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Continuing concern over antievolutionism in Turkey

A funding application for a summer workshop on evolutionary biology in Turkey was denied because "evolution is a controversial subject," according to Science Insider (July 5, 2013). A group of Turkish ecologist and evolutionary biologists working in Turkey and abroad had sought 35,000 Turkish lira (about $18,000) from the Science and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), the main funder of scientific research in Turkey.

TÜBİTAK rejected the application on the grounds that "evolution is both nationally and universally a controversial subject. … It is difficult to regard it as an activity on which a consensus can be reached. … Since evolution is still a debated issue, the degree to which the organizers represent the community/country is very questionable" — although, puzzlingly, the letter also described evolution as "the glue of all biological sciences."

Erol Akçay, a Turkish evolutionary biologist at Princeton University involved in organizing the worksop, told Science Insider, "It sets a very dangerous precedent ... Today it might be a summer school that is fairly cheap … but tomorrow it could be a young researcher coming up for tenure." The workshop will proceed without TÜBİTAK's funding; Akçay commented, "We have raised a little above 3,000 Turkish Lira, and donations are still coming in."

A representative of TÜBİTAK denied that the agency had any reservations about supporting evolutionary biology per se, and cited its recent funding of a workshop on human evolution in Ankara. But the organizer of that workshop observed that a proposal for a further workshop was denied in part because of doubts about the "universality" of evolution, and was confident in attributing "anti-evolutionist motives" to TÜBİTAK.

As NCSE previously reported, there is a long-standing concern about the state of evolution education in Turkey at both the pre-college and the university level. A useful review by Zehra Sayers and Zuhal Özcan, writing in APS News (June 2013), concluded, "Turkey is raising a generation of biologists/scientists whose grasp of scientific thinking is flawed and whose ability to participate in modern biology is correspondingly compromised."