Turkish state science council refuses funding for workshop project on evolution: Report

Turkish state science council refuses funding for workshop project on evolution: Report

The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has rejected a funding application for a summer workshop on quantitative evolutionary biology, arguing that "evolution is a controversial subject," ScienceInsider magazine reported July 5.

The decision may revive controversies about the state council, which had caused major uproar when a cover story in one of its publications was pulled because it focused on Charles Darwin's evolution theory.

The organizers of the summer workshop said the rejection letter they had received after their application was new evidence of the Turkish government's bias against evolution theory.

The summer school, set to be held Sept. 15 at the Nesin Mathematics Village in the Aegean Şirince village, intended to give Turkish biology students a mathematical background. Erol Akçay, a Turkish evolutionary biologist at Princeton University and one of the organizers of the project, said they had requested around 35,000 Turkish Liras (about $18,000) to cover the accommodation and travel of both students and speakers.

The council said in the rejection letter that they viewed evolution as a "controversial" subject. "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," the letter said.

When the organizers requested a reevaluation of the decision on June 28, TÜBİTAK responded that the only recourse was to take on the agency "in court."

However, TÜBİTAK's deputy chair of science fellowships and grant programs, Murat Özoğlu, dismissed the accusations of bias, saying every proposal was submitted to a peer-review process.

"I would like to state, unequivocally, that the mentioned project was declined solely based on its score as determined by the peer-review process. TÜBİTAK has no reservations in supporting projects on the subject matter as  was erroneously claimed," Özoğlu was quoted as saying by ScienceInsider. He added that another workshop on evolution in April at Ankara's Hacettepe University had been funded.

Akçay said despite the event being funded, the arguments used in the rejection letter showed that TÜBİTAK was putting doubts on the "universality" of evolution. "This is very dangerous and shows that creationism is becoming a government policy," Akçay said.

TÜBİTAK was at the center of another controversy in January as reports claimed that it had halted the printing of books that dealt with evolution. The reports were subsequently denied by TÜBİTAK officials.