Saturday, August 10, 2013

Scientists, Dissent and Academic Freedom

The revolt of June 2013 that saw massive rallies against AKP rule in major urban centers across the country signals a new stage in the fight for freedom of expression in Turkey. For the scientific community the protests represent both a moment of crystallization for ongoing struggles in support of  scientific independence and a venue for protesting against government’s repression of free research.

Since Erdoğan government crushed the independence of Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) in November 2011 with a regulation that gives the government the power to appoint two thirds of its members, 120 out of 150 TÜBA members have resigned. In an interview in Science one of the founding members and President of the newly-formed Science Academy astrophysicist Mehmet Ali Alpar gives the background of pressures on research and scientists’ participation in protests at Gezi Park.

Direct and indirect forms of heavy-handed intervention through funding blocks and censorship have been especially pronounced in the anti-evolution bias of AKP government. Coupled with policies that take away the regulatory and environmental oversight powers of professional associations, most importantly the associations of engineers and architects, these authoritarian policies have provided a powerful impetus for the transformation of protests into a fight for academic freedom, as this article in Science sketches.

A symptom of government’s previous attacks on scientific neutrality as well as a moment of infamy in June protests were police attacks on medical personnel providing emergency assistance for protestors, as an August 7 editorial in BMJ draws attention, a copy of which is available here.