Japanese Scientists Face a Crossroads

Japanese Scientists Face a Crossroads

For centuries, science has revolved around systematically and empirically discovering nature’s mysteries. There have been multiple historical examples in which this drive to discover novel ideas has overshadowed the scientist’s responsibility to consider the ethical implications of his work. One of the most prevalent of these examples is the development of the atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the chief scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, once stated that “it is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them”1. This remark highlights the scientist’s propensity to overlook the ethical consequences of his discoveries. The dropping of the atomic bomb changed the way scientists conduct research, since it made the world realize that ethics has an important role in science.

One example of the development of research ethics after World War II is the Japanese’s commitment to not conduct academic research for military purposes. However, the Japanese government has challenged this commitment over the past several years.

Another component of Japan’s constitution states that the country “will never use military force to resolve international conflicts and that military forces will never be maintained”2. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and his administration has reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japanese forces to fight in self-defense. As a result of this emphasis on military advancement, the Japanese military budget is rapidly growing and is now the seventh largest budget in the world2.

Recent debate has sparked the following question: should Japanese universities allocate funds to conduct research that benefits the military? The Science Council of Japan (SCJ) met in January and to discuss this issue, and has released an interim report on the relationship between academic research and security issues5. The SCJ issued this report in a response to the actions of the Defense Ministry, which allocated 11 billion yen (94.8 million) in its budget to offer research subsidies to universities over the 2017 fiscal year5.

Currently, the panel of scientists remains divided on the issue and has extended the public an opportunity to express their concerns at an academic forum3. The committee has decided, however,  that using the military for self-defense purposes only and the military funding university-level research are separate issues, both of which will be deliberated in the near future. Some Japanese officials argue that restricting the topics that scholars are able to research infringes on academic freedom, thereby arguing that academic universities should be given the chance to conduct research for the military4. SCJ Chairman Takashi Onishi supports this viewpoint, saying that “research within the scope of the right to self-defense should be permitted”4. Scientists are skeptical of the rationalization that the military is merely attempting to make advances in self-defense because of the precedent that this type of action could set. In other words, they are apprehensive that adhering to this initial request is the beginning of a slippery slope, and that this could eventually lead to the creation of weapons used for malignant purposes.

Japan has seen the destructive potential of academia and the military becoming intertwined when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the country. It will be interesting to see how the Japanese government and scientists deliberate on these sensitive issues over the next several months.

References:

1.     Cook, Erica. "Res Publica." Ashbrook. December 1997. Accessed February 03, 2017. http://ashbrook.org/publications/respub-v8n1-cook/.

2.     Normile, Dennis. "Japanese military entices academics to break taboo." Science | AAAS. January 24, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2017. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/01/japanese-military-entices-academics-break-taboo.

3.     "Science Council of Japan panel calls for reservations about military research." The Mainichi. January 17, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2017. http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170117/p2a/00m/0na/012000c.

4.     Staff, Study International. "Japanese academics warned to 'think twice' before taking part in military research." Study International. January 17, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2017. https://www.studyinternational.com/news/japanese-academics-warned-think-twice-taking-part-military-research/.

5.     Takeishi, Ryoko. "Scientists warned about doing military researchThe Asahi Shimbun." The Asahi Shimbun. January 17, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2017. http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201701170036.html.

 

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