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Turkish scientists form breakaway academy

Posted on behalf of Alison Abbott

Following a decree on 27 August that brought the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) under government management (see ‘A very Turkish coup’), nearly half of its 138 members have resigned, protesting the loss of the academy’s independence.

On 2 December, 17 of those who resigned launched an alternative academy. The new academy has a set of legal statutes, a temporary executive council headed by astrophysicist Ali Alpar from Istanbul’s Sabanci University, and a building in Istanbul donated for two years by a patron of science.

It also has a name — Bilim Akademisi, which means Science Academy — and a hope that it will eventually win the right to add the word ‘Turkish’ to it.

In keeping with the international tradition of science academies, its aim is to be an ‘independent, self-governing, civil-societal organization to promote scientific merit, freedom and integrity’, according to Ayse Erzan, a physicist at Istanbul Technical University and a member of the new academy’s temporary council.

Erzan says that the academy will undertake typical duties such as promoting science in education, engaging with the public and preparing policy advice relating to science and science ethics.

In a press release, the new academy stated that it wished “to join international unions of science academies… The Academy will also seek close cooperation with other Academies and civil-societal organizations with similar aims both at home and abroad.”

In the weeks after the government’s August decree was issued, many national academies and their international unions wrote to the president of Turkey to ask him to reverse it.

That didn’t happen. But so far, the unions — such as the organization of European academies, ALLEA — have not de-recognised TÜBA, even though it no longer meets the criteria to be an academy (namely self-governance and appointment of members solely on scientific criteria).

Bilim Akademisi has begun the process of electing new members, probably including some TÜBA members who have chosen not to resign. It will also establish a junior section to honour young scientists, though it won’t be able to offer them research money, as TÜBA does in its own junior section. At the start of its life, Bilim Akademisi will rely on membership fees — set at one Turkish lira a day, or around US$200 a year — and donations.

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