Government funding for scientist body carries significant weight

The Science Council of Japan is an organization representing scientists in Japan. It is important to strengthen its ability to propose polices and link this to solutions for issues that society is facing.

The government has compiled a set of reform proposals for the council. It has put forward a plan to review the selection process for membership, which has a capacity of 210, in order to increase the transparency of the council’s management.

Currently, the prime minister appoints candidates recommended by the council as its members. The proposed reforms call for establishing a new third-party committee that will provide opinions on the selection of members, and for the council to respect the views of the committee.

In response, the council issued a statement calling for the government to reconsider this proposal on the grounds that it “may interfere with the autonomous and independent selection of members.”

The government injects about ¥1 billion into the council each year. The members are part-time national public servants of special services. The prime minister is responsible for appointing them.

As long as the government covers the operating costs of the council and the prime minister is responsible for personnel affairs, there should be no problem with the government’s involvement in the selection process for members.

With regard to the selection of council members, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga refused to appoint six of the potential members in 2020, and the seats remain vacant. It is believed that Suga excluded researchers who criticized government policies.

Last year, as part of its own reform initiatives, the council said that it would seek a broad range of third-party opinions in the selection of its members. It is difficult to understand the council’s opposition to the government’s proposal to establish a new third-party committee, given its own third-party committee idea. The government and the council should consult with each other carefully.

It is not desirable for the government and the council to remain in conflict for a prolonged period of time. It is important for both sides to come to a compromise and foster a trusting relationship.

In its reform proposals, the government has also called for a mechanism in which the council draws up a medium-term management plan and conducts self-assessment based on the opinions of outside experts.

For the council, this would help to broaden understanding of its research activities.

The government is now working to submit a revision bill to the ordinary Diet session in 2023, taking into consideration opinions from the council’s side. A system must be built for the entire country to work together to promote the progress of science and technology.

In recent years, the line between civilian and military research and development of advanced technologies has been disappearing. Many countries are actively incorporating the results of scientific research into national security technologies and equipment.

The council has long opposed research for military purposes, but last July, partly in response to societal demand, it expressed a view to effectively accept dual-use research. This should not end up being a mere announcement and a system should be put in place to conduct specific research.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 31, 2022)