TOKYO--Japanese ministries sent a mixed message to scientists last week when they unveiled their budget requests for the next fiscal year. Although overall spending for science will rise about 5%, the increases are concentrated in a handful of areas deemed economically important. Other research will see a decline, including work at labs housed at institutions targeted for sharp cuts by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The budget requests, for the year beginning 1 April 2002, reward projects deemed likely to strengthen industrial competitiveness, invigorate the economy, and promote a high quality of life. That includes a 62% jump in the life sciences within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, devoted in large part to understanding the structure and function of proteins, a 49% rise in spending on nanotechnology and advanced materials, and a 12% boost for information technologies.
But the flip side is equally dramatic. "Where is the money coming from to fund those increases?" asks Norio Kaifu, director-general of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Mitaka. "From other fields," he says, including an estimated 10% cut at NAOJ and cuts in space sciences and astronomy, ocean research, and atomic energy at the education ministry (see table).
The proposed budget cuts may be just the first in a series of blows to institutes such as the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center, and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute. They have the misfortune of being part of a group of 163 special public corporations--which perform functions ranging from building toll roads to running Japan's public broadcasting system--that Koizumi has declared must be either privatized or dismantled. As a first step, this year's budget proposes a 20% spending cut for the group as a whole.
"It would be awful, but Japanese science could die because of these reforms," says Shun-ichi Kobayashi, president of RIKEN.