[EDITORIALS]To bring home Nobel prizes

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[EDITORIALS]To bring home Nobel prizes

Masatoshi Koshiba of Japan is one of three co-winners of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics. He was the 11th Japanese to win a Nobel prize, and the third consecutive Japanese scientist to win a prize in a scientific field. While we feel envious of Japan, we also regret the current state of science and technology in Korea. Today, a country's strength in basic science fields largely determines its national competitiveness. But the reality of Korea is that people are concerned about the declining number of college students who choose science or engineering as majors.

It was an ample pool of scientists and extensive support by the government that enabled Japan to produce eight scientific Nobel laureates after years of domination by U.S. and European scientists. Japan plans to invest 24 trillion yen ($195 billion), or 1 percent of its gross domestic product, through 2005 in an ambitious plan to produce 30 Nobel Prize winners during the next 50 years.

But last year in Korea, public and private investment in research and development was $12.5 billion, less than 5 percent of U.S. outlays. Korea's investment in science was only 9 percent of Japan's $139 billion investment. The figure was lower than the combined investments of the U.S. carmakers Ford and General Motors, $13.6 billion.

One survey of Korean youth found that only about half a percent wanted to become scientists. The percentage of high school students who apply for the science or engineering departments at universities has dropped to 27 percent. No wonder; there is little social or economic recognition for them. Korean students who snatch up top prizes at mathematics and science Olympiads every year seemingly fail to develop further. Our educational system stresses memorization and regurgitation, not creativity.

To be a country that is competitive in science and technology, Korea needs a strategic approach to cultivate Nobel Prize winners at a rate commensurate with our 12th-ranked world economy. The government must play a more active role, and the Presidential Advisory Council for Science and Technology has recently proposed that the government step up its support for innovative research. We agree with that proposal wholeheartedly.

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