Incorporation of SCJ: Can Science Body Be Revamped into an Organization That Delivers Results?

The Science Council of Japan (SCJ) — a representative body of scientists — must be restructured to serve as an entity that contributes to society by making timely policy proposals.

The government has decided to incorporate the SCJ, which currently operates as a national organization, thus making it an independent body.

This move marks the first major reform of the SCJ since its establishment in 1949 as a national organization.

Some have argued that the SCJ does not make sufficient policy proposals, despite receiving public funds of about ¥1 billion a year. For many years, the council has objected to research related to military purposes and prevented universities from carrying out dual-use research, which has the potential for both military and civilian applications.

The SCJ must take the change into an incorporated body as an opportunity to become able to address and offer solutions to societal problems.

According to the government’s plans, the post-incorporated SCJ will maintain its status as a body representing Japan and its function to provide scientific advice to the government, which will continue to financially support the SCJ while requesting that the council also seek external funding.

With regard to the member-selection process, the plans call for the SCJ to introduce a system to obtain opinions from a panel of external experts, provisionally dubbed as the “selection advisory committee.”

Additionally, the government’s plans state that it will seek the incorporated council to formulate business plans and create an evaluation committee also made up of external experts to examine the implementation of the business plans. As long as public funds continue to be injected, it is entirely natural for the council’s activities and achievements to be monitored.

The SCJ released its own reform plan in 2021 that touched upon the possibility of morphing into a special corporation under conditions that included securing the status of a body representing Japan and stable public funding while retaining the ability to select its own members, among other points.

The government’s reform proposals can be said to be moderate, given that they echo the changes put forward by the SCJ itself.

Nevertheless, the SCJ has voiced opposition to the government’s ideas, citing them as being “predetermined” and lacking consideration for the disadvantages of incorporation, while also calling for the government to leave the council’s status unchanged and increase its financial support.

The SCJ has presented reform plans in the past, including a call to improve transparency with regard to member selection. Based on the SCJ’s proposals, the government made moves toward submitting legislation to revise the relevant law, but the SCJ voiced opposition.

It is extremely self-centered for the SCJ to seek more financial support while sidelining its own reform-related proposals.

The Cabinet Office has established a panel of experts that has so far held 10 meetings to address ways of reforming the council — with the SCJ president attending each meeting as an observer.

Nevertheless, the SCJ continues to oppose the government’s proposals, a stance that makes little sense. If the council continues attempting to put off reaching a conclusion, the government should take the lead in implementing reforms.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 23, 2023)