Through its popular science book program, TÜBİTAK translates a range of science books into Turkish and sells them to the public, both directly and through bookstores. It used to offer more than 450 titles, including more than a dozen books about evolution such as Darwin and the Beagle by Alan Moorehead, The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and James Watson's The Double Helix. A list of books offered until recently (in Turkish) is available on an outdated but still accessible version of TÜBİTAK's Web site. On the current Web site, the books are no longer listed.
Relations between the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey's academic establishment have been rocky since Erdoğan's party won a large majority in parliament a decade ago. Academics have decried what they say is government meddling in the organization and oversight of both TÜBİTAK and the Turkish Academy of Sciences, which led to one-third of the academy members resigning and forming a new independent Science Academy. Some prominent academicshave also been arrested. Evolution has been a flash point before, when TÜBİTAK delayed an article about Darwin in one of its publications. (The article was published after public outcry.) There have also been some apparent attempts to censor evolution-related Web sites.
Earlier this month, several Turkish newspapers reported that the evolution-related books were unavailable, and suggested that TÜBİTAK had censored them. A few days later, TÜBİTAK denied censoring the books, saying that the newspaper stories were part of a smear campaign. But Mehmet Ali Alpar, an astrophysicist at Sabanci University in Istanbul and president of the Science Academy, says that, by his count, fewer than 300 titles of the original 455 are currently offered. The selection for adult readers seems hardest hit. The Web site now shows just four biology-related books for adults. One evolution book does remain available, a children's book by Linda Gamlin, part of a series called Eyewitness Books.
Alpar is a former member of the TÜBİTAK science board and helped launch the council's publishing program in 1993. The program has been very popular and has sold more than 12 million books, he says. "Our policy was heterodox in selecting books," Alpar says. "We had an eclectic selection, spread out over all branches of science." The TÜBİTAK Web site says that it chooses books to publish based on "context, originality and presentation."