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Monday, July 26, 2010


Foundation of science crumbling

In 1995, Japan enacted the science and technology basic law with the idea that, owing to scarce natural resources, Japan should promote science and technology as the foundation for its development. Under the law, the government has so far prepared three basic plans for science and technology — each plan covering five years — and spent nearly ¥60 trillion over the 15 years. Yet, the science and technology white paper for 2010, endorsed by the Cabinet in mid-June, shows that Japan's base for scientific research has been crumbling.

In 2006, around 6,000 Japanese received doctorates in natural science. China's corresponding figure was more than 20,000. From 1996 to 2007, some 128,800 people received natural science doctorates in the United States. Of them, only 1.8 percent were Japanese — much less than Chinese (28.2 percent), Indians (10.7 percent), South Koreans (9.2 percent) and Taiwanese (6.5 percent). Meanwhile, the frequency at which Japanese science papers are cited in papers by researchers from other countries is less than the citation frequency for European science papers. And each European country has a smaller population than Japan.

The number of entrants in natural science doctoral courses at graduate schools declined to some 11,350 in 2009 after peaking at some 13,190 in 2003. The government needs to reform graduate schools as well as improve the quality of teaching at the elementary and secondary education levels so that students become interested in natural science.

From fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2006, some 36,300 Japanese took doctorates in natural science, yet many could not land stable jobs. It is not known what kinds of jobs 16.6 percent of them got.

The government must pay attention to the fact that young researchers are so busy scrounging for research funds that they don't have enough time to devote to research. Because emphasis is put on quick results, the number of basic science research projects, which take time and money, has been decreasing.

To make its science and technology basic programs work properly, the government should appoint outside experts to assess them. Such assessment should not be left to bureaucrats.

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