Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PhD for Zahid Hamidi

A few friends emailed me recently to tell me that an UMNO leader, Zahid Hamidi, currently a Minister in the PM's department and former UMNO Youth Chief when Anwar was still DPM, was recently conferred a PhD in Communications from UPM. I applaud his resilience in doing his PhD part time despite his busy schedule as a politician. But I am probably a bit suspect in regard to the content of his PhD thesis.

I heard Zahid Hamidi speak at a small PROMUDA function a few years back and he came across as an intelligent and intellectually curious UMNO leader. This was in 2003 and he was already doing his PhD then. I was impressed because he didn't really need to get a PhD to bolster his political credentials. I'm glad that he managed to finally finish his PhD. It's a long process which I can certainly attest to as I'm working hard to finish my own PhD thesis next year.

But I can't help but have a niggling doubt as to the quality of his PhD research. For now, I'll have to give him the benefit of the doubt in regard to whether he did all the work himself or if he hired researchers to some at least part of the work on his behalf. I'll reproduce a brief description of his thesis which appeared on the Ministry of Information website and I'll comment after that.

Deputy Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has been conferred a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Communication by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

He will receive the Phd at UPM's convocation in October, said the university's School of Graduate Studies Deputy Dean Prof Dr Hasanah Mohd Ghazali in a statement here today.

The university senate approved the degree at its meeting on Feb 21. For the Phd, Dr Zahid completed a thesis entitled "Barisan Nasional Manifesto As Agenda for Malay Language Newspaper During the General Election Campaign."

The study was undertaken to identify the usage of BN manifesto as an agenda for the Malay language newspapers namely Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian during the general elections in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1995 dan 1999.

Dr Zahid, when asked to comment on the degree, hoped that it would spur the young generation to pursue their education to a higher level. He said that the major factor for his success was his belief in life long learning and hoped that it would encourage his children to follow in his footsteps.

"I hope this success will spur my political colleagues, especially the younger ones to study to a higher level. "If I can do it at the age of 55, the young generation should feel challenged (by it)," he said.

Commenting on his thesis, Dr Zahid said that based on the research the manifesto, which is regarded as a promise by BN, was the basis for the success and support obtained by the party during the general elections.

If the manifesto announced provided something good for the rakyat, the effect would be seen from the number of popular votes and increase in the number of seats won by BN, he said.

I'm not sure if this article quoted him correctly but I find the last remark quite disturbing. Has there been a case in the past whereby a BN manifesto would NOT provide something good for the rakyat thereby leading it to lose popular votes and seats? I'm not sure if he had a well defined dependent variable and a set of independent variables which he used in a regression analysis to test his hypothesis but from that statement alone, I find this hard to believe.

Furthermore, he tracked the usage of the BN manifesto in Utusan and Berita Harian in the elections starting from 1982 and ending in 1999. Unless you used very sophisticated coding to pick out and define different categories of reports and later quantify them, I suspect that you would not get much variance in regard to how these papers presented the BN manifesto to its readers - overwhelmingly POSITIVE! In social science methodological speak, you don't get any variance in the independent variable i.e. the BN manifesto or the newspapers reporting them.

In any case, I don't really think there's enough variance on his dependent variable i.e. electoral outcomes in the 6 elections he covered. He cannot possibly use the outcomes in individual constituencies as his dependent variables since you cannot possibly measure the impact of newspaper reporting on the BN manifesto by individual constituencies.

My sense is that he may have been poorly guided by his advisers at UPM who might not have wanted to piss off a high ranking UMNO leader and deny him his PhD. Every PhD inevitably has its share of weaknesses (I'm sure my own will be the same) but some methodological shortcomings will not pass muster in most universities where the advising committee does some sort of quality control.

I hope I can get my hands on his PhD thesis. If anyone has access to it, please email me.


Shawn Tan said...

Shouldn't you be able to order a copy of the thesis from the university library? As I understand it, a PhD thesis is considered a public domain document. You will probably need to pay a small fee for it and maybe sign a few documents.

Anonymous said...

I think ultimately a thesis is only a thesis that will be left to collect dust in the university library. What I would like to see is whether the work gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, or at least published as in a form of a monograph by a reputable publisher.

Anonymous said...

He is the 3rd person earning a PhD whilst a minister:

1) James Ongkili
2) Drs Sulaiman

Perhaps, there are many more whom I missed out. Anyway, it's a feat to be emulated by all who want to lead by examples.

Anonymous said...

it's probaby a thesis on how to keep the nonmuslims marginalised, knowing what a bigot this fella is.

Anonymous said...

Wat about the MCA leader Dr Yen Yen or something? She got her PhD too and it is good to read her thesis too

Anonymous said...

Anon: She is an MBBS = Physician = Medical Non-Practitioner now; not a PhD.

Talking about thesis; if it has no breakthrough that can significantly change or improve lives, it would just remain an essay of no significance, collecting dust on the shelves wasting storage rentals.

The standards of researches are dependent on the supervisors' wisdom. To pass or "drop off/out," that is the Question.

Normally, research candidates do not wait to fail, they would just stop and "drop off/out" if their supervisors are not compatible.

If a research student should fail upon completion, the university concerned should investigate the supervisors for being incapable because the write-up were determined and directed by them.

People who are PhD candidates would understand this meaning in time.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I was one of the PhD graduands with Zahid Hamidi last Saturday. He gave a speech on stage on behalf of all the graduands (everyone was surprised to see him there). I must say that he's a great speaker (in BM).

His thesis title is: "MANIFESTO BARISAN NASIONAL SEBAGAI AGENDA AKHBAR BAHASA MELAYU SEMASA TEMPOH KEMPEN PILIHANRAYA UMUM". The thesis is apparently written in Bahasa Malaysia (The thesis can either be written in BM or English).

I agree with 'Azman Mamat'. We shall wait and see if his work gets published in peer-reviewed journals.

Anonymous said...

If the person is peerless, then where to find the true peer upon peer for review?

Many years ago, there was a provision for engineers to be given auto-promotions after having served 5 years. The same applied to lecturers and associate professors to full professorship.

If the faculty had only one member with qualifications in a particular field, he was actually "peerless" in that school to be peer reviewed for promotion. More so, when the promotion was automatic.

The truth of the pudding is in the eating.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as peerless. In any academic promotion, there is a serious need for every candidate's CVs to be scrutinized by at least 3 academic reviewers. If we are going to move up in the academic standing of our public universities, we should go for external academic reviewers (meaning peers in the field from established foreign universities), and not our local public university reviewers. I am not saying foreign reviewers are more superior than our local counterparts (there are many good ones locally as well), but just to avoid any conflict of interest that may arise.

I disagree with the statement "The truth of the pudding is in the eating". How would one say a pudding tastes good, when one has never tried other puddings?' That is the problem in our system nowadays... syok sendiri, jaguh kampung... Just because one has never tasted durian out of Balik Pulau, it cannot qualify BP's durian as the best or the bench mark for all durians.

Anonymous said...

BP durians have gone through many major true peer reviews for more than half a century "at least."

In fact, there is an Annual Durian King competition amongst the durian growers.

Therefore, names like kucing tidoq, udang merah, etc. shine in their own circle. So, there are Harvard, Oxbridge, etc in the education sphere.

Taste of the Pudding is in the eating = Individuals eating or tasting are indisputable authorities to determine the goodness in their own right and judgement = Fairness comes from the heart of the individual practitioners.

The idiom of Pudding mentioned is not a comparison or a benchmark with other puddings.

It's just saying Pudding. Period. Whatever tastes the Puddings have are judged only by eating or could we say "smelling?"

The pudding here being that peer reviews can be very subjective. True or not true peers, only the eater knows.

Only those who spins the top knows how it spins or how it is being spun.

For now, the name of BP durians are well-known. So, are Harvard, Yale, Oxbridge etc in Malaysia or narrow it to Penang; all are indisputably well-known. It is a corollary whatever one may take.

There are also excellent durians in Tanjung Sepat, but the best ones have being declared only to those spinning the tops.

So, all education spinners know Harvard,Oxon, Cantab are among the best.

Nonetheless, the heart of true peers could not really be known by anyone. Similarly, THES benchmarks are not acceptable by many locals.

The Chinese has a saying: Between a scholar and a soldier, logic never ends.

Kalau tidak mengalami, macam mana datangnya pengalaman sebenar.

For the time being where there could be a lack of better benchmark, the tastes of BP durians are still well-known among Penangites, at least.

I would rest my discussion on the topic here.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think his thesis title and research scope too simple? Such research is only qualified for a BA degree, not masters nor PhD... Some of my coursemates at UKM did similar type of researches for their BA degree...

Ariff said...

It is true that he got phd and its genuine. I remeber those days when he was sidelined from BN and became quite in politics. He started his studies at that time and devoted himself for studies in that period.