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No.28
Science, No.28  Nov. 1, 2015

Electricity Reform Is the Best Performer for the Growth Strategy

ITOH Motoshige, Professor at the Graduate School of Economics of University of Tokyo

  The Great Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster that stopped nuclear power generation revealed the vulnerability of Japan’s electricity system ABE Junichi (AJ): The Government decided in a cabinet meeting and submitted to the Diet the Bill for Partial Revision of the Electricity Act in March to achieve electricity system reform. Professor Itoh, you had, in the capacity of the chairman of the “Electricity System Reform Expert Committee,” compiled a report in February 2013 proposing the full liberalization of electricity retail sales and the separation of power generation and power transmission. The report became the pillar of electricity system reform. Why should the electricity system be reformed now? ITOH Motoshige (IM): I think that there are a couple of factors. Experts, and even the Government, have been keenly aware of the need for electricity reform for more than ten years. However, there are some difficult ... ... [Read more]

No.26
Science, No.26  Jun. 1, 2015

Corporations and Geniuses― The main man behind the invention of blue LEDs speaks.Serendipity: No Such Thing Exists Interview with Amano Hiroshi, Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, Nagoya University

22 October 2014, Professor Amano visited the Prime Minister’s Office (From the website of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet)

The dream of all researchers is to make possible that which is considered to be impossible. They seek to conceive an invention that breaks accepted theories. However, the road to innovations that destroy paradigms is a long one, and they can only be brought about through years of research that goes unnoticed. This was the case of the research of Amano Hiroshi, a professor at Nagoya University who worked on inventing blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). In 1983, Professor Amano enrolled in a master’s program at Nagoya University. To produce gallium nitride crystal, a material for blue LEDs, he lit his device every day except]]> ... [Read more]

No.25
Science, No.25  May. 23, 2015

The Robot & AI Revolution I Robots will Change Work & Industry

Robots exist as a substitute for humans, and are sometimes perceived as a job-stealing threat. But in reality, they are not necessarily our rivals. In the real-life workplaces where robots have been introduced, there are also hidden hints for coexistence. It has two eyes on its flat head. It cannot walk with two legs, but it has two triple-jointed arms—with shoulders, elbows and wrists—that it can move freely… The external appearance of NEXTAGE, a robot developed by Kawada Industries, is totally different from that of the clunky-looking industrial robots that have seen popular widespread use in Japan until now. The difference is not only in its appearance. In contrast to conventional industrial robots, which pride themselves on speed and power, and operate under the assumption that human beings will not go near them, NEXTAGE aims to coexist with humans. It’s not merely a piece ... ... [Read more]

No.25
Science, No.25  May. 23, 2015

The Robot & AI Revolution

SAKURA Osamu, Ph.D. Professor at the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, University of Tokyo ©AOKI Noboru

Robot research is one of Japan’s areas of specialty. With 310,000 units, Japan lead’s the world for the number of industrial robots in operation (2013). The level of research and development of robots at universities and research institutes is also high. People point to influences such as the popular Japanese anime Astroboy, with its robot protagonist, as the backdrop to this. Based on these circumstances, the Abe administration has positioned the robot industry as one of the growth strategies in its economic strategy ‘Abenomics.’ In light of Japan’s declining birth rate and aging population, there are high hopes in particular for the foray of robots in the field of nursing care. On the other hand, however, common problems from other fields of Japanese industry can also be seen in the field of robotics. Our processes for turning the seeds of new technology into a ... ... [Read more]

No.24
Discussions, Science, No.24  Jan. 8, 2015

The Truth behind the STAP Cell Case Reality of research institutions, international competition, morality of researchers — Why wasn’t the fraud avoidable?

SAKURA Osamu KATASE Kumiko YASHIRO Yoshimi What Happened, and What Came to Light Sakura Osamu: Obokata Haruko, Unit Leader at RIKEN, announced in late January this year (2014) that she had established a method of producing STAP cells (acronym for Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency; cells that have the capacity to become any type of cell that forms the body when stimulated), and the media reported it as “the discovery of the century.” But circumstances have changed significantly in a mere two months, and STAP cells are now the subject of numerous doubts. I would first like to ask the two of you about your basic understanding of this case. First, do you think that two Nature papers, principally authored by Obokata, were falsified in a critical manner? And second, should we consider that STAP cells are not yet verified, or are they? Professor Yashiro, ... ... [Read more]

No.24
Science, No.24  Jan. 8, 2015

Discussion of the Governance Problems Surrounding STAP Cell Research Papers

In January 2014, a research team led by Obokata Haruko, a research unit leader of the Laboratory for Cellular Reprogramming at RIKEN Center for Development Biology (or CDB) in Kobe, Japan, published two research papers in Nature to the effect that a new technique had been discovered to produce pluriopotent cells by applying an external stress such as immersing the somatic cells of mice in a mild acidic solution. The newly discovered cells are referred to as Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP) cells. This groundbreaking technique captured a lot of attention in both the media and the public at large as well as in academic circles because it allows cellular reprogramming only by using an external stressor without introducing external genetic material. In Japan’s scientific community the ratio of women to men is low, and against this backdrop the government and academia have been ... ... [Read more]

No.23
Science, No.23  Dec. 18, 2014

Feature Article on Scientific Advice: Paradigm Shift in Scientific Advice Responsible Innovation, Post-Normal Science, and Ecosystemic Approach

Growing expectations and skepticism about “scientific advice” “Scientific advice,” which provides the government, corporations and individuals with useful technical information, knowledge and judgments on the policy issues related to science and technology, such as “risk” issues in food safety, emerging infectious diseases, climate change, earthquakes, nuclear power and cyber security, and as promotion of science, technology and innovation, is expected to play an increasingly vital role in contemporary society. Scientific advice in Japan has hitherto been undertaken by various deliberative bodies and organizations, including councils and committees attached to government ministries and agencies, regulatory bodies such as the Food Safety Commission, and, regarding comprehensive policies for the promotion and regulation of science, technology and innovation, the Cabinet Office’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (CSTI) and academic organizations such as the Science Council of Japan (SCJ). In addition, since the Great East Japan Earthquake ... ... [Read more]

No.23
Science, No.23  Dec. 18, 2014

Feature Article on Scientific Advice: Between Science and Administration The Politics of Scientific Advice

(1) Is It Reactionism?  Members of the Subcommittee that deliberated on the draft of the Basic Energy Plan were replaced following a government changeover. In a blatant selection of personnel, the LDP almost exclusively appointed new experts who advocate maintaining or promoting nuclear power generation. The Agency of Natural Resources and Energy has already sent officials to an LDP working group meeting for explaining the draft of the Basic Energy Plan, wherein LDP-affiliated Diet members raised questions about the draft, which positions nuclear power as an important base power source and spells out steady promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle.The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident on 11 March 2011 has been taken as an opportunity to question the ideal form of giving scientific and expert advice to administrative authorities. A variety of criticism has been heard and many proposals made concerning this question, ... ... [Read more]

No.22
Science, No.22  Jun. 28, 2014

Three Years after the Earthquake and the Nuclear AccidentWhere Energy Policies Will Go from Here — A Conversation about the Basic Energy Plan

Ueta Kazuhiro, Professor, Graduate School of Economics, Kyoto University

[Introductory notes by the Editorial Department of Science Journal Kagaku] The Basic Act on Energy Policy stipulates the formulation of the Basic Energy Plan (a basic plan for energy supply and demand). In formulating the Plan, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry is asked to listen to the opinions of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, an advisory council for the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The Subcommittee on Basic Policies presented Opinions on the Basic Energy Plan (hereinafter referred to as the “Opinions”) to the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy on December 13, 2013. The secretariat for the Advisory Committee had suddenly submitted the Opinions during a Committee meeting on December 6, 2013. Even though the Opinions were still a proposal, public comments on them were sought from that ... ... [Read more]

No.11
Science, No.11  May. 20, 2012

PUTTING GEOLOGICAL RECORDS TO USE IN PREVENTING TSUNAMI-RELATED DISASTERS – CURRENT STATUS OF AND ISSUES IN TSUNAMI SEDIMENTOLOGY

Tsunami sediment research has garnered substantial attention since the tsunami triggered by the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami (“2011 tsunami” hereinafter). This is because the 2011 tsunami was possibly a recurrence of the 869 AD Jogan tsunami that was a topic of sedimentology research for the last 20-plus years1. We know for sure that tsunami sediment (composed of various sizes of particles ranging from clay and sand to large boulder2) is effective for estimating when a past tsunami occurred and its size, and is potentially the only and critical proof for tsunami that occurred from prior to the Edo Period (1603-1868 AD) dating back to prehistory, for which historical records are especially thin. Yet tsunami sedimentology is... [Read more]