Japan scientists attack govt research cut plans

November 26, 2009
The skyline of the Japanese capital, Tokyo. Top scientists from the country, including four Nobel laureates, have criticised the new government for plans to slash research budgets, warning the country will loose its high-tech edge.

Top Japanese scientists, including four Nobel laureates, have criticised the new government for plans to slash research budgets, warning the country will loose its high-tech edge.

In a rare joint press conference late Wednesday and comments Thursday, they attacked a proposal to cut 26.76 billion yen (300 million dollars) in funds the ministry has requested to subsidise a super-computer project.

A state-backed research institute has been working on a next-generation super-computer since 2006 that would be the world's fastest and be used for cutting-edge research in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology.

"What matters in science is generating new ideas by making all-out efforts to come out on top in a certain field," said Toshihide Maskawa, who shared the Nobel Physics award last year with two other scientists.

"If you're satisfied with second place, you can end up in 30th place," he said, speaking Thursday. "If you only copy, it means you do nothing."

Since taking office in September, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's centre-left government has sought to slash government spending to free up funds, mainly for increases in social welfare.

Lawmakers of his Democratic Party of Japan tasked with reviewing requests last week proposed reducing science funding.

"The panel's approach of judging science purely from a cost perspective completely lacks vision," said 2001 Nobel Chemistry prize winner Ryoji Noyori. "I wonder if the panelists are ready to face the judgement of history."

Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka, a pioneer of embryonic stem cell research, told reporters: "I am deeply concerned about the development, which is just beyond my imagination."

"You cannot predict achievements, that's science," he said. "I'm worried about Japan's future."

(c) 2009 AFP

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