Editors Choice Survey shows purge over 8,000 academics leads to 28 pct decrease in...

Survey shows purge over 8,000 academics leads to 28 pct decrease in scientific research in Turkey

İstanbul University's main gate in İstanbul's Beyazit Square.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government under the strict rule of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sacked more than 8,000 critical academics and led to 28 percent decrease in academic output since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, showed a report released by a London-based research group focusing on the sufferings of the academicians in Turkey under the successive state of emergencies.

The study, conducted by the Freedom For Academia, has shown the short-term effects of the large-scale purges carried out by the autocratic Erdoğan regime targeting Turkey-based academics. According to the study, purge of more than 8,000 academicians in Turkey has resulted in many universities and academic departments to close – leaving many students without lecturers, many hospitals to be left with a lack of key personnel, and many scientific projects funded by the state to come to an abrupt end.

Figure shows the change in research output of Turkey-based academics compared to the previous year in percentage on the y-axis; and the two years compared are on the x-axis. For example, there was a ~8 percent increase in the research output of Turkey-based academics in all areas (thick black line) in 2013 (covering period 1st January 2013 to 31st December 2013) compared to the year 2012; and then a continuous ~4 percent increase until 2017, where an approx. 28 percent decrease is observed compared to the 2016 research outputs. PA: Physics & Astronomy, BGMB: Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, MS: Material Science, SS: Social Science, CS: Computer Science, PTP: Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics.

The survey has also shown that the large-scale dismissal of academics has had effects on the research outputs of Turkey-based academics with a significant reduction (~28% on average) in the research output of Turkey-based academics in 2017 regardless of academic field. The study has also stated that the long-term effects of the draconian measures taken by the government on Turkey-based research and academia remains to be seen.

Stressing that the AKP government wasted no time in using the coup attempt as an excuse to suppress all dissent, the survey figure out how the government has purged tens of thousands of public employees including academics. “All those purged lost their right to work in any public institution and had their passports cancelled – thus could not travel abroad to find work. Most of those purged were either imprisoned and/or detained for at least a certain amount of time. Some have even had their assets seized and/or bank accounts frozen. Gross human rights violations were reported, with concrete evidence for physical, psychological, and emotional torture in prisons,” said the survey.

Saying that with the numerous executive decrees over 8,000 academicians have been purged Freedom for Academia stated that “Apart from the universities that have been shut down entirely, these large-scale purges have led to many academic departments to close and leaving many students without lecturers, many hospitals left with a lack of key personnel as many medical academics were also serving part-time, and many projects funded by the state to come to an abrupt end. Consequently, these changes have had negative psychological, emotional, and social effects on the population, but also had an impact on the research output of Turkey-based academics.”

The survey identified there was a significant decrease of 28 percent on average in the number of research outputs of Turkey-based academics in 2017, regardless of the academic field. According to the survey results the most affected fields were the Social Sciences, and Medicine, with a total reduction of 44 percent and 36 percent in the number of published articles by Turkey-based academics, respectively.

Freedom for Academia has stated that this sharp decline in the research output in 2017 compared to 2016 becomes more striking when 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 figures are brought into the equation, as a stable upward trend in the research output of Turkey-based academics was observed in this time period (excluding 2017) – with, on average of 5 percent more articles being published compared to the previous year, every year, across all fields.

Before the purges Turkey had about 150,000 academics, including by 22,000 Professors, about 14,500 Associate Professors and about 34,000 Assistant Professors. With a series of decrees, the AKP government purged as of May 15, 2017 over 8,300 academics, which is 6 percent of all academicians in Turkey.

Emphasizing over the fact that the AKP government has mainly targeted influential critics including prominent academics such as 82-year-old Prof. Öget Öktem-Tanör (Neuropsychology), Prof. Sedat Laçiner (Political Sciences), Prof. Mehmet Altan (Economics), Prof. İbrahim Kaboğlu (Constitutional Law), Prof. A. Özdemir Aktan (General Surgery), Prof. Melek Göregenli (Social Psychology), Prof. Ayşe Gül Yılgör (Economics and Administration), Prof. Haluk A. Savaş (Psychotherapy) and Prof. Ayşegül Jale Saraç (Physiotherapy), Freedom for Academa said that this figure is likely to be an underestimate within the more senior positions.

Freedom for Academia has also warned that “it is conceivable that the long-term effects may be more catastrophic for Turkey-based research and science because many academics who have not been sacked still fear for their jobs (and imprisonment, as mentioned above, many who have been sacked are in prison) as many of them are being monitored by overzealous university rectors and deans. Carrying out research has therefore become secondary to numerous academics, and many who have the capacity are looking for jobs abroad; and this is bound to lead to a ‘brain drain’, detrimental to the country’s higher education and science systems.”

Freedom for Academia is a group of British and Turkish academics/researchers who are willing to lend a helping hand to their colleagues and bring these injustices to the attention of the public and academic circles. They also aim to liaise and cooperate with other groups believing in similar principles and help them help other persecuted academics.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the AKP government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, 154,694 individuals have been detained and 50,136 have been jailed due to alleged Gülen links since the failed coup attempt.

June 4, 2017

Table shows the absolute number of peer-reviewed articles published in journals indexed by SCOPUS (i) between 1st January 2016 and 31st December 2016 and (ii) between 1st January 2017 and 31st May 2017. The latter figure was then multiplied by two to calculate a figure for the whole of 2017. Research output in the Social Sciences and Medicine appear to have been affected the most with a decrease of 44 percent and 36 percent, respectively, in relation to 2016. 2014 and 2015 figures are included for background information.
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