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Turkish research council is proud of its independence


Your recent News story “Turkish government accused of hijacking boosted science budget” (Nature 434, 1055; 2005), is unfair to the managers of the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey, TÜBITAK.

Your sources claim that we are being instrumental in the Turkish government's supposed “attempts to channel a growing science budget towards [its] supporters”. As acting president of TÜBITAK, I must say that its managers are proud of our 40-year-old council. We know that it has never been and never will be as fragile as some would like to have us fear.

Your News story accurately states: “In many countries, including the United States, governments appoint the officials who run the institutes that distribute public science funding.” Indeed, in some countries, science is funded through a government ministry, and it is only natural that governments, elected by the taxpayers, manage taxpayers' money. However, what must be absolutely beyond government control is the process of selection and management of funded research projects. This must be done, we agree, through a “robust system of peer review”.

Potential appointments by the government under the proposed law (if it is passed) that are at the centre of the concerns cited in your News story are to be made to the executive board of TÜBITAK: which is just that, a body in charge of administrative, not scientific, decisions. Neither the board nor TÜBITAK's managers have any say whatsoever in which research projects get funded. The panels of experts in the respective scientific areas carry out evaluation and selection. How those experts are selected is also public knowledge.

Whatever the law, the responsibility of TÜBITAK's professional managers is to establish an objective and transparent system for evaluating, selecting and monitoring the research projects submitted for support. Indeed, this has been our highest priority since we began work here one-and-a-half years ago. The basic structure of our new system has been open, since October 2004, to public scrutiny and critique at our website, (an English version is under construction).

Moreover, the 200 young scientists mentioned in your News story were selected through this new system, and we are prepared to account for every step of that selection process. We have processed 2,260 projects (a number that has tripled since 2003) by using 778 independent evaluators/referees coming from over 70 universities and institutes — a highly dispersed distribution of expertise, as planned. This is only the beginning of a healthy trend.

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Yetis, N. Turkish research council is proud of its independence. Nature 435, 1028 (2005).

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