According to the “Science Report” issued by UNESCO, Turkey alone has more scientific publications than the total of all Arab countries. However, Turkey’s scientific publications are less than South Korea.
We have to seriously think about this data. The issue has a “science policies” side, an economic side and maybe most importantly, a mental side.
UNESCO issues a comprehensive “Science Report” every five years. According to the 2010 report, scientific publications originating from Turkey reached 17,784 in 2008. Now, it should be over 20,000. In the report, there are 20 states in the “Arab countries” section and in 2008, their total scientific publications were 14,283. That means in 2008, the total scientific publications of 20 Arab countries was a little over 14,000, whereas Turkey alone had scientific publications of around 18,000.
The report highlights how scientific development has “always been slow” in Arab countries. As a matter of fact, between the years 2000 and 2008, scientific publications originating in Turkey increased 3.5 times while in Arab countries the figure was 1.8 times.
There are geographic reasons for this, such as the warm climate band. There are also historic reasons: While Mühendishane (The first Ottoman naval engineering school) and Darülfünun (the first Ottoman university) were working in Istanbul, there was no exact equivalent in Arab countries. There are economic reasons for this; the economy has not reached a level where it requires science. A culture that has been formed under these circumstances indeed influences the perception of religion and nationalism. These perceptions are extremely politicized perceptions rather than scientific ones.
The obstacle of mentality
According to the same report, in one year, there are 6,000 books published in the field of science and technology in Arab countries. This figure is 102,000 in North America.
No matter how many demonstrations you hold in the streets, no matter how loudly you shout “Damn imperialism” or explode a bomb, there is not much you can do with 6,000 books against 100,000 books.
Secular movements such as Arab socialism, Arab nationalism and religious movements such as Arab Islamism – despite being extremely enthusiastic, sentimental and militant – have not been able to record an outstanding achievement not only in science but also, for example, in the economy. In his “revolutionary” book “Signs on the Road,” Seyyid Kutup wrote that the deterioration of Muslims began in the 8th century when Greek classics were translated! When he wrote this, the world was exactly in the middle of the 20th century.
One of the mental blocks before science is political extremism; we should never forget this.
What kind of tomorrow?
Turkey maintains a good pace in science and research but we still have a long way to go. For developing the scientific mentality and also for allocating resources to science, we need to exert more effort.
In the Arab countries that look as if they are quite behind, according to the report, more resources are being allocated for scientific and technological research; a movement has begun both in oil-rich countries and also in countries such as Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt.
In the Arab world, where we have close commercial and political relations, steps taken in the field of science and the tremors of the Arab Spring have coincided; let us see what the outcome will be.
Probably it will not be easy to maintain authoritarian regimes in societies where education, research, an entrepreneurial middle class and, consequently, a scientific mentality is becoming widespread.
Taha Akyol is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Feb. 5. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.