My Science…

Turkey’s scientific orientation is now under AKP’s full authoritative coercion.

As 2011 ended, scientific autonomy in Turkey took a big blow. AKP government passed a statutory decree that annulled the Turkish Academy of Sciences’ (TÜBA) autonomous member selection process, bringing it under a tight governmental administration. Furious debates sprang along with reactions from Turkey’s, as well as international academic circles. In due course, over one-third of the 150 members of TÜBA resigned. But nothing changed: AKP ideology now has full grip over Turkey’s scientific backbone.

TÜBA was formed in 1993 as an autonomous scholarly society acting to promote scientific activities in Turkey. In addition to conferring awards and fellowships to scientists, the academy is also responsible for determining scientific priority areas and proposing policies and needed changes in legislation to the government. Attached to the office of the prime minister, TÜBA is largely funded by the public. Yet, it was explicitly erected upon a basis that it has no political purpose, that is above politics, and that it is solely dedicated to science. Financial and administrative autonomy was the key. AKP leadership simply said “Not any more”.

After another victorious general election performance in mid-2011 which gave AKP undisputed power over Turkey, the government decided to have a clear authority over another public institution, TÜBA, hence the countries scientific orientation. To achieve this TÜBA’s autonomy needed to be ended. With the decree law, the institution was to be controlled by a majority of members appointed by the government. It extend TÜBA’s number of members to 300; of which 100 were to be appointed by the Cabinet, and another 100 appointed by the government-run Council of Higher Education (Y…K). The move created local upheaval and garneredÊletters of oppositionÊfrom various European academies, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and theÊInternational Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies.

In an effort to ease the reactions, the Cabinet’s power to appoint members to TÜBA was lifted and assigned to Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey’s (TÜBITAK) board. As a state agency fully controlled by the government, TÜBITAK is responsible for the development and coordination of scientific research in line with the national targets and priorities, set by TÜBA. However, the fact that TÜBITAK will appoint the TÜBA members based on its authority, meant that TÜBA will be subordinated to TÜBITAK and that the governments intent to transform TÜBA into a political body is still the valid case.

Free thought and orientation of science and technology are the indispensable elements of a knowledge based society and economy. Yet with such authoritative move, the government has once again proved that it is far behind universal understanding of democracy, critical thinking and science adopted in 21st century. As a result of this move, science is deprived of its institutional autonomy and freedom, and transformed into a field of execution as audited by the AKP government for its partisan aims.

Another essential source of concern widely-shared by the science circles is the possibility that TÜBA will lose its identity as a science academy. Thus it will be externalized by the international science circles. Nature, one of the most respected science reviews of the world, describes the loss of autonomy of TÜBA as “the symbol of the general antidemocratic transformation in the country.” The review not only emphasizes the fact that TÜBA has lost almost all its academic qualities, but also convokes the international institutions to make statements that they do not officially recognize TÜBA. The grounds of the foregoing is that the institution fails to performs the criteria, which provides that the institution should be self-governing and that the members thereof are appointed as based on scientific merits.

Along with scientific autonomy, the second principle lost in AKP’s approach is institutional autonomy. Pluralist democracy requires the existence of autonomous institutions independent from the political power. Since a decade now, the authoritarian approach of AKP has practically monopolized the countries entire institutional power in its own hands. Prime Minister Erdogan openly advocates power of the majority, not pluralism.

Yet liberal thinking is the basis of scientific development. AKP’s latest approach to science and science circles threatens the hardly promoted critical thinking and free scientific research culture and the institutional heritage of Turkey. Full dependence to political power and free scientific thought and research cannot coexist. What is at stake is not only the autonomy of a scientific institution, but the welfare of generation to come.


The aim and mission of TÜBA

The aim of Turkish Academy of Sciences established in 1993 and began its activities in 1994, has been provided as follows: to promote scientific research in all fields of science, foster scholarly endeavor, to honor those who are striving in those fields in Turkey; to encourage young people to participate in scientific research; and to protect and enhance the social status of scientists and researchers in Turkey; and help with raising the standards of science and research to the international levels.

The mission of the Turkish Academy of Sciences has been specified as follows: To analyse scientific issues and provide guidance to identify scientific priorities; to encourage society to adopt a scientific approach and way of thinking; to propose amendments to government legislation with respect to the social status, living standards and incomes of Turkish scientists and researchers as well as the special facilities and priorities necessary for this; to promote public awareness and acceptance about the importance of science, and to confer awards to evoke enthusiasm for a carrier in science; and to arrange relevant activities of all kinds to accomplish the above-mentioned objectives and to perform said duties.

About Denet C. Tezel

Economist, former journalist