Published online 10 March 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.150
Updated online: 18 March 2009

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Turkish scientists claim Darwin censorship

Science-funding agency accused of removing evolution article — and its editor — from mainstream magazine.

The main Turkish government agency responsible for funding science has provoked outrage by apparently censoring a magazine article on the life and work of Charles Darwin.

DarwinA celebration of Darwin's birth has sparked controversy in Turkey.

The article was stripped from the March issue of the widely read popular-science magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) just before it went to press. The magazine, which is published by Turkey's research funding and science management organization, TÜBİTAK, also switched a planned cover picture of Darwin for an illustration relating to global warming.

In an interview with Milliyet, one of Turkey's highest-circulation daily newspapers, the editor of Bilim ve Teknik, Çiğdem Atakuman, confirmed that she had been removed from her post over the affair, but declined to comment further because she is still a TÜBİTAK employee.

Milliyet reports that the editorial changes were ordered by TÜBİTAK's vice-president, engineer Ömer Cebeci. Neither Cebeci nor TÜBİTAK's president, Nüket Yetiş, were available to be interviewed by Nature, and the agency has released no official statement on the matter.

But its hand may yet be forced. The Üniversite Konseyleri Derneği (Association of University Councils), an academic society that represents young researchers, has called for Cebeci's resignation. And a group of university professors plan to read a letter of protest inside TÜBİTAK's headquarters on 11 March. "It is outrageous — TÜBİTAK no longer represents science in this country," says Celâl Şengör, a geologist at the Istanbul Technical University.

Read more in Nature's Darwin 200 special.

"It is a very bad thing," adds Aykut Kence, an evolutionary biologist at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. "We don't think he [Cebeci] is suitable to represent science in Turkey."

The issue has already sparked intense media coverage: evolution is a highly political issue in Turkey, which is preparing for municipal elections on 29 March. And as the row gains momentum, some see the future of Turkish science at stake.

"The issue is not only about evolution but also about the proficiency of Turkey's most important science organization," says Mehmet Somel, a Turkish-born evolutionary biologist now doing postdoctoral research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology (PICB) in Shanghai. If Cebeci does not resign, he says, it will be a "bad sign for Turkish science". 

Updated:

The editor of _Bilim ve Teknik_, Çiğdem Atakuman, has now been reinstated by TÜBİTAK.

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