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Turkey's Science Board Censors Darwin

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Turkey's "new ruling elite" has a thing against "Evolution". The religious circles that form the intelligentsia of AKP, Turkey's ruling party, just scored another victory against reason, science and research. They managed to censor Charles Darwin off a popular science magazine.

TUBITAK in Turkey, is the equivalent of President's Science and Technology Board in the US. It was formed to pursue independent science policies and encourage technological and scientific research. The appointees up until AKP came to power were mostly chosen according to scientific merit and academic research.

Then, things changed. After filling the board of TUBITAK with anti-evolutionists, conservatives, not-shaking-hands-with-women kind of University professors, AKP's cadre of bureaucrats are now pushing the limits of intellectual thinking and research.

The signs were there for years. But it all became crystal clear, last week when the press uncovered that the Co-chair of TUBITAK, Professor Omer Cebeci, after seeing the cover of the popular Science and Technology Magazine with Darwin's picture, had decided to kill the cover story. He also fired the editor Ms. Cigdem Atakuman, accusing her for putting Darwin in the magazine. Mr. Cebeci had taught and had done some research at the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia for nine years. His specialty was on cement and material engineering.

TUBITAK's Science and Technology Magazine was the best selling magazine in Turkey for more than three decades. In a country where the best selling newspaper's circulation is less than 600.000, the magazine had become a source of popular interest for young scientist and aspiring students and had been able to sell more than any magazine, rivaled only by National Geographic. Rural school libraries depended on it for popular science and creating curiosity in young children.

The scientific community in Turkey is outraged. Yet the Chairwoman of TUBITAK, Prof. Nuket Yetis' silence was even more deafening. Her reaction to the scandal shows the level of complacency among some of the AKP appointed bureaucrats, and how far they can go to keep their seats. After five days of silence, TUBITAK issued a statement claiming that the editor had overstepped her authority by putting Darwin on the cover and having a 15-page story about him.

Scientists from France, England and the USA expressed concern about the incident. The censorship also made it to the pages of Nature magazine's website. Allison Abbott's article on the censorship created a huge discussion forum on the internet among Turkish scientist who are intimidated by the government.

Officials' remarks are even scarier. State Minister in Charge of Science and Research, Prof. Mehmet Aydin told the press, "Darwin made a mistake. But it is wrong to censor this magazine". Prime Minister Erdogan's AKP was never fond of science and intellectual thinking. But this is the final nail in the coffin on Turkey's ruling party's understanding of freedom of expression.

Ahu Ozyurt is the Washington Correspondent for CNN Turk + Milliyet