A landmark discovery in physics was announced this week. A team of scientists heard and recorded the sound of gravitational waves, created by two black holes colliding a billion light-years away.
A century later than Einstein first predicted it, the detection of gravitational waves by the US Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or Ligo, opened a whole new window to secrets of the universe.
Prof Neil Turok, director the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at Waterloo in Canada, called the discovery “one of those breakthrough moments in science”.
Despite raising two scientist sons, one of them a physicist, another a geologist, much of the details of this weird and wonderful discovery involving big bangs and black holes went over my head.
Unfathomable it may be, even I could not fail to be thrilled by this triumph for science Luckily, television and radio programmes, newspapers and the internet provided plenty of digestible information. Never have I appreciated more being able to read endless number of “idiot’s guides”, written in a way even a five-year-old child could understand, like the one in the Guardian titled: “Explain it to me like I’m a kid: scientists try to make sense of gravitational waves”.
“Imagine playing your favourite spinning game with your friend, where you hold hands and spin around and around. If you pull each other as you spin you might crash into each other and fall,” explained, Vicky Kalogera, professor of physics and astronomy, Northwestern University.
Trying to imagine of bowling balls, trampolines, magnets and boats bobbing up and down on oceans, I turned to the Turkish media, hoping to find more digestible information in my own mother tongue. With the exception of Hurriyet, Haberturk and Sabah newspapers, Turkish press did not acknowledge the discovery of the century on their front pages. Television stations were not much better.
The contrast between the Turkish and the English language sources in reporting and explaining, what is considered to be a milestone in science, could not have been starker.
Another significant story that failed to find its way into mainstream media was the OECD’s PISA survey. In the triennial international survey, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), evaluating education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, Turkey ranked 45th out of 64 countries for maths reading and science. Click here to download data in Excel for all countries
For a country with a stated ambition of joining the top-ten economies of the world by 2023, Turkey’s education system is clearly not providing these necessary foundation skills.
Turkey’s research and development expenditure is also one of the lowest among the OECD countries.
In its quest to raise a pious generation, the AKP government is neglecting to provide its students with a quality education they need in today’s society and workplace.
Investment in religious education far outweighs the money spent on developing basic skills in mathematics, reading and science.
The country’s top science body, the Scientific and Technological Research Council (TÜBİTAK) has become a battleground between rival Islamists.
Qualified and experienced scientists and experts were replaced by government cronies.
Is it any surprise that TUBITAK’s most memorable recent action was to recall 50,000 text books to be examined and to be destroyed if they did not meet the criteria of “localness and cultural coherence”?
Turkish school textbooks already reflect widespread rejection of evolution in Turkish society. A survey comparing public acceptance of evolution in 34 countries shows that 75 percent of Turkish adults reject it.
A report by Rice University in Texas examining attitudes of scientists toward religion indicates that Turkish scientists are among the most religious.
The discovery of gravitational waves may well be a breakthrough that would change the way we understand how it all started. But, if the majority, including many of the scientists in Turkey have already made up their minds, I guess we should not be surprised when the evidence of gravitational waves does not make it into headlines.
This post is also available in: Turkish