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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 June 13 - 19  > Japan's scientific capability diminishes
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2018 June 13 - 19 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Japan's scientific capability diminishes

June 18, 2018
Japan's fundamental capabilities in science and technology have been diminishing, according to the White Paper on Science and Technology 2018 the government adopted at a Cabinet meeting on June 12.

As pointed out by the world's most prestigious scientific journal Nature in March last year, the Japanese government admitted to the present situation in which the proportion of scientific papers published by Japanese researchers in the world has been falling.

The white paper compares government spending on science and technology in major countries. The report shows that Japan's science technology budget in FY 2018 stood at about 1.15 times higher than that in FY 2000. Meanwhile, China and South Korea in FY 2016 budgeted about 13.5 times and about 5.1 times more than in 2000, respectively. Likewise, the U.S., Germany, and England increased their budget allocations by 1.58-1.81. The Nature article cited the fact that the Japanese government spending on science research has been flat since fiscal 2001.

The white paper reveals that the number of new doctorate holders per million people of the population in Japan decreased from 131 in 2008 to 121 in 2013. Japan is the only major country where the figure has dropped in recent years. A causal factor is that about 70% of ph.D.s can find jobs and only half of them are offered indefinite contracts.

In a survey conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, many master's degree recipients answered that they did not enter doctoral programs because of "uncertainty about their future career paths or availability of postdoc positions" in addition to "financial worries".

The Abe government focuses on the strengthening of domestic capabilities for producing fundamental innovations. However, "innovations" here translates to science and technology to serve the business community.

Many Japanese scientists have been voicing concern over the present situation. Winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine Osumi Yoshinori, an honorary professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, raises an alarm by saying, "This is no time for Japan to be excited over Nobel prizes awarded to Japanese a few years in a row."

The ruling Liberal Democratic and Komei parties under the policy of "concentration and selection" have been budgeting funds only for "useful" studies. They should end this scheme. Instead they should ensure the availability of long-term research projects and improve employment opportunities so that young researchers can continue studying without undue worries.

Past related articles:
> 34 science faculty deans call for more funds and staff for basic research [November 1, 2016]
> Budget screening casts a shadow on science and technology development [November 24, 2010]
> Koike talks with Tokyo University president regarding budget cuts [July 30, 2010]
> Nobel laureates oppose cuts in science budge [November 26 & 27, 2009]
> University presidents object to budget-screening for science technology [November 25, 2009]
> Nobel prize-winners are reminder of the importance of state’s role in supporting basic research [October 10, 2008]
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