The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Continued support vital to reshape basic research in Japan

- (From e Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2022)

The three natural science Nobels have been announced, but no Japanese scientists picked up prizes to follow last year’s win. In recent years, there have been concerns about a decline in Japan’s research capabiliti­es. Continued support for basic science is necessary.

Last year, Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University in the United States won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering research in predicting global warming. Since 2000, Japanese-born researcher­s have swept up Nobel Prizes: 20, including Manabe, a U.S. citizen, have earned the prize in the eld of science.

However, this re ects the fact that past research achievemen­ts are now being valued. ere have been many cases in which research conducted by people around the age of 40 led to Nobel Prize wins 20 to 30 years later. e average age of Japanese winners is 65.

In terms of the number of research papers that are frequently cited by scholars in various countries, Japan has noticeably lost ground. If the pool of young researcher­s becomes thinner in the future, the pace of Nobel Prize wins by Japanese scientists could slow down.

As science has progressed, the subject elds considered for the Nobel Prize have also changed. Climate science, for which Manabe won his Nobel, had not previously been considered for the physics prize. It is also unusual that Svante Paabo this year won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research in the eld of paleoanthr­opology.

e developmen­t of new research elds is ourishing, but Japan is said to be weak in cross-disciplina­ry work. It is important to take on challenges without being bound by old frameworks.

Looking around the world, top scientists, regardless of nationalit­y, move around

rst-rate research institutio­ns in various countries. Amid such a global trend, there is concern that Japan — which has many inward-looking researcher­s lacking overseas experience — could be le behind.

Paabo, a Swedish national, belongs to a German research institutio­n, but he is also an adjunct professor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). He has praised OIST, which was establishe­d by the Japanese government, for investing research funds on a long-term basis, even in research that takes time.

However, since national universiti­es were transforme­d into incorporat­ed institutio­ns in 2004, the government has been cutting subsidies for operating expenses, which form the basis of funding to manage universiti­es. Young researcher­s are coming under increasing strain as a result of reduced personnel expenses and a rise in unstable xedterm employment.

To overcome the deteriorat­ion of the research environmen­t, the government has establishe­d a university fund of about ¥10 trillion and will begin providing support to several universiti­es going forward. Many have said this is the last chance for a revival.

e in uence of the initiative can already be seen: Tokyo Institute of Technology and Tokyo Medical and Dental University have begun merger talks to apply for the fund. It is hoped that the government and university leadership will consider e ective ways to use the fund and devise strategies to raise the level of research capabiliti­es.

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