President Obama’s speech and science & technology policies


I am now in Washington DC.  In the evening of 27th, the night before my departure, I saw and heard in Tokyo via internet the speech of President Obama on Science and Technology Policies given at the National Academy of Sciences annual meeting.  President Obama is the fourth president to address the National Academy and it has been 20 years since the last.  You are able to see, hear, and read the transcript of the speech at this website.  It is a strong message with clear vision for the future that has great content and wonderful structure.

President Obama set a goal of investing 3% of the nation’s GDP to R/D of Science and Technology.  Also, as the most important policy for the future, he showed a clear commitment to education in math and science through raise of budget with quite a concrete description on how this will be done.  These policies are based on recommendations from independent "think tanks" such as National Academy so their objectivity is trustworthy and evidence is clear.  Budgets were set to carry out these policies. Such process is important.

In today’s economic crises, a "clear message for the future," i.e., clear vision and commitment for the future, is very important.

For the large scale supplementary budget or new budget of Japan during this economic crisis, I would recommend 1) budget for the care of current bleeding 2) budget to create jobs for the next 2-3 years, and support social infrastructures such as social securities, health care, etc. (in short, provide a sense of being safe), and 3) more investments on new industries and their growth that can draw picture of the future society – i.e. basic research providing the "bud" for the possible new industries and education – (although I don’t think it pays to invest in current education system expecting it to provide good education for students of the global age.  In the first place, Japan’s budget for teachers is too small when compared to other OECD nations・・・) and so on.  Policies made by ministries and governmental offices are not enough to make changes.  Take a look at recommendations that were given by experts to the Prime Minister at the Kantei (residence of the prime minister).  See for yourself how much those recommendations (in Japanese only) have the viewpoint of "1, 2, and 3" as I have described above.  Apparently everybody is trying hard.  My recommendation is also uploaded in the section of "low carbon and environment."

The leadership and message of policy makers have power to encourage so many citizens, but・・・.

The “out of the box” Grand Challenges of the Gates Foundation


There is no room for argument that "peer review" is indispensable for application of research and evaluation of research papers.  However, "Innovation" as I put it is "Creation of new social values" and they are more likely to rise from new ideas or "unreasonable," "out of box" type people or "nails that stick out."  Therefore it can be said that "By definition, peer review is not compatible with innovation."

Peer reviews are necessary to guarantee the quality of research through evaluationar of methods or ideas, but by its nature it is inevitable that their thinking will be constrained within the framework of "the common sense of that age."

Activities of the Gates Foundation in the field of global health are already well known throughout, but another new program "Grand Challenges Explorations" launched two years ago.  The program recruits bold unorthodox "out of box" plans and ideas from all over the world.  Applicants must write a bold suggestion in two pages.  If approved, they will win 100 thousand dollars’ grants.  If the project produces a good looking outcome there is a possibility that the fund will be increased and continued.

Variety of amazingly fun and interesting ideas and research proposals are being selected. Three were selected from Japan.  Among them was(were) research application(s) that were rejected by NIH – the grant known as highly competitive – for being too bold. Naturally!

The deadline for this round is May 29th.  Why not visit the site above and think about applying?

Similar kind of competitive research funds are being set up in Great Britain etc. within these few years.  Canon foundation also joined this movement and I am gladly helping them.

But how do we select?  Here is another place where we can be imaginative.  This is innovation, too.

The birthday of Queen Elizabeth


Every year, the British Embassy throws a party in celebration of the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.  It is customary in any embassies, I think.  Embassy of Japan celebrates the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor.

On that day, April 21, I also went to the Embassy in the afternoon to join the celebration.  It was a bit rainy but the nice garden and lots of friends were enough to make the afternoon special.

Among the foods served there were small pies with a variety of nice toppings on them called "Sushi-Pie."  The Ambassador asked me how I liked it and I thought they were quite good depending on the toppings.


Photo:  With Science Attache Dr. Chris Pook and other guests.

The British Embassy in Japan is located in most prestigious area and has wonderful buildings and gardens.  During the last world war we were enemies so Japanese used to refer to English people as "Kichiku beiei" (literally meaning "demon beast America and Britain").  What happened then?  Well, Japanese took good care of the facilities including cleanings and sweepings.  I wonder how the British people felt when they found this out.  Were they grateful, impressed or did they feel it strange?

How was the situation in London during the war?  Germany was enemy so the British Embassy property was confiscated as a matter of course.  Ever since, The Royal Society is using the site, and you might be interested to know that here, a grave (or so to say the body) of the pet dog of the German Ambassador of the time is buried in the basement.

Maybe Japanese did not think, from the beginning, that they would win this war or maybe they felt affection to England – a country they once joined in alliance.  The Japanese people may also have cared about the relation between the royal families of Japan and Britain.  I think the Imperial House did not wish this war either.

Human Rights Watch opens Tokyo office


Visit the website of the Human Rights Watch.  Their work is quite something.  Its Tokyo office opened this month.

It was a realization of the long lasting dream of Ms. Kane Doi, who happened to see and hear about those places of miseries in her youth forming a sense of responsibility urging her to bring about changes.

A nice gathering was held in April 9th to introduce the Tokyo office and raise funds.  Starting with a chorus by students of the American School at Chofu, Tokyo, Ms. Doi and Executive Director Kenneth Roth delivered welcome speeches followed by a film of activities at the event of Russian invasion to Georgia.  Also, Bo Kyi, Thai activist who had been a political prisoner for 7 years, joined as the Guest of Honor. Films introducing his daily life and activities were played upon his speech.  Since I was seated next to him, I had a chance to listen to him in details.

Such private or individual activities: "Grass-root activities", "Civil movements", "NGOs" are expanding and will continue to expand.  This is the trend of the global age. (Ref.1)  One should not deride it or try to stop it since this trend will eventually grow to become the mainstream of our flat world.  Let’s support Ms. Doi, in any way each of us can.

Women are more involved in this kind of activities, not to mention Dr. Sadako Ogata whom I deeply respect.  This is also a world-wide phenomenon.

See the photo gallery of this evening.

Gairdner Award – Dr. Yamanaka, Dr. Mori and their wonderful predecessors


There are awards given in recognition of outstanding achievements in academic research.  Variety of awards in the field of medicine or bioscience also exist, but I would count Gairdner Award, Lasker Award, and Nobel Prize as the most distinguished of them.

The Nobel Prize was founded in the dawn of the 20th century, 1901, and is well known throughout the world.  Announcement of the recipients in October every year creates big news that are covered in full by mass media.  It can be said that the list of award winners represent the history and progress of 100 years of science from the end of 19th century throughout the 20th century.  Last year four Japanese (I will leave it to each one of you to ponder on the definition of "Japanese".), Drs. Nanbu, Kobayashi, Masukawa, and Shimomura were awarded this prize in the field of natural science and it was a big topic that allowed us to restore confidence in ourselves.

Lasker Award was founded in 1945. Its main awards are clinical medical research awards and basic medical research awards.  Basic medical research awards were given to Hidesaburo Hanafusa in 1982, Susumu Tonegawa in 1987, Yasutomi Nishizuka in 1989, and Yoshio Masui in 1998.  Clinical medical research award was given to Akira Endo in 2008.  Among those recipients, Dr. Nishizuka and Dr. Endo were the only persons whose work in Japan were recognized as the major basis for the prize.

Gairdner Awards is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.  This year two scientist from Kyoto University – Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Mori – won the prize.  Dr. Yamanaka is famous in and out of Japan for his research on “iPS”, but the work of Dr. Mori is also wonderful though it is not as conspicuous.

As you can see from the article in Asahi Shinbun (2009/4/10), the winner of Gairdner Awards in Japan are – besides Tonegawa, Masui, and Nishizuka who are also Lasker Award winners – Kiminari Ishizuka, his spouse Teruko Ishizaka, and Seiji Ogawa.  Dr. Nishizuka and the two (Yamanaka and Mori) of this year are the only people who was awarded basically for their research in Japan.

It looks as though both Lasker Award and Gairdner Award are sensitive about how many Nobel Prize winners will emerge from their award recipients.  There also seems to be subtle difference in criteria of selections so it would be interesting to imagine what kind of arguments have taken place at the occasions.  Especially, a number of discussions appeared in Nature etc. on why Dr. Masui was not included in the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

The only Japanese Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine is Dr. Tonegawa for the time being, but I look forward to see more winners in the future.

Dr. Seiji Ogawa is the only Japanese appearing on the list of 125 scientists who has contributed to the progress of science in the history of mankind.  The list is in the "in binding" (if you by any chance find this on the web, please let me know…) of July 1st edition of 125th anniversary issues of "Science".  He discovered fMRA theory which is now widely used in the research of human brain functions.