End politics-academia conflict, promote research and development

It is noteworthy that the Science Council of Japan has moved away from the old idea of separating science and technology research into military and civilian categories. The futile conflict between politics and academia should be put to rest so that research can move forward.

The Science Council of Japan, a leading organization of scientists, has expressed an opinion that effectively allows “dual-use” advanced science and technology research that can be applied for both military and civilian purposes. In a document submitted to the government, the council said that “it has become quite difficult to simply classify cutting-edge science and technology research into two categories.”

Precision weapons utilize a range of civilian-use components, including electronics. Satellite-based communications networks are important for military purposes, and are also useful for general communications and disaster prevention. Technological advances have blurred the line between the two categories. It is quite natural that the council came out with that position.

It is important to link cutting-edge science and technology research to boosting the international competitiveness of Japanese products and security.

The science council came into existence after the end of World War II to reflect on scientists’ complicity in the war. Based on such a background, in 1950 and 1967, the council issued statements saying that it would not pursue research for military purposes. In 2017, it also issued a statement expressing concern about the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency’s research systems.

Although the science council has said the opinion “does not mean it has changed its way of thinking,” the government has welcomed the council’s position, saying it “would like to evaluate it positively.” The fact that the council has dared to express such recognition may be due in part to the protracted conflict with the government.

In 2020, the government rejected the appointment of six candidates including legal scholars who had been recommended as new members by the council.

The academic community protested that the government’s action was an “unjustified political intervention,” but the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga did not change its hard-line stance. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also said, “The [then] prime minister, who has the right to make appointments, made the final decision and a series of procedures [for the appointment] was completed.”

The security environment surrounding Japan is deteriorating. If politics and academia are at odds with each other, the country cannot respond to changes in the situation. The science council should not only express its views, but also show concrete actions, such as cooperation in research on advanced technologies.

There are also issues that the council needs to address. The system of deliberations by heavyweights in various fields has meant the council has been slow to take action. So, it has not been able to make timely proposals on measures to combat the novel coronavirus, for which a wide range of expertise is required.

This year, young scientists launched the Japanese Association for the Advancement of Science (JAAS), a private organization to promote science. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the original organization, has significant influence in the United States, with member scientists participating in government and congressional activities. The JAAS has similar aims.

It is hoped that proactive scientists and policy-savvy politicians will work together to promote constructive science and technology policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2022)