The University of Wollongong just degraded the value of their degrees

The university has accepted the Ph.D. dissertation of Judy Wilyman, which is plum full of rancid bollocks. She’s an anti-vaxxer, and apparently her advisor had no problems with a thesis that basically lied about the science and promoted bizarre conspiracy theories.


Look at that first line. There is no stringent monitoring of adverse events or evaluation of the effectiveness of vaccines in the population that would provide meaningful data on their effects in the population. Has she never heard of this science called epidemiology? Does she know what a Phase IV clinical trial is? This stuff is assessed out the wazoo. It’s the analysis of effectiveness and side effects that allows doctors to recommend dosages and schedules.

But it seems the social sciences department at UOW doesn’t believe in statistics or science at all. And most appallingly, the university is supporting this crap.

UOW ensures research is undertaken according to strict ethical and quality standards and supports researchers’ academic freedom of thought and expression, he said.

UOW does not restrict the subjects into which research may be undertaken just because they involve public controversy or because individuals or groups oppose the topic or the findings.

I can believe they have quality standards, but this is an admission that those standards are disgracefully low.

I would agree that research shouldn’t be restricted because it’s controversial. That’s not the case here. The problem with Wilyman’s research is that it is wrong, and that it violates the apparently non-existent standards at UOW for truth and accuracy.


  1. Holms says

    For some reason, this PhD thesis is coming from the humanities department. I have no idea why that department would accept a dissertation so obviously outside the field, but at least it (hopefully) doesn’t reflect a lapse in the quality of their science department.

    Oh and if this goes back to their academic board for review, you can bet she will claim that this only proves that a nefarious conspiracy exists and is trying to silence her. The usual bleat.

  2. dianne says

    I wonder what her doctoral defense was like.

    Prof: “Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that the risks of HPV are being misrepresented?”

    Candidate: “…You’re a shill!”

  3. ibbica says

    Her thesis can be found at
    Her degree is from the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry
    Any theses submitted to the library’s collection “must be the same as the copy of the thesis that was approved as fulfilling the requirements for the degree”
    If their procedures are anything like I went through, there are a few months between acceptance of the thesis and actual awarding of the degree, but the awarding itself is mostly a formality after you’ve successfully defended your thesis.
    Anyway, Wilyman’s master’s thesis in 2007 for the School of Health Sciences isn’t any better, and that was accepted by the same institution.

  4. DBP says

    Ms Wilyman’s thesis cited a 27-year-old paper that claimed there was no clear link that human papillomavirus infection is causally related to cervical cancer, despite more recent work suggesting 70 per cent of cervical cancer is related to HPV.

    When I was in college, my professors generally didn’t let us cite literature that was published more than 10 years prior for various reasons. This incident highlights one such reason.

    Orthopedic surgeon and vaccination campaigner John Cunningham said Ms Wilyman’s understanding of the immune system was “flawed and oversimplified”, and the thesis “had been produced within a vacuum and without an appreciation of medical science”.

    This. Why is someone without a medical background basing their phd around medical science? My guess is they couldn’t get a degree in a medical or bio field (because medicine is a conspiracy!!!) so they come at it from another direction. This is similar to the Discovery Institute brags about the number of scientists disagree with evolution, but their definition of “scientist” is very broad. This person wants to get a Phd to pretend to be an authority on vaccines.

    Here is Orac’s take on it.
    (From Orac)
    Apparently this nut has harassed the parents of child that died of pertussis because obviously they are in on the conspiracy. She also runs an antivaccine website and claims there is a link between vaccines and autism.
    (Also Orac)
    Her phd advisor apparently claims this poor, poor phd student is being “mobbed” and antivaccine viewpoints are “suppressed”

  5. DBP says

    Also from Orac, apparently Aussie phd’s don’t have to defend their thesis and instead it gets sent to three external reviewers (that the advisor gets to choose)

  6. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    There isn’t a verbal defense no. This is primarily for logistical reasons. I live in Australia in one of the most isolated cities on the planet. Flying someone here even from another state in Australia for a PhD defense is expensive, but there isn’t enough varied local expertise, not to mention the downsides to having the only people evaluating a thesis being from the local pool. Perhaps when skype or similar becomes so common that noone thinks anything of it they may come here too. We do still have to give a seminar on the final research but it’s not a formal defense.

    Advisors (aka supervisors) recommend examiners yes, but good ones don’t pick ones that they think will give an easy pass. And the examiners do have to have a fairly extensive and current publication record. And be willing to take it on.

    Though obviously if this got through the system then the examiners have dropped the ball since it sounds like a lot of it is unevidenced claptrap.

  7. ibbica says

    Oh, and no live public defence requirement in Australia, at least not at UOW. Two external examiners that read and comment on the thesis, and final decision left to internal faculty. External examiners aren’t being identified in this instance, but the thesis also required approval, however much of a formality that may be, of the Head of Postgraduate Studies of the School in question.

  8. says

    academic freedom of thought and expression

    Is that code for “bullshit is OK”?

    I thought the idea of academic freedom was that it’s OK to challenge established models, not that you get to make stuff up completely. Sounds like they’re going the way of some of the arts: it’s “edgy” the more wronger it is.

    When I was a psych undergrad (that’s “social sciences” right?) we studied statistics and testing methodologies(*)

    (* which was good for a laugh because it revealed that a lot of the work our faculty advisors had been doing was mostly bullshit)

  9. parasiteboy says

    There is no stringent monitoring of adverse events

    In addition to PZ’s comments there is also VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, for when the vaccines are being used by the general public. AFAIK vaccines follow the same approval process as FDA approved medications and possible side effects are still reported when they are being used by the general public. This is because the Phase IV clinical trials are a smaller, selected sample of the larger population.

  10. Rich Woods says

    @Holms #1:

    Oh and if this goes back to their academic board for review, you can bet she will claim that this only proves that a nefarious conspiracy exists and is trying to silence her.

    Sadly it appears that her supervisor has beat her to it.

    I’m lost for words.

  11. cag says

    The diseases for which vaccines are recommended have not been demonstrated to be a serious risk to the majority of children in Australia.

    When I was a child, the majority of children were not at risk of polio, so according to Wilyman there was no need for Salk or Sabin to waste their time coming up with a vaccine that has adversely affected the viability of Iron Lung manufacturers.

    At no time since the plague have the majority of children been at serious risk. The minority, however….

  12. says

    This thesis strikes me as fertile ground for study.
    The cultural pathology which inspires a person to write such a document, and which leads a presumably serious and reputable institution to give it a respectful hearing, deserves close scrutiny.
    We need to learn how to prevent things like this from happening.
    Perhaps a vaccine can be developed.

  13. gijoel says

    She’s had a long history of anti-vax nonsense.

    This makes want to have Brian Martian as my student adviser. Not sure if I should write my thesis in green ink or crayon.

  14. notheotherguy says

    A former colleague of mine is now a statistics professor at Wollongong. I can clearly imagine their anger at this.

  15. Sili says

    I don’t understand.

    How can she get a degree from the University of Wollongong, when her name’s not Bruce.

    That’s very confusing.

  16. chrislawson says

    DBP@5: that 70% figure is an underestimate based on an awkward choice of wording from the WHO. What the WHO says is that two strains of HPV are responsible for 70% of cases…but there are other strains. Somehow this statement from the FAQ has spread around the web as “HPV causes 70% of cervical cancer.”

    Studies suggest that only about 8% of cervical cancer is HPV-negative, although mere presence of HPV on PCR can’t prove causation. It is, however, highly suggestive since the HPV prevalence in UK women is about 44% at its peak (ages 14-19) and around 20-25% for all other age groups. If there were no causal link between HPV and cervical cancer, you’d expect HPV-negative cases to be around 60-75%, not 8%.

  17. mickll says

    @ Gregory in Seattle

    The department that approved the thesis was Social Sciences but it doesn’t say what the degree was actually in.

    One of the things I have to wonder is whether she was a full fee paying student, since Prime Minister Abbott got in universities in Australia have been running short of funds and there is a tendency in Australian universities to allow full fee paying students to get away with more than their government subsidised peers because they’re cash cows basically.

  18. numerobis says

    It’s normal in the US to choose your thesis committee, and everywhere else as far as I know.

    I’m surprised they don’t have a defense. In the US anyway it’s become standard to phone in via skype or whatever (I had one on my committee that way, and I called in the one time I sat on the committee).

  19. Atticus Dogsbody says

    I couldn’t find my favorite Aunty Jack bit about Wollongong – “What’s on in Wollongong! It’s the annual lamington drive. People don’t understand why the hoards of lamingtons hurl themselves off the cliffs…”

    So here is Wollongong the Brave

  20. dianne says

    I think I’ll apply for a PhD from Wollongong with the thesis that the moon is made of green cheese. It’s a controversial position, but the only evidence against it is the clearly faked moon landing, right?

  21. Who Cares says

    I wonder how long it has taken her to find a university which would not object to people attending to do a PhD in a direction that isn’t the focus of the university with a person who was both sympathetic to the denier cause and could guarantee he would be her supervisor.

    And I wonder if said supervisor will get the boot for gross professional misconduct by not just allowing the thesis but deliberately selecting persons who are vaccine deniers as to make it pass.