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2013年4月 4日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 1
EDITORIAL: Japan losing competitiveness in science sector

Since science represents humanity's collective intelligence, it has no national borders. As such, it does quite fine without contributions from researchers in some countries.

But those countries will have to accept the inconvenience of having to part with some of their collective wealth in exchange for importing goods that require high-level scientific knowledge and technology to produce.

With the distance between science and industry shrinking, competition has become severe in the world of science. But Japan appears to be lagging behind, according to the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, which analyzed the databases of science and technology papers published around the world.

The institute, affiliated with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, found that the volume of papers and monographs, authored or co-authored by scientists at Japanese universities, research organs and private corporations, has not increased much in and after the 2000s.

Globally, the output of science and technology papers and monographs has risen by 48 percent in the last decade. But in Japan, the increase was a paltry 3 percent.

China and South Korea have registered phenomenal growths of 360 percent and 192 percent, respectively. The corresponding figures were 20 to 30 percent for the United States and European nations. In global rankings, Japan tumbled from second place to fifth place, having fallen behind China, Germany and Britain. Japan's share fell from 9.5 percent to 6.6 percent.

Similar trends are seen in the rankings and shares of Japanese papers and monographs that are frequently quoted around the world.

One of the reasons for this decline is that Japanese scientists have been slow to participate in international joint studies, whereas their European counterparts have made a point to actively engage in multinational research undertakings. In the case of Chinese scientists, who have become the most frequent co-authors of American scientists, many have studied in the United States and have continued to collaborate with U.S. scientists after returning to China.

Another reason for Japan's decline is its weak ties to "hot" areas of research that are rapidly emerging from increased interdisciplinary pursuits. One such field is so-called complex network science, which spans the disciplines of mathematics, engineering, biochemistry and infectious disease medicine.

We suspect departmental turfs at Japanese universities are too rigidly defined. It is vital that universities become more open and try to keep abreast of global trends.

As for research and development expenditures by university departments around the world, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics and others show that the real growth rate in Japan was 5 percent in the 2000s, compared with 30 to 60 percent in the United States and Europe, a whopping 335 percent in China and 134 percent in South Korea. The numbers correspond almost exactly to the growth in the volume of published papers and monographs.

Also, in the amounts spent on research and development in terms of ratios against gross domestic product, Japan fell behind the United States, Britain and Germany.

Unlike in most developed nations of the world, about half the research and development costs in Japan are borne by household budgets--university students or their families. At private universities, the costs are almost entirely covered by tuition.

The central and local governments invest little on research at universities. At 0.8 percent of GDP including scholarship funds, which is below the OECD average of 1.4 percent, Japan ranks among the lowest in the world. Public investments in universities are growing not only in China and South Korea, but in the United States and Europe as well.

Deciding where to position scientific research under the current fiscal restraints is a matter that needs to be seen from a long-term perspective.


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