The University has defended its decision on the grounds of “academic freedom”, despite serious errors and misrepresentations highlighted in the thesis. It has not released the names of examiners, citing “longstanding policy and practice” but also that it could have a “detrimental effect on their physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing”. In other words, suggesting that the community critical of the PhD may physically attack the examiners, which verges on a libellous depiction of members of that community.
The University has not, as yet, responded to Australian Skeptics’ inquiries as to whether the awarding of a PhD can be reversed.
Wollongong University has been nominated for a Bent Spoon award by a large and growing number of people.