Brainy Quote of the Day

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Theory from Turkish Prison...

Ali Kaya, Nature
Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Commentary, Cosmology, Martin Luther King

As we are juxtaposed between the celebration of Dr. King and the advent of African American History Month, post the (I did not watch) SOTU address from a president* that thinks "hole," not "house" was the insulting part of his epithet, it's healthy to be reminded this dark, fascistic and authoritarian march is global. The world is smaller with more people in it competing for resources, and there are those reptilian brains that wax nostalgic for an idyllic past that never was, but determined to take us all back there, wherever and whatever "there" is in their Gollum minds. It is also sobering to remind ourselves that democratic republics are both fragile and without proper care: fleeting. Dr. Kaya's courage should inspire us all.

Atlantic Journal Constitution: Letter From Birmingham Jail (cultural reference to post title).

Thousands of academics in Turkish universities stand accused of either having supported terrorism or the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016. Theoretical physicist Ali Kaya is one of them. He was arrested three months after the failed coup and held for more than a year before his trial took place. On 20 December, a court declared him guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment — but released him early owing to the time he had already served in prison while awaiting trial. Kaya says that he is innocent and is appealing against the verdict. In the meantime, he has been suspended from his academic post, and he has yet to learn whether his university, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, plans to fire him or to await the outcome of the appeal.

Kaya says that while in prison, he kept his sanity by continuing his work on fundamental topics in cosmology. He wrote three research papers during his incarceration, on topics including inflation theory and cosmological perturbation theory. After his release, he posted the papers on the preprint server arXiv. Each contains a footnote that he dedicates to his friends in jail “who made my stay bearable at hell for 440 days between 7.10.2016 and 20.12.2017. I am also indebted to the colleagues who show support in these difficult times.”

Nature interviewed Kaya by Skype about his experiences.

What access did you have to research materials while in the prison?

Of course there was no Internet. Nothing digital — not even a pocket calculator — was allowed. No books could be brought in. Nothing in a foreign language was allowed in the jail. One of my students Google-translated some research papers for me into Turkish, but they were held back on suspicion that they included secret codes — presumably because they contained so many equations.

I worked up the research ideas I had already in my head before my arrest. Of course, it took much longer than it would have done if I had been at my computer. I had to start from basic formulae and derive things myself.

But time is something you have plenty of in prison. OK, I could not do ground-breaking work, but I think the papers I produced are solid, and I expect to get them published in good journals.

Science behind bars: How a Turkish physicist wrote research papers in prison, Alison Abbott, Nature

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