Dec 06 2018

Turkey's new incentive program falls short - Scientists

Turkish scientists are skeptical about a new government fellowship program that offers incentives to persuade them to stay or return home, U.S. news outlet NPR reported on Wednesday. 

In the wake of Turkey's failed coup in July 2016, the government purged thousands of teachers and academics. A Turkish-American NASA scientist was sent to prison. Countless professionals across many sectors left the country. 

Now Ankara is looking to bring scientists back and retain those who might be looking abroad for work, with a new initiative that offers up to $4,000 per month, additional funding research and other benefits, said NPR.  

"I invite all the (Turkish) scientists from around the world to join us in science and technology development." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at a tech conference in September, announcing the scheme. 

Onur just earned his biophysics Ph.D. in Istanbul and is now planning to uproot his wife and daughter to move to the United Kingdom, and not just because of higher pay. "In Turkey, the scientists are not free to spend their funding as they want," he told NPR. "There are a lot of restrictions."

Onur says Turkey's state research council takes a bunch of scientific funding for itself, and tight budgets mean young researchers rarely attend international conferences. He also sees a lack of respect for science in Turkey, where many people visit fortunetellers. "It's very hard for you to expect respect, funding or popularity as much as a mystic or pseudo-scientists have," he said. "And I think this has been the same for hundreds of years in this country."

A Turkish astrophysicist worries about Turkey's increasing lack of freedoms. In 2016, more than 2,000 academics in Turkey signed a petition against the government's campaign against Kurds in the country's southeast. Most of them have since been charged with terrorist propaganda, detained and put on trial or fled the country. 

"Before, so many academicians, they can say something against the government or not against the government," the astrophysicist told NPR. "But it's not the case now...People are afraid, so many, of government."