UPM criticised for whitewashing the truth by defending dodgy academic paper

THE controversy of over an academic paper with questionable findings in a dubious academic journal rumbles on.

For context, French historian Serge Jardin had in a recent Facebook (FB) post named Rozita Che Rodi and Hashim Musa as the authors of a paper entitled “The Jongs and The Galleys: Traditional Ships of The Past Malay Maritime Civilisation” that was published in the International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, Vol.13, Issue 11 2023.

Jardin claimed that the paper misrepresents facts about Malay maritime history and the episode has greatly tarnished the reputation of the institution.

Amidst the furore and embarrassment, UPM has been forced to issue a statement. Instead of stating it will conduct a thorough investigation to get to the root of the matter, it came as no great shock that it chose to dig in its heels.

According to political columnist James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at University of Tasmania, this was unsurprising.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter), Chin stated: “Naturally, I anticipated that UPM would defend the authors and the bunkum research. Why? Because the majority of Malaysians have little interest in academic papers and will likely forget about this controversy by the following week.”

He was scathing about UPM’s efforts to back up its academics in publishing an obviously faulty study whereby the institution claimed that it has been “reviewed by experts” and that social science publications were “open to interpretation”.

The fact that Malaysians had little interest in issues surrounding academia was probably the reason UPM chose to take this stance, knowing full well it will be forgotten and can be swept under the carpet.

But Chin claimed that the problem went even deeper than just a poorly researched paper. It was symptomatic of the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) mentality that certain groups and associated bodies like UPM were simply beyond reproach.

This sentiment was further echoed by author Preeta Samarasan on Facebook claiming that UPM’s statement was akin to whitewashing the truth – “It’s so because we say it’s so”.

She laments that this attitude was a consequence of certain ethnic group’s attempt to re-write history.

“First of all because falsifying history is very obviously a key weapon of racial and religious supremacy in Malaysia, propping up narratives that deny the contributions and relevance of racial minorities,” opined Preeta.

“And secondly because the race-based patronage system has produced this indulgent attitude to incompetence and dishonesty affected our lives directly.”

Tertiary institutions have already been under the spotlight thanks to the likes of Dr Siti Mastura Muhammad. The PAS Kepala Batas MP had last year made the spurious allegation linking certain DAP members to former Communist leader Chin Peng and Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew at a public function.

The PhD holder in Islamic Development Management from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) displayed a blatant disregard for the facts and seemed to have little or no understanding of Chinese surnames.

This distortion of the facts and bending the truth to suit certain narrative is again being highlighted by this dodgy journal fiasco and UPM’s decision to defend it. It is not just a very sad reflection of local universities but the present state of Malaysian society as pointed out by Chin and Preeta.

But aside from a short furore on social media, what can ordinary Malaysians do about this? Truth is, sadly, very little given the prevailing attitude of shamelessness among academics and the powers-that-be. – Jan 24, 2024

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