Japan's Science Policy Council Expands Role

5 July 2013 2:47 pm

TOKYO—Japan's highest science advisory panel plans to be more active in implementing the current administration's policies and in directly funding research. The new activism is intended to help it foster innovation, a central pillar of the new economic growth strategy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"We have been weak in providing strategy advice in the last 2 or 3 years," said Yuko Harayama, an executive—or full-time—member of Japan's Council for Science and Technology Policy. Speaking at a press briefing today, Harayama said the policy council "just waited for related ministries to form a budget and submit it" for review. "It was a passive way to coordinate."

Chaired by the prime minister, the council also hopes to break new ground by directly funding its own cross-ministry programs. Harayama said that the new approach will be reflected in next year's budget that will be unveiled at the end of August.

Academic scientists are worried that the push for an economic payoff from research expenditures will stifle curiosity-driven research. Harayama said the council would not be giving top-down orders but rather working with the ministries and other actors in the science and technology sphere.

Harayama, who was previously deputy director of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry in Paris, said the panel is thinking about a new type of scientific administrator within the government who would have broad authority to manage the pursuit of specified research objectives. She cited the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a model, where projects can be started and stopped with a minimal amount of red tape. Currently, she says, there is little follow-up or leadership by government managers once a project's budget is fixed.

She also pointed out that she is the first woman to be one of the two full-time members of the council responsible for the bulk of its day-to-day work. (The council includes Cabinet members, experts from the scientific community nominated by the prime minister and approved by the legislature, and the president of the Science Council of Japan, the nation's largest academic society.) She thinks having more women in decision-making positions will generate "new thinking," and she promised "to promote women in the science and technology field by putting pressure on universities." She said that she hoped the industrial sector would follow suit.

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