No transparency, royal privilege, corruption

21 09 2021

There’s been almost no mainstream discussion of how it is that a jumped-up royal plaything like the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy (CRA) became a player in the country’s virus vaccine program. That’s not unexpected in a country run by a dictatorial royalist regime. No discussion of the hows or whys. No discussion of appropriateness. And, no discussion of how this “institute” can traipse off and conclude contracts here and there with no public scrutiny.

That lack of transparency and scrutiny is why the “Academy” can be spoofed and used for corrupt activities. Sure, there have been other examples of corruption in the virus response, but this “Academy” is above scrutiny and investigation simply because it is the plaything of a self-indulgent royal.

But things got so bad, that the only body that can talk about corruption is the so-called academy itself. As The Nation reports, the “Academy” has gone to the Department of Special Investigation after it “learned about a group of fraudsters that has tricked people out of millions by posing as the Chulabhorn Royal Academy…”.

Academy deputy secretary-general Wanlop Yutithamdamrong “said the group had created fake CRA Line and Facebook accounts to dupe people into paying for their alternative Covid-19 shot. The group insisted all transfers be made via PromptPay, which is not used by the actual CRA.”

He claimed that the “fraudsters had stolen a list of people who had been vaccinated by hacking into a hospital’s system. The hospital, which is part of the CRA vaccination campaign, filed a complaint when it learned of the hacking.”

Sounding suspicious yet?

The Bangkok Post adds that the fraudsters had received “millions of baht.”

Wanlop tells us that the “Academy” has known of the scam for a very long time: “We obtained information that the scammers began using social media accounts to deceive people after the CRA imported the first lot of Sinopharm vaccines.” But guess what? “[W]e had no clear evidence against them. They talked to groups of people via the accounts about the acquisition of the vaccine and persuaded them to place orders and transfer payment, claiming the buyers would get the vaccine at a lower price than that set by the CRA…”.

The “Academy” is being scammed and there are fake websites and social media accounts but “no clear evidence.” Sounds suspicious to us.

As an aside, we noticed that in photos accompanying the reports of the DSI visit, the “Academy” people are wearing lapel badges of Princess Chulabhorn. We hadn’t seen these before – maybe we weren’t looking. Previously badges of Prince Dipangkorn designated being close to the king. It seems Chulabhorn has decided to develop her own labels of loyalty. They, too, can be scammed.

Previous cases of royal scamming have sometimes come to light and have led to lese majeste charges.

A royal shemozzle II

28 05 2021

A reader asks how it is that a person designated a princess, with no obvious constitutional or legal authority can issue a decree that appears to carry the weight of law?

We could simply say: well, this is ultra-royalist Thailand and strange, extra-constitutional happenings seem increasingly common.

The Bangkok Post observes:

His Majesty the King’s sister [Princess Chulabhorn] has approved coronavirus vaccine imports by an institution she sponsors, bypassing the government as it deals with surging infections and growing public anger over a slow and chaotic rollout.

As can be seen in this sentence, the princess is only a sister of the king and yet she may bypass government. As also noted in the sentence, she’s responding to anger about the government’s strategy. As everyone knows, from the beginning this strategy hinged on a “royal vaccine,” which now seems delayed (at best). In the Post’s words: the regime “relies heavily on AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured locally by a company owned by the king.”

This intervention was made without the knowledge of the health minister. Anutin is reported as “unaware of the royal order before it was published.” Notice that the Post as it as a “royal order,” as if Thailand is an absolutist regime. He is quoted: “I just saw the announcement last night…”. He then had to do the royalist-loyalist two-step: “But if it is a benefit to the country, we are ready.”

It was then level to the regime’s slimy legal eagle and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam to try to clean up the constitutional and legal scraps, saying “the academy had to issue the announcement so it could qualify to import drugs and medical equipment and supplies.” That’s buffalo manure.


How high?

He added: “But this does not mean it can do so freely — it will have to comply with related laws in full, such as seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration.” We don’t believe him. The announcement gives itself the right to circumvent government, as it already has.

Wissanu then fumbled some more, saying “that the institute could do so only during the Covid-19 crisis and when the vaccine supply was inadequate.” In fact, other readings of the vague announcement suggest that the “institute” has wider self-awarded power than that.

He squared the circle when he “added the institute, like private hospitals, could deal with foreign companies to import the vaccine using its own budget.” The budget for the “institute” is provided by the taxpayer and it is not a hospital. And, if Wissanu is correct, then the announcement is not required. Nor is the “institute’s intervention needed when private hospitals have already contracted to supply and sell 10 million doses in addition to the state’s purchases and orders.

But the royals want to make some propaganda gains in a situation where the king’s company appears to be failing.

Who will sort out the constitutional and legal mess? We suspect that no one will and that the precedent will see royals having even more power to do whatever they fancy.

The students were repressed but they were right. The monarchy on its current course is seriously dangerous for Thailand.

A royal shemozzle I

27 05 2021

It has been an exceptionally busy 24-36 hours for the regime’s virus “strategy.” Failures, turnarounds and a royal intervention point to a shemozzle. More significantly, they point to a royal/royalist failure and a rescue attempt.

The media is reflecting a broader discontent as it refers to the aspects of the vaccine “rollout” as a “fiasco” and talk of corruption hampering the regime’s response to thousands of cases a day, pointing to human smuggling:

In January, Gen Prayut set up a special panel to tackle labour smuggling, but it’s unclear what the panel has really achieved.

By setting up such a panel, the government hoped to appease critics, by giving the impression something was being done, when in fact the opposite was more accurate. The panel also gives credence to the belief that regular mechanisms are dysfunctional or beset with graft…. It’s an open secret that unscrupulous officials are involved in these activities.

It seemed clear to most people that there were major problems unresolved:

In October last year, the government chose the AstraZeneca vaccine as its main weapon against COVID-19. However, arming itself with AstraZeneca shots has proved difficult, and it now looks like the shortage will last longer than expected.

Then, in no particular order, a series of revelations pointed to the deadly results of the shemozzle. First, there was the report that the surge of virus cases in prisons continues, despite an earlier assurance from the Corrections Department that it could “bring the situation under control.” It has only gotten worse and deadly. The Corrections Department has now “reported 1,243 new infections and three deaths among inmates, raising the total number of prison cases to 17,138.” Being in prison now means almost certain virus infection and the possibility of death.

Second, it is clear that the cases among mostly migrant workers in construction camps around Bangkok are rivalling the rates in prisons, and the response is essentially to lock the workers up, infected and uninfected (so far) together. Businesses wanted to keep working and their profits rely on migrant workers. Leaky borders require official connivance in keeping wages low and migrants in shit conditions, even as they are infected and die.

Third, the regime began panicked changes to its own virus measures.

Vaccine registration through app Mor Prom was suddenly suspended. The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration’s explanation that this was “to forestall a bottleneck” seems to confirm that the vaccines are just not available in sufficient quantity to meet demand. We had posted on the delays to vaccine availability earlier, associated with the king’s company Siam Bioscience. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had announced that “Thailand would take delivery of another lot of AstraZeneca vaccine in June.” He then added: “that this did not mean they would be available on June 1,” saying: “If the shots made in Thailand are not ready, the company is bound to find them from somewhere else to fill our order as stipulated in the contract…”. This probably put him in conflict with the monarch’s outfit and he may well have been saying that he wasn’t prepared to wear the criticism for Siam Bioscience’s failings.

Then, the palace responded (that’s how it appears to us). Overnight on Wednesday, without fanfare, a peculiar announcement appeared at the Royal Gazette website, purportedly signed by the ailing Princess Chulabhorn and on behalf of her personal fiefdom, the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy and Chulabhorn Institute.

It declared that:

the academy had granted its secretary-general the power to enter into a trade agreement with public and private organisations, both domestic and overseas, in matters relating to the provision of medical and public health services during the emergency situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement added that:

…all medical equipment, drugs and vaccines imported by the academy would be considered its property for the purpose of medicine and public health and will not be liable to any kind of legal execution.

The “academy” promises to provide more information on how it plans to procure and import Covid-19 vaccine from Sinopharm.

As we know, earlier in the week, “Bio Genetech Ltd, an importer of Sinopharm’s Covilo vaccine, had submitted complete documentation to register the vaccine for use in Thailand and expected approval to come soon.” We can’t find any information on that company, but it may well be a Thai subsidiary of a Chinese company. WHO information on the vaccine is here. Information on Sinopharm is available here.

Thai Enquirer has two reports. One says of the announcement:

The announcement, which was ambiguously worded, could be interpreted to say that the institute would now be able to bypass government red-tape [regulations] and bring it vaccines as it sees fit…. [It] also gives the organizations sweeping powers to carry out work….

But the other report goes entirely royalist being written by the deeply yellow Fuadi Pitsuwan. While noting that the right to procure and import vaccines “was reserved for only the Thai government,” it somehow construes the power grab as “most certainly a benevolent gesture by the Institute,” adding that “it highlights the royal frustration and the split among the ruling elites over how the Prayuth government is handling the crisis.” It babbles on:

HRH Princess Chulabhorn is taking the matter in her own hands. She is trying to do what she can to alleviate the dire healthcare situation and to compensate for the delay in vaccine procurement by the Ministry of Health and its relevant agencies.

This is self-censoring rubbish to avoid Article 112, adding:

But the royal move, exercised in this manner however well-intentioned, calls into question the political legitimacy of the government and its authority in the management of the crisis. It is a no-confidence censure and a royal rebuke of both Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Minister of Health Anutin Charnveerakul.

To be fair, the report notes dangers in another royal interference.

When our top institution becomes too involved in people’s welfare, whether it exercises that power directly or through an agency, it exposes itself to being politicized and thus such a move is a double-edged sword that could end up hurting its own reputation and sanctity.

It adds:

For now, we can be sure that the ruling elites have split and that move by … Chulabhorn has highlighted the royal anxiety over the government’s mishandling of the crisis. What this means in practice is that our government is no longer in control of its health care apparatus and there is a functioning, competing alternative health-care system led by … Chulabhorn herself.

And, the author does worry about a broader royal takeover:

If Prayuth and Anutin do not step up their game quickly, it will be to no one’s surprise when a more powerful intervention beyond the healthcare arena finally takes place

This latter point is certainly true. The royal family is politically dangerous. But, while we think this general interpretation of the intervention could be true it  misses a lot because of its royalist spinelessness.

We think that the whole AstraZeneca/Siam Bioscience deal was concocted by the regime and the palace to “save” Thais with the “king’s vaccine.” The fact that Siam Bioscience has failed leads to claims that the whole regime-royal strategy has failed Thais. This throws a spanner in the whole royal propaganda machine. With Anutin demonstrating that he isn’t prepared to take the blame, the the monarchy has had to find another means to be seen to be “saving” Thais. 

Whichever interpretation is correct, the monarchy’s interfering is dangerous for Thailand.

Another royal hobby

5 08 2019

Being honest, we have to say that we had never heard of the Chulabhorn Royal Academy until a reader sent us this story from an Australian source.

To be sure, we had heard of the  Chulabhorn Research Institute, which is said to be headed up by (a now very ill) Princess Chulabhorn. The latter’s website in English looks dated, although there are bits and pieces that seem updated, and its Facebook page has been unused since 2013. Has there been a loss of interest?

The Chulabhorn Royal Academy is said to have been established in January 2016 with a royal decree making it “an advanced research and higher educational institute, and the HRH Princess Chulabhorn College of Medical Science to be a college within the academy specialising in medicine, nursing and health sciences. PCCMS admits about 30 students per year in the MD course…”. It is claimed that it “consists of the School of Medicine and Public Health, School of Nursing and the Sonographer School. It is an academic institution affiliated to Mahidol University…”.

This Academy’s website is more up-to-date and interesting, not to say professional when compared with the Institute.

Both the Instiute and the Academy appear to have had considerable funds poured into their buildings, we assume at taxpayer expense.

To the Australian story. It is reported that the University of Newcastle, a relatively low-ranked Australian school “plans to partner with a royal Thai academy to offer a dual med engineering degree…”. It reports:

VC Alex Zelinsky has signed an MOU with (deep breath) Dr Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand, to develop a dual degree with HRH’s Chulabhorn Royal Academy.

The four-year programme combines medical innovation and engineering degrees. Students will start with 18 months in Thailand, followed by two years at Uni Newcastle and a final six months on business and entrepreneurship at Chulabhorn RA.

It adds that this arrangement:

will be a bolster for Uni Newcastle’s med science standing in SE Asia. In April it was one of three Australian and 100 overall international med schools whose graduates were dropped from the Singapore Government’s approved for practice register.

The Academy appears set on partnering with a range of second and third tier universities world wide. At the same time, it seems to be operating as yet another palace propaganda outfit. We guess no one dares ask about its worth or its cost to the taxpayer.

Updated: Royal wealth and the squeeze on the taxpayer

13 09 2017

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun has recently published an op-ed at The Japan Times. “A very wealthy monarch grows wealthier” examines the July “reorganization of the Crown Property Bureau, to pave the way for his [King Vajiralongkorn’s] control of this financial wing of the monarchy.”

Pavin observes that:

The new legislation was approved by the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, which appointed Vajiralongkorn as the sole authority over royal wealth. This dismantled the traditional mechanism put in place by his father … who appointed a government official to manage the crown property. Instead, under the new bill, Vajiralongkorn will set up a board of directors to oversee his assets.

We don’t think this is entirely accurate. It is odd to call the previous arrangement “traditional.” Rather, laws that have been revised a couple of times since 1932 established that the Minister of Finance would chair the CPB (as Pavin later notes). It is that governmental link that has been removed and the CPB made the preserve of the king. Pavin is right to note that:

There are two key characteristics of the legislation. First, the king is entitled to appoint the board members, as well as to remove them, at his discretion. Second, the law prohibits the taking away of royal assets without the king’s approval.

As others have noted, this new arrangement means the “Crown Property Bureau is the corporate arm of the monarchy, performing as the major shareholder of the kingdom’s biggest cement company and one of the largest commercial banks.” It’s also correct that “the most valuable assets owned by the royal family are huge swaths of land, much of it in prime areas in central Bangkok.”

Pavin is also correct to argue that “the financial status of the monarchy [the CPB and private wealth combined] has dominated Thailand’s economic landscape. The super-rich status of the king played a vital part in buttressing the political power of the royal family.” Likewise, it is certainly true that part of the CPB’s business success “derived from special privileges granted to the monarchy in conducting business” without transparency or accountability.

Then there’s the capacity of this fabulously wealthy monarchy to leech off the taxpayer. Not only does the CPB pay no taxes (its listed companies do) but there’s a seemingly bottomless money pit that takes money from the taxpayer and redistributes it to the richest of Thailand’s rich.

The much touted “royal projects” are funded by the taxpayer – thank General Prem Tinsulanonda for that redistribution when he was unelected premier. And then there is the cash spent on the “operations of the Bureau of the Royal Household and the expenses of the monarch and his extended family members,” along with bags of money for “promoting” the monarchy.

Despite the wealth of the Crown Property Bureau, the monarchy is allocated generous funds from the government for private and public expenses. Around $170 million annually in state funding covers the salaries of staff working in the Royal Household Bureau and other palace offices, including protection provided for the royal family by the security forces.

Pavin reckons the “budget for the promotion of the dignity of the monarchy,” was almost $400 million in 2003, increasing to $438 million in 2015.

We looked at the 2016 and 2017 budget years in documents available from the Budget Bureau (Thailand’s Budget In Brief), and we think the figures are striking. In 2016, the amount for “upholding, protecting and preserving the monarchy”under the National Security Strategy, on its own, comes to about $555 million. As can be seen in the attached snip, there’s more in the budget for “unified reconciliation.”

The interesting thing is that when one goes through the budget lines provided it is decidedly unclear if the strategies listed as 2.1 and 2.2 overlap the roughly $340 million for royal projects, royal travel, royal bureaus, royal vanity projects and so on. Given that every ministry and department will spend oodles on royal promotion not covered under the programs above, we are thinking that, in 2016, the monarchy cost Thai taxpayers something like $700-800 million.

How does this look in 2017? The format provided is different, but we located this:It seems highly unlikely that the programs have changed this much. Rather, the changed format is suggestive of covering up the huge amount on “upholding, protecting and preserving the monarchy” in 2016. What we do observe is that the second program has gone up by about 60%. In looking at details of funding to royal projects, royal travel, royal bureaus, royal vanity projects and so on, there has been a 37.8% increase, thanks mainly to the creation of a budget line for the Chulabhorn Research Institute (about $115 million). The total budget in these lines in 2017 was $472 million. We might guess that the total taxpayer bill for all things royal is around $1 billion.

(Correct us if you think we are wrong in our calculations.)

Whatever way you look at it, this fabulously wealthy king and royal family, worth perhaps $50-60 billion, also leeches off the taxpayer to the tune of another $1 billion a year.

Update: Somsak Jeamteerasakul wants to challenge some of the points made by Pavin:

Pavin’s article contains some significant errors or misleading statements, and this post doesn’t correct them, even repeats them. For instance. it’s not “right to note” the “two characteristics” of the new legislation. Those two were already there in the previous law. In fact, the second ”characteristic” is quite misleading to put it that way, both in the case of the previous law (article 7 which was more suit to describe as Pavin does, but still isn’t entirely apt) and the new law (article 8 last para., which doesn’t really mean what Pavin says; it is not about [others] ‘taking away’ royal assets at all, just saying that the king-appointed committee couldn’t sell or make any transaction of the asset without his formal approval). Pavin was also wrong to say the late king “appointed a government official to manage the crown property”. The next sentence is also mistaken: “instead, the – no, it’s not something King X does ‘instead’; his father also did. Pavin was wrong again to say “Under King Bhumibol, the board of directors for the royal assets answered to the finance minister.” In both the letters of the old law (read carefully article 4, nothing about ‘answered to’ at all) and in practice (for 70 years, finance ministers of all successive governments did have any say in the management of the CPB). In consequence and in this context, Pavin’s next sentence is also incorrect: “NOW, it is independent of the government.” It isn’t “now” that the CPB is ‘independent of the government.’; it had always been since 1948.

As we said above, there were some problems with Pavin’s characterization of the new law, but Somsak is rather picky on this stuff, being immersed in the detail. We don’t believe that Pavin states that the “two characteristics” are new in the new law. Somsak prefers a very careful reading, and that’s fine. We pretty much agree with his other points.

However, we were more interested in taxpayer funding to the monarchy. As we said above, we are keen to know if our calculations are wonky.

Tobacco connections

9 10 2013

In several reports a few days ago, it was reported that:

Tobacco giant Philip Morris (Thailand) yesterday said it intends to fight “vigorously” against what it claims to be “meritless charges” against the company.Marlboro

The Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) said on Wednesday that its former chief Julasingh Vasantasingh decided to indict 12 executives of Philip Morris (Thailand) for allegedly under-declaring the value of its products to evade taxes.

PPT doesn’t have a lot to add to the story, except to draw attention to an earlier post on the royal connection between Philip Morris, the world largest cigarette maker, and the Chulabhorn Research Institute. Run by Princess Chulabhorn, who now seems to style herself less as a cancer researcher and more as a veterinarian, the earlier post may still be of interest.

The case of Philip Morris (Thailand)

16 03 2011

Readers may be following the intriguing case that revolves around claims that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva interfered “in the justice system, and … help[ed]… the giant cigarette manufacturer to evade tax which caused the country to lose up to 68 billion baht.” It is alleged that “the government had directed the prosecution to review the Philip Morris case, citing potential economic repercussions and international relations.”

PPT doesn’t know much about this case. However, we wonder if there is an unstated link to another kind of lobbying? A report at the San Diego Union Tribune in 2008 stated:

In Thailand, Philip Morris, the world largest cigarette maker, planted a scientist in Chulabhorn Research Institute in Bangkok in a bid to get researchers to shift their attention away from secondhand smoking and toward other forms of air pollution, according to one study. Public health researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Edinburgh produced the study by analyzing internal industry documents made public following litigation in the United States.

The study mentioned is available here.

The planted scientist worked to enhance a relationship to WHO as the CRI is an officially-recognized collaborating center. As the author’s point out:

The documents analysed above demonstrate how tobacco industry scientists have established durable relationships with the CRI, a key regional centre of scientific training and expertise in Thailand.

This relationship was criticized and the difficulty of doing this was explained:

The royal connection makes any critical discussion of the institute within Thailand an extremely delicate matter. The King commands enormous public respect and affection, and is regarded as a semi-divine figure. Public criticism of the monarchy remains off-limits, not least because the Thai state has aggressively used lèse-majesté – the proscription of any perceived insults to the monarchy – to protect the crown. This prohibition has resulted in a near total absence of any critical analysis of the royal family.

It is said that the relationship between big tobacco and CRI ended. However, PPT can’t help wondering if the relationship has any impact on the tax issue?

Updated: All publicity is good publicity in the battle for hearts and minds

21 11 2010

Well, maybe, if you are a royal and  trying to shore up the family’s reputation as “real people.” At least for the elite….

This same elite does seem to have a taste for the sweet working class fare of the now-closed textile and tobacco factories of central North Carolina in the U.S., Krispy Kreme Donuts.

Thanks to Bangkok Pundit for this picture, posted from the hi-so Praew magazine of the not so svelte Princess Sirindhorn at the new branch of Krispy Kreme Donuts located in the Siam Paragon shopping center where, we are told, one of the princess’s best friends owns the center.

PPT supposes that if the Chulabhorn Research Institute can take Philip Morris’s loot for “research,” then some of the sweet sweetness of Krispy Kreme is not out of place. Maybe Krispy Kreme will fund new royal research into obesity.

Update: There are suggestions that (see comments section) that the Krispy Kreme franchise holder has links to red shirts.

Is Chulabhorn’s Windaus Medal deserved?

17 10 2009

Available in German here.

In the hullabaloo over the king’s health, when things settled down it followed Chulabhorn’s statement from Germany that daddy was okay. In one of those reports it was stated that the princess was in Germany to “to receive the Windaus Medal from the University of Georg-August Gottingen” (Bangkok Post, 17 October 2009).

PPT knows that the palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs scours the world for awards and honorary doctorates for all members of the royal family and treats and uses them as evidence of greatness. It seems it isn’t hard to get most of the trinkets and honors awarded if you are a royal from just about anywhere and if you really want them.

The only controversy that we can recall on these things was when the king was refused an honorary doctorate by the Australian National University, way back in 1962 (search Google for The Sydney Morning Herald. – Aug 13, 1962). There were several small demonstrations against him and the military government in Thailand while in Australia (again, interested readers can Google this). The demonstrators accused the king of supporting the military, Sarit’s coup and authoritarianism. Nothing much has changed.

So we were interested in this award to Chulabhorn. A quick search around the web suggests that the Windaus Medal seems to be awarded to serious scientists and we know that the University of Georg-August Gottingen (or University of  Gottingen) is a reasonable German institution. So that got us to wondering what the princess had done to deserve this award.

Prof. Chulabhorn Mahidol with Prof. Lutz F. Tietze receiving the Windhaus Medal (from

Prof. Chulabhorn Mahidol with Prof. Lutz F. Tietze receiving the Windaus Medal (from Goettinger-Tageblatt)

The Siam Daily News reported that “Princesss Chulabhorn will be presented with the Windaus Medal from the University of Georg-August Göttingen on 15 October 2009 in recognition of her role as an outstanding scientist who has played an important role towards science and chemistry in Thailand. In addition, the Princess will give a special lecture on the occasion of the Centennial Anniversary of the Adolf-Windaus-Gedächtnis-Lecture.” PPT emphasized these points. The program of the day is here (it is a Word document).

By the way, there was also a small Hmong demonstration aimed at getting her attention reported. But back to Chulabhorn’s award and her science.

In a German newspaper report, the reasons for the award relate to her leadership as the founder of the Chulabhorn Research Institute. Professor Lutz F. Tietze, president of the German Central Committee of Chemistry said: “The social and societal relevance of their [CRI’s?] work, they are united with Windaus…”. That the CRI’s work will “enable the people in the Southeast Asian region to have a better life, and this was one of the reasons that make them a winner.” She is also reportedly the first female winner of the medal.

What kind of scientist is she and what is the reputation of the Chulabhorn Research Institute?

“Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol, President of the Chulabhorn Research Institute,” as the website for her personal institute has it, has styled herself as a great scientist and this award would tend to confirm this.

She studied chemistry at Kasetsart University and in 1985 she received her doctorate at Mahidol University. Her research interests are said to be in the chemical synthesis of natural products and how medicines might be produced from plants. It also mentions initiatives for scientific cooperation.

The Wikipedia entry on the princess list her as having 16 honorary doctorates, all from Thai universities (including two each from from Khon Kaen University, Suranaree University of Technology, Thammasat University, Kasetsart University, and King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology) and one from the second-tier Wollongong University in Australia. She also has four scientific awards prior to this medal, including UNESCO’s Einstein medal that “UNESCO confers the Einstein medal on outstanding figures who have made a major contribution to science and international cooperation.” We don’t doubt the claim to the Einstein medal, but a search of the UNESCO site produces no information. Perhaps this is because the award was made in 1986, just one year after she received her doctorate. That was a year before she established (with considerable taxpayer funds involved), the CRI in In 1987. Her own claims to scientific accomplishment are here.

Readers can navigate around the CRI site and see what it does (although none of the publications appear available when we were linking to the pages). Don’t miss the “history” page. The website claims that the “ultimate goal of CRI is to utilize science and technology to improve ‘Quality of Life’, a concept first propounded and practice by His Majesty the King in the Royal Initiated Projects.” The CRI, which presumably receives a large amount of public funding (no details are available to PPT, but for an indication of public support, see here),  was recently criticized for long-term links to the tobacco industry (see the article “A good personal scientific relationship”: Philip Morris scientists and the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Bangkok” and a short report here and here).

What can we tell about Chulabhorn’s science from the public record? Often scientists measure their contributions through their scientific papers. PPT searched the ISI database (available on subscription) and Google Scholar (which is freely available). In both, it lists 45-55 publications. One thing is immediately striking. That is that the princess is rarely the first author on the publications that have her name on them. That science publications have several authors is not unusual, but some of the publications have up to a dozen co-authors.

Questions might be raised about publication ethics her real contribution to these works, given her poor health, her royal engagements and her constant international travel.

Another way to measure impact is through citations received for each publication and for authors/researchers. For Chulabhorn Mahidol, the princess’s name on authored articles, there are relatively few citations. This is not simply a subjective assessment. Science and medical science papers with high impact have citations numbering in the hundreds. None of her co-authored papers have this level of citation. Just for a moment, compare her with other scientists awarded the Windaus Medal. She doesn’t come close to these scientists in terms of citations.

For her first 4 articles listed at Google Scholar, there are 144 citations. PPT looked up other winners and found this: Steven Ley’s first 4 articles at Google Scholar have 1,299 citations. Kenneth D. Setchell has 1,061 for his first 4 articles. R.A. Lerner has 2,883 citations for the first 4 listed articles. Readers will see that comparisons are not even remotely close.

PPT is, frankly, staggered that this scientist receives such recognition. How is it that the legions of women scientists who are well cited and who work hard and seriously are not considered more worthy for this medal over a comparatively little cited colleague.

We might wonder if she gets the award for work done by her well-funded institute rather than for herself? Maybe, but that is not how it is shown to the outside world. Even if we compare CRI with other institutions in Thailand, CRI is not at the top of the table for citations per indexed article. If PPT were being cynical, we might point to the long links between CRI  and Germany, and suggest that this is an example of continuing support.For this link, see the document here, linking tobacco, CRI and GTZ.

But doesn’t all of this devalue the award?

Maybe we are missing something and we’d welcome readers corrections and additions. At present our conclusion is that being a princess from Thailand helps a great deal in gaining recognition even for minor contributions, in any field.

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