Both Sides Must Show Reform Plans to Fit Today’s Real-World Conditions

If the substance of reform that both the government and the Science Council of Japan are aiming for is left half-baked, constructive discussions will not be possible. Both sides should seek common ground by presenting concrete ideas to end their needless confrontation.

The government intends to revise a relevant law in the current Diet session to review how the council should function.

There have been voices questioning the very raison d’etre of the council, as its influence on policies is unclear. The revision of the law is intended to increase transparency in the process of selecting council membership and introduce a system for reviewing its management.

Currently, the prime minister appoints candidates selected by the council based on the recommendations of incumbent members and others. The membership is set at 210.

According to the outline of a draft revision presented by the government, a third party, tentatively described as a “selection advisory committee,” will be established to be involved in the selection of candidates before the prime minister appoints them. The council would be obliged to respect the opinions of the advisory panel.

It is understandable that the government intends to involve outside experts in the selection process of membership in order to attract diverse human resources. However, the government has not yet clarified the number of members for the advisory panel or its judgment criteria for selecting candidates.

The council, on the other hand, opposes the involvement of a third party in the selection of its members, saying that it would “undermine its independence.”

However, in 2021, the council put together its own reform proposal that included soliciting a wide range of third-party opinions in the selection of its members.

As the government proposal also entrusts the appointment of advisory panel members to the president of the council, there is not much difference between the proposals of the government and the council. Nevertheless, the council criticizes the government proposal as an “intervention” into the council’s affairs. It is hard to understand the council’s stance.

Each fiscal year, the government invests about ¥1 billion in national funds to support the council. It will be difficult to gain the public’s understanding if the council tells the government to “keep its nose out” of the selection of its members even while receiving public funds.

Under the government draft, the council will formulate a six-year “medium-term operational management plan,” matching the six-year terms served by its members, as a measure to review its management. The draft also calls for the council to self-evaluate the status of its operational management and make the results public every fiscal year.

It cannot be said that the council has made any timely proposals to the government on such matters as the 2011 accident at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture or the coronavirus pandemic. It is quite natural that the council should make public the content and concrete results of its activities, and fulfill its accountability.

The advancement of science and technology is essential for the development of a country. It is important for politics and academic organizations to take concerted action.

The dual use of science and technology for both civilian and military purposes is becoming increasingly important. The council should change its outdated way of thinking, such as its opposition to military research, and should not prevent researchers from getting involved in defense policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2023)