Bilim Akademisi, based in Turkey, became a member organization of the ISC in early 2020. To find out more about the Academy, we caught up with its President Professor M. Ali Alpar, Executive Board Member Professor Yesim Atamer, and Maral Yağyazan in the Bilim Akademisi office.
Q: What does Bilim Akademisi do, and who are its members?
Bilim Akademisi – Science Academy, Turkey, was founded as an NGO in 2011 based on the principles of academic excellence, integrity and academic freedom – all vital values for academies, scientific and scholarly societies. Bilim Akademisi has members from all disciplines of natural and social sciences, mathematics, engineering and medicine, elected by members after an evaluation process based on academic merit.
Since then Bilim Akademisi has maintained its independence and has grown to a body of 178 members and 34 honorary members (of which 4 are Nobel Prize Laureates). The main activities involve, among others, the following:
- A very competitive programme of research support awards for promising young scientists and scholars (BAGEP), which has been in operation since 2013. This programme is supported entirely by funding from private donors, foundations and businesses. It is much appreciated by the awardees particularly because it allows spending for research expenses at short notice, at their discretion, a flexibility that projects from funding agencies does not offer.
- Regular reports are issued on academic freedoms and the role of science in policy-making in Turkey. These reports and English translations of selected reports are published on our website.
- An ongoing series of popular public lectures (more than 80 to date) are organized: These lectures are given by our members and BAGEP research award winners, and are recorded and published on Bilim Akademisi Youtube account.
- Annual Lectures by distinguished scholars and scientists: 2016 – Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, honorary member of Bilim Akademisi, former president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: “An introduction to pulsars – throwing some light on gravity and relativity”; 2017 – Timothy Garton Ash: “Free Speech under Attack”; 2018 – Günter Stock, honorary member of Bilim Akademisi, former president of ALLEA: “From Invention to Innovation – A Short History of the Scientific Evolution of the Biotech Industry”; 2019 – Feryal Özel, member of Bilim Akademisi and science team New Horizons Telescope: “Bir Karadeliğin İlk Fotoğrafı – The First Image of a Black Hole” – in Turkish.
- Publishing a popular science website: Sarkac.org (Pendulum) is a popular science website launched by Bilim Akademisi in March 2017. The main objective is to create a reliable popular science medium that is intelligible and enjoyable for a wider public. The content covers all areas of natural and social sciences, engineering and medicine. The medium contains short articles and news, visual material, podcasts, excerpts and links to videos of Bilim Akademisi popular science lectures and web TV programs. This is all announced to the public through social media.
- Organization of summer schools:
- A series of ‘Boğaziçi University – Bilim Akademisi Feza Gürsey Summer Schools’ in theoretical physics, mathematics and logic is organized every Summer since 2013 in cooperation with the Feza Gürsey Center of Boğaziçi University and, on occasion, The Turkish Astronomical, Mathematical and Logic Societies. The lectures, given on a volunteer basis by members of Bilim Akademisi and other scientists, attract graduate and undergraduate students from all over Turkey, typically 40 students attending each school. Typically, six separate one-week schools are organized on different topics each summer.
- Since 2016 a series of Bilim Akademisi Summer Schools on New Techniques in Artificial Intelligence and Information Processing is organized in cooperation with a different university each year (2016 – Middle East Technical University, 2017 Hacettepe University , 2018 Boğaziçi University , 2019 Koç University).
- In June 2020 Bilim Akademisi will launch its first Social Sciences Summer School at Sabancı University, to cover courses on economics, law, political sciences and psychology. This series is also planned to take place at a different university each year.
Q: Why does being part of the ISC matter to your organization and its members?
Bilim Akademisi is a full and active member of ALLEA, and some of our members are contributing to ALLEA working groups.
Bilim Akademisi is a member of IHRNASS, the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies. We participate in IHRNASS meetings and activities.
Bilim Akademisi follows the activities of the Global Young Academy (GYA) and of the Young Academy of Europe (YAE).
Many of our members are members of national and international academies and recipients of international prizes, individual members of international scientific and scholarly societies and federations which are members of the ISC, and several are involved in the governance of these international bodies. Being scientists and scholars of merit, our members are involved in international collaborations, organization of and participation in scientific meetings, and are known in the international scientific communities of their disciplines through their publications.
Becoming a member of the International Science Council will give Bilim Akademisi a chance to contribute to key objectives set by ISC and thereby to multiply its outreach already well established in Turkey.
Many of the challenges faced by science and scientists as well as the significant opportunities and responsibilities to contribute to society are shared globally by the scientific and academic community. International collaboration has always been part of the scientific spirit. Recent developments in science, as well as in its relation to society, have accentuated the need for global networking, sharing of experience and concerted action between scientists, their associations and academies and scientific agencies that serve society by supporting science.
The current climate of alternative facts and alternative truths place a new importance on science as an evidence-based activity in essence and par excellence; and a new responsibility on the scientific community and its organizations on an international scale.
Our experience as a civil society based Academy, and then as an active member of ALLEA, has further convinced us of the importance of looking for new ways to connect to society as well as of organization among scientists and scientific institutions. Having followed the merger leading to ISC and its emergent action plans we are enthusiastic to join the effort and contribute.
Q: What are your key priorities for the next few years? What do you see as the key priorities for science in the coming years?
Since its founding Bilim Akademisi has invested considerable time on promoting the following goals:
- To promote the intrinsic value of scientific research as the only reliable solution to many problems faced by society and by governments, like sustainable development, energy production, access to clean water, protection from consequences of earthquakes and the like;
- To support a scientific approach to education policies;
- To underline the need for scientists and scientific institutions to be independent from political influence;
- To raise awareness in civil society for the need of independent scientific institutions as part of a checks and balances system for a functioning democracy;
- Outreach to society and especially to the younger generation to present science and its results, to promote rational thinking and evidence-based decision-making;
- To build awareness of perennial and emerging ethical problems of or associated with science.
Bilim Akademisi sees the need to follow up on these issues also in the years to come given their urgency in Turkey and in the international arena.
In addition, on an international scale we believe it is important for scientific organizations:
- To understand, assess and organize in response to rapidly emerging new technologies, big data and artificial intelligence.
- To contribute to scientific assessment of complexity and complex global problems, especially climate change and migration.
Q: We recently published our Action Plan for the next three years. Delivering the projects in the plan will depend on close working with our members. Are there any of the projects that you are particularly interested to get involved with?
The ISC Action Plan is a very commendable motion to define aims and actions for the emergent ISC. Bilim Akademisi sees parallels in the Action Plan of the ISC and its own key priorities, especially the promotion of the potential contribution of science to policy-making, and increasing the public value of science are examples of areas where Bilim Akademisi could give valuable inputs. Domain four of the Action Plan, that is the evolution of science and science systems is certainly also an area where a cooperation should be envisaged. All five aspects of this Domain are of utmost interest for Turkey. Other than that, sustainable development solutions are on the research agenda of many members of Bilim Akademisi, so that an active involvement in the policy development process of the ISC can be hoped for also in this domain.