Panel: Science and Technology on the Silk Road: Past and Present Practices, Future Perspectives in Turkey

This Panel was organized for the Turkologentag 2018: Turkologentag 2018: 3rd European Convention on Turkic, Ottoman & Turkish Studies (Bamberg, Germany), September 19-21, 2018 (organizers: Melike Şahinol, Orient-Institut Istanbul, together with Arsev Aydınoğlu and Harun Kaygan, Middle East Technical University, Ankara and Cansu Guner-Birdal, Technical University of Munich)

Science and Technology on the Silk Road: Past and Present Practices, Future Perspectives in Turkey

Historically Turkey has been for distant cultures and communities a locus for the exchange of diverse merchandise, of ideas and knowledge, of science and technology, not least medical and military technologies. Once a scientific, technological and philosophical hub, today the overwhelming pace of developments in fields of Science and Technology seems to have curbed the emergence of much-needed debates on the social dimensions of those developments and their historical precursors and homologues in Turkey. There is, for instance, the mind-blowing Human Enhancement Technologies (e.g. Reproductive Technology, Plastic Surgery, Human Genetic Engineering, Neurotechnology, Cyberware, 3D bioprinting, etc.) entering the public eye through science communication as well as fiction, even being encountered more and more often in everyday life. The almost-ubiquity of such technologies is in strong contrast with the institutional absence and academic underrepresentation of Social Studies of Science and Technology, together with the lack of institutionalized Technology Assessment in Turkey. Within such a picture, Turkey could be viewed as a contested space where manifold communities, organizations, government apparatuses, technologies, as well as diverse discourses, epistemologies, systems of belief and regimes of value co-exist in flux, contributing to the production and reception of scientific knowledge and technology.

In this panel we draw on studies to critically engage with the socio-cultural, historical and techno/bio/political dimensions in Turkey, triggered by following fields: Governance and Education of S&T, Healthcare and health / genetic data privacy in Turkey.

The first presentation aims to evaluate the role attributed to, the objectives of, and steps taken towards higher education institutions within science and technology policies of Turkey. To this end, decisions taken up until this date and evaluations conducted on pre-determined goals, by The Supreme Council for Science and Technology (SCST), will be investigated.

The second presentation focuses on the theoretical basis in the history of Islamic Medieval Medicine, specifically Avicennian system of medicine which had been the prevalent paradigm in the Ottoman Empire until the reception of modern medicine. In this regard, the paper also discusses whether to see past practices as a contribution to future perspectives.

The third paper reveals issues concerning the medical field specific to the current Turkish context. It draws on a series of focus groups, involving participants from university, government, civil society, law, banking, industry and press, to assess the Personal Data Protection law of Turkey for its implications on electronic health and genetic data collection.

The three papers have a coinciding interest in the role of scientific research vis-a-vis the society at large, from the role of universities and research in general, to the specific issues of medicine in the past and present. We need to underline the role of academic, critical assessment in directing social views and uses of scientific development.


Paper 1 (turkish): Türkiye’nin Bilim Teknoloji Politikalarında Yükseköğretimin Rolü Üzerine Bir İnceleme
Arş. Gör. Dr. Umut MORKOÇ, Adıyaman Üniversitesi, Felsefe Bölümü
Doç. Dr. M. Cem KAMÖZÜT, Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi, Felsefe Bölümü

Bilim ve teknoloji alanında 20. yüzyılın başında yaşanan büyük gelişmeler, devletlerin bilim ve teknoloji çalışmalarına gösterdikleri önemin artmasına yol açmıştır. Özellikle 2. Dünya Savaşı sonrasında, soğuk savaş dönemi ve iki kutuplu dünya düzeninin politik güç denklemleri içerisinde etkin bir araç olduğunu ispat eden bilim ve teknoloji çalışmaları, devletlerin kalkınma hedeflerinde daha belirleyici bir rol üstlenmeye başlamıştır. 20. Yüzyılın son çeyreğinden itibaren ise bilim ve teknoloji çalışmalarının ekonomik değer yaratabilme potansiyeli ön plana çıkmıştır. Bu sebeple, bilim ve teknoloji politikaları devletlerin kalkınma hedefleri ve gelecek planlamaları açısından önem arz etmektedir. Yükseköğretimin ise bu politikalar içerisinde özel bir yeri vardır; zira yükseköğretim kurumları bilim ve teknoloji çalışmalarının önemli bir ayağını oluşturan nitelikli iş gücünün yetiştirildiği ve bilimsel üretimin merkezi konumundaki kurumlardır.

Çalışmamızda, Türkiye’nin bilim ve teknoloji politikaları içerisinde yükseköğretime biçilen rolün, bu konuda belirlenen amaçların ve atılan adımların değerlendirilmesi hedeflenmektedir. Bu amaç doğrultusunda, Bilim ve Teknoloji Yüksek Kurulu’nun (BTYK) bugüne kadar almış olduğu kararlar ve belirlenen hedefler konusunda yapmış oldukları değerlendirmeler incelenecektir. Örneklemi bu şekilde belirlemiş olmamızın iki gerekçesi var. Bunlardan ilki, BTYK’nın ülkenin uzun vadeli bilim politikalarının belirlenmesi noktasında etkin bir rol üstlenmek üzere kurulmuş olmasıdır. İkincisi ise BTYK’nın kurulmuş olduğu 1983 yılına kadar –1979 yılında dördüncü beş yıllık kalkınma planında teknoloji politikalarından söz edilmesi dışında— sistemli ve bütünlüklü bir teknoloji politikasından söz edilemeyecek olmasıdır.

Bu amaçla, BTYK’nın 1983-2016 yılları arasında yapmış olduğu 29 toplantıya dair yayınlanmış belgelerden hareketle, Türkiye’nin bilim ve teknoloji politikaları içerisinde yükseköğretime nasıl bir rol biçildiği, bu yönde nasıl kararlar alındığı, belirlenen hedeflere ulaşabilmek için ne gibi adımlar atıldığı ele alınacaktır. Son olarak, “nasıl bir yükseköğretim stratejisine sahip olunmalı?” sorusunun tartışmaya açılması hedeflenmektedir.


Paper 2: An Inquiry of Future Perspective in Avicennian System of Medicine
Asst. Prof. Dr. Mustafa Yavuz, Istanbul Medeniyet University, History of Science Department

In this study, I will focus on the theoretical basis in the history of Islamic Medieval Medicine. Having in consideration with the great physician and philosopher Ibn Sina -well known as Avicenna in Latin- and his predecessors in medicine like Hippocrates and Galenos, this study will point some “past practices” dominated in the history of medicine in the Islamic Medieval World. These past practices may lead to or yield our “future perspectives” in many ways.

I will question whether we can name these theoretical basis and past practices as ‘Islamic’ -regarding the religion-, ‘Islamicate’ -regarding the dominating religious sphere-, or ‘Arabic’ -regarding the lingua franca- in Medieval Medicine. Among the questions I will also pursue are, whether Islamic / Islamicate Medieval Medicine is an imitation of Greek Medicine, or it be a kind of synthesis in the medieval world with its unique characters. On which scientific and philosophical principals it was standing and how these principles interacted with each other, etc. I will try to answer these questions regarding the Avicennian system of medicine given in his famous work Al Qanun fi’t Tibb, that has been one of the best examples of our understanding of medicine and nature, until its time. Even this system of medicine was prevalent by means of the theoretical basis almost until the reception of modern medicine in the Ottoman Empire.

I will conclude with comparison of two major models in the philosophy of contemporary medicine, the biomedical medicine versus humanistic medicine, with a final question: Can Islamic Medicine in past, contribute our future perspectives?


Paper 3: Focus Group Meetings: Personal Data Protection Law and Health/ Genetic Data Privacy in Turkey
Dr. Özlem Özkan, Middle East Technical University, Department of Health Informatics

Recently, many important legal developments have happened in Turkey on data privacy. The first Personal Data Protection (PDP) law of Turkey came into force on March 24, 2016. However, debates on the law have not been over since the date, even a lawsuit was filed for cancellation of it.

In this study, we have gathered the experts in two focus group meetings in order to answer the problems on the law in the light of electronic health/genetic data collection. Totally, 18 participants (7 and 11) attended to the meetings from academia, non-governmental organizations, ministry of health, insurance companies, printed press and private sector.

During the discussions, the new PDP law and regulations were evaluated. Problems and possible solutions, technological and political dimensions, past and present practices, future perspectives of this legal change in Turkey were discussed. The law compared with the rest of the world and implementation examples were listed. Furthermore, collecting and processing of sensitive data, mostly genetic data in Turkey were discussed. With the permission of the participants, both of discussions were audio-recorded and verbatim transcribed for analysis. The steps of thematic analysis method had been taken for data analysis. In general, none of the participants were against the collection of health/genetic data; contrarily they believe that it is necessity but the new Turkish PDP law has many problems on protecting the privacy of the data owner. In short, the frame of collectable data and the exceptions define data process without consent are too wide in the law.