A return to basic science

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A return to basic science

he author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Japan.



“It is the duty of the state to spend money now, even if it turns out to be futile investment 20 years later, and continue to invest for the future even if it fails,” TV Asahi’s main news reported in a remark by a senior politician on Oct. 2.

What the state must spend money on despite failure is basic science research.

As Kyoto University’s Prof. Tasuku Honjo was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Japan has the “Honjo Craze.”
However, while he became the 24th Japanese national to win a Nobel Prize, Japan is worried about the grim future of Japanese science due to shrinking investment on basic science.

Since the 2000s, 16 Japanese scientists won the Nobel Prize thanks to national-level support that began in the Nakasone government in the 1980s.

However, because of the burst of the bubble economy — especially after the corporatization of national universities in 2004 — investment in basic science continued to decrease.

The operation subsidies that the government provides for national universities to freely invest in basic science research has decreased by 144.4 billion yen ($1.26 billion) — from 1.97 trillion yen in 2004 to 1.24 trillion yen this year.

The number of academic papers from Japan and the presence of Japanese research have declined from the early 2000s.

So celebrating today’s Nobel Prize without investing in the future led to a feeling that China would surpass Japan soon.

Professor Honjo made a remark on the same note. At a press conference on Oct. 2, he announced that he would donate the prize money from the Noble Prize to Kyoto University for a research fund.

“We need to make a country where scientists think that they did the right thing to devote their lives to basic science research,” he said. “Today, automobile and IT industries support Japan, but we don’t know from which industry an industry revolution would begin. There is no future for a country that does not invest in life science, which is the foundation of human society.”

Ei-ichi Negishi, a professor at Purdue University and winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry, also said, “Japan has become a first-class nation that wins Nobel Prizes, but could not become the very best country.”

It is regrettable that Korea, which has yet to win a Nobel Prize in science, is not actively investing in basic science and only envies Japan.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 4, Page 29
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