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More Turkish scientists resign from state Academy

Eight members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) resigned last week in protest at the appointment of more than 80 new academy members by the government.

Yücel Kanpolat, TÜBA’s outgoing president, is expected to leave the struggling academy as well.

The academy lost its autonomy last year when the Turkish government took over far-reaching control of its composition and leadership. Following the decree, which received sharp criticism from academic organisations around the world (including in an Editorial in Nature), more than 50 of the academy’s 138 members resigned.

The new members were chosen from a list of 100 or so candidates compiled by two heavily government-controlled bodies: the science board of TÜBİTAK, the Turkish research-funding agency, and Turkey’s Higher Educational Council. Three nominees immediately turned down their appointment, but the newcomers still had a majority on the academy’s General Assembly, which on Saturday proceeded to elect a new president.

The Assembly nominated three candidates — business-administration expert Ahmet Cevat Acar, polymer researcher Huseyin Yildirim and a University of Istanbul-based Islamic theologian — from which the government will choose TÜBA’s new head.

Those who feared that the new rules will favour political conformity over scientific merit feel their fears have been confirmed by the result of last week’s votes. The scientific credentials of some newly appointed academy members are modest at best, critics say.

“This has nothing to do with how proper scientific academies should be run,” says Ali Alpar , an astrophysicist with Istanbul’s Sabanci University,who chairs the alternative Science Academy established last year in response to the changes at TÜBA (see ‘Turkish scientists form breakaway academy‘).

The changes at the academy reflect more widespread anti-liberal tendencies in Turkey, observes Erol Gelenbe, a computer scientist at Imperial College London, who left the academy last year.

“Taken together with the recent anti-abortion announcements of the government, it seems that that we are off to yet another ‘jolly epoch’ for Turkey,” he says.

Corrected on 13 June – an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that TUBA’s science board had compiled the list of candidates.


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