Turkey’s approach to science resembles the Flintstones
Seeing the magic of a place you grew up in as a child slowly disappear leaves a very strong effect on you, regardless of your age. The loss of allure in the place where you formed positive childhood memories somehow opens a deep wound.
For me, that place is Istanbul’s famous Bağdat Avenue, located in the Kadıköy district of Istanbul. The nine-kilometre-long, beautiful street was given its name after Ottoman Sultan Murad IV used the route for his military following an expedition to Baghdad.
Lined with shops, restaurants and cafes, this avenue has always been home to the city’s upper middle class.
What has made Bağdat Avenue magical was all of the lights emanating from its shops. I always loved walking on this street that is teeming with people, but unfortunately it is now a shadow of its former self. Many shops have been closed and some of the buildings on the street have effectively been transformed into construction sites.
Since my childhood, shops dotting the street paid a good sum of rent money, but whenever a store closed down there was immediately another business owner who rented the space. This is no longer the case.
The current state of this upscale street, to me, is one of the most concrete examples of the downturn Turkey’s economy has taken, despite claims by our leadership that “it is soaring” and that Turkey is continuing to grow during the pandemic.
It has been expected for some time that Turkey would inevitably arrive at this point. One of the biggest reasons for its predicament today is the government investing for years all of the cheaply acquired U.S. dollar loans into the construction sector.
We are going through a period in which many investments in the scientific field are being put by the wayside, while the young intellectual minds of the country - whose projects ought to be supported - are being dismissed by the government.
It does not look easy from here on for Turkey.
But let us not lose all hope, we are pretty good at presenting the inventions of others as domestic and national. The latest example of this was the electronic handcuff.
Normally presenting news pertaining to handcuffs should be a source of embarrassment. But not in Turkey, where virtually half the country has been labelled a terrorist after the failed coup attempt of 2016.
In this country, a minister can stand before the public to proudly announce the production of domestically-produced handcuffs, as Technology Minister Mustafa Varank did earlier this year. And nobody asks why Turkey is not working on measures that will curb crime instead of producing handcuffs.
This promotion of domestically-produced goods has become quite a trend. Inventions that left the country are being reintroduced and called domestically-produced, national products.
When two high school students from Turkey’s southern province of Antalya - Mehmet Can Dursun and İrfan Efe Boztepe - invented a band-aid made from crab and shrimp shells, they received international attention, but Turkey did not even bother to consider the product. In 2016, the pair was rewarded with a bursary from a U.S. university for their invention.
A few years later, two chemists in Antalya again discovered that crab and shrimp shells are effective in stopping bleeding. They presented the project as a “domestic and national’’ one to the government and received funding of 1.3 million liras ($176,550) from the Trade Ministry.
In 2016, a young Turkish woman by the name of İlayda Şamilgil created a system which could measure the water level of liquids with a magnet. While there was no interest in her project from Turkey, she received an invitation from NASA to join a project with the prestigious institution.
These and other similar examples work to demonstrate Turkey’s current state.
When I look at the way Turkey treats scientific discoveries, I am reminded of the Jetsons and the Flintstones cartoons.
Those who have seen it may remember, the Flintstones features more primitive inventions than those of today, which does not stop people from happily going about their lives. For example, there are newspapers that are printed on rocks. The bottom parts of cars are missing and legs are used to propel cars instead of engines. But there is still some level of modernity in life.
The Jetsons stands in stark contrast to the Flintstones with a futuristic outlook. There are flying cars, assistant robots at home, newspapers read through televisions and smart ovens that make all kinds of food.
Much of the world is closer to the technology of the Jetsons, with funding allocated to research and development, opportunities provided to young scientists and the invention of products that provide comfort in life.
But Turkey in this regard takes on more of a resemblance to the Flintstones. It is only when there is an electronic car on the global market that we think of producing one, too. An electronic handcuff, you say? Let’s created a domestically-produced one, too!
But branding these inventions as domestic and national unfortunately has no benefit for our economy, as it does not go beyond taking the invention of another and recreating it. These so-called inventions are similar to a claim by a child in kindergarten, claiming they found a new colour by mixing two different hues.
I have, for some time, lost hope that Turkey will find a place among developed countries. And the news I read every day only reaffirms this feeling. The heavy cost of this is being placed on future generations.
My only hope these days is that someone does not come out to unveil the highly-touted domestically-produced vehicle as a motor-less car running on human feet, because that is exactly where these domestic and national policies appear to be taking the country.