Crafts­man­ship spirit be­hind Ja­pan’s sci­en­tific suc­cess

Ja­pan’s long-time pur­suit of sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ment still pro­vides valu­able ex­pe­ri­ences for China to learn from.

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS - The author is a writer with China Daily. wangy­iqing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

This year’s No­bel Prize in phys­i­ol­ogy or medicine has been awarded to Ja­panese mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Yoshi­nori Oh­sumi for his re­search into how dam­aged cells re­cy­cle them­selves, which the No­bel jury said is of “fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance in phys­i­ol­ogy and medicine”.

This makes the 71-year-old sci­en­tist the 25th Ja­panese per­son to win aNo­bel Prize in a sci­en­tific field sinceHideki Yukawa be­came the first Ja­panese to win theNo­bel Prize in Physics in 1949.

Although it has main­tained rapid eco­nomic growth for decades, China still lags far be­hind Ja­pan in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. Last year, Tu Youyou be­came the first Chi­ne­seNo­bel lau­re­ate in phys­i­ol­ogy or medicine, for the med­i­cal achieve­ments she and her team made four decades ago.

Now­many Chi­nese are ask­ing how Ja­pan achieved so many no­table break­throughs in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy in the short pe­riod since the end ofWorldWar II.

Tellingly, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment ad­vanced pro­duc­ing as manyNo­bel Prize win­ning sci­en­tists as the most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced Euro­pean coun­tries— to be spe­cific, 30No­bel lau­re­ates in 50 years— in its sec­ond na­tional Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Ba­sic Plan in 2001.

The goal was once sup­posed “un­likely” by many peo­ple in­clud­ing Ja­panese No­bel lau­re­ate Ry­oji Noy­ori. But sur­pris­ingly there’s been a boom in the num­ber of Ja­panese No­bel Prize win­ners since the be­gin­ning of 21st cen­tury. Within the 17 years since 2000 there have been 17 Ja­panese No­bel Prize win­ners, all in sci­en­tific fields.

The boom in the num­ber of Ja­pane­seNo­bel Prize win­ning sci­en­tists came after the coun­try’s so­called lost decade, the pe­riod from 1991 to 2000, re­flect­ing the rapid de­vel­op­ment of sci­ence in Ja­pan after theWorldWar II.

How­ever, Ja­pan’s long-time pur­suit of sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ment still pro­vides valu­able ex­pe­ri­ences for China to learn from. Un­ques­tion­ably, in­vest­ment is the soil nec­es­sary for sci­en­tific re­search to bear fruit. For years Ja­pan’s sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy in­vest­ment has been above 3 per­cent of its GDP, among the high­est world­wide.

China has re­al­ized the sig­nif­i­cance of in­vest­ment for sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal progress. In 2015, China’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ment ac­counted for 2.2 per­cent of its GDP, and it has set the goal of rais­ing it to 2.5 per­cent in its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

But while in­vest­ment is es­sen­tial for sci­en­tific re­search suc­cess, it does not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee fruits.

In any coun­try, at any time, peo­ple are al­ways the most im­por­tant fac­tor be­hind any sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ments. Al­most all the No­bel Prize win­ners have de­voted their en­tire life to their re­search and work. And there are al­ways sev­eral decades of hard work and nu­mer­ous fail­ures be­fore they make their break­through.

More im­por­tantly, when they en­ter the long road of sci­en­tific re­search, they don’t know whether their ef­forts will be fu­tile or change the course of his­tory. And be­hind ev­eryNo­bel lau­re­ate there are many other sci­en­tists who have played a role in their achieve­ments.

In the in­ter­viewafter he was awarded theNo­bel Prize, Yoshi­nori em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of seem­ingly “use­less” fun­da­men­tal sci­en­tific stud­ies in the near fu­ture. Some achieve­ments in fun­da­men­tal sci­en­tific stud­ies may not prove “use­ful” to other re­searchers for another 10 or 100 years, he said.

Mean­while, theNo­bel lau­re­ate hopes sci­ence will be re­garded as Zhu Wei is deputy direc­tor of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Law Cen­ter at China Uni­ver­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s Cui Shoufeng. im­por­tant in its own right, “not some­thing that is de­vel­oped for prac­ti­cal pur­poses only”. If sci­en­tists are pres­sured to en­gage only in stud­ies that can be “use­ful” for some prac­ti­cal pur­poses, “gen­uine ba­sic sci­ence will be­come ex­tinct,” he said.

Maybe Chi­nese, es­pe­cially those in the sci­en­tific field, can also learn from the “crafts­man­ship spirit” of Ja­panese peo­ple, which refers to peo­ple who de­vote all their ef­forts to do­ing what they love. Yoshi­nori said he never dreamed that his study of yeast would some­day “serve any prac­ti­cal pur­poses” when he started do­ing it alone 28 years ago, but he “al­ways wanted to do some­thing that other peo­ple wouldn’t do” and “have fun in do­ing what oth­ers don’t do”.

That spirit is un­doubt­edly of great sig­nif­i­cance to the achieve­ments he made, and one that Chi­nese re­searchers would do well to adopt.

LI MIN / CHINA DAILY

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