Moral and Ethics of Scientists: The Obokata Incident Opens Up a Pandora’s Box


Although this burning issue at Riken seems to have passed its peak now, there are still many controversies involving scientists that have been left unaddressed.

The issue that I am referring here is the infamous ‘Obokata Incident’ coming out of Riken, followed by the shocking revelation of prominent professors, some from Todai, working hand in glove with big pharmaceutical companies. These sensational topics cause a brief uproar in the media, before fading out, followed by another scandal to take its place.

Such moral indiscretions are not limited to Japan by any means, but the follow-up to such scandals, which should include learning from and not repeating such mistakes, has not been recognized as a fundamental problem by scientists and society as a whole. These problems, I believe, stem from a basic lack of the will to be autonomous.

And these problems which are deeply ingrained in the structure of Japanese society are the very problems that I pointed out in the NAIIC report, supported by ‘mind-set’ prevails among most Japanese.

On the 19th of May 2014, I had pointed out in my blogpost ‘The Spirit of Science in Japan’ (in Japanese) that a visible manifestation of this shortcoming is the ‘Iemoto’ or ‘feudal’ system prevalent even in scientific research in Japan, a system of legitimization by virtue of belonging to one ‘faction’ headed by a professor.

Recently, Professor Ichikawa, a scientist who spent many years in USA as an independent medical researcher was called upon to serve as a member of the committee conducting the external audit on the Riken problem. His thought-provoking summary is aptly titled ‘Obokata Incident Opened the Japanese Pandora’s Box’ (in Japanese).

I encourage you to read it. His insights are incisive in their accuracy. I believe that ‘inconvenient truths’ such as these must not be swept under the rug but instead be dealt with responsibly by those who are in a position to do something about it.

Either we are not concentrating enough on teaching our future scientists, or we are teaching them the wrong things.

July, Gone in a Flash


I have not posted a new entry since the end of June. I apologize for the delay, I became busy with many things.

From the end of June to the beginning of July, I gave seminars for four days in a row, including over the weekend. I spoke at Mr. Takejiro Sueyoshi’s CSO Seminar, Ms Yoko Ishikura’s Global Agenda Seminar, and the Global Leadership Studies Seminar at International Christian University(ICU). Including the Q&A sessions, the longer seminars lasted over three hours. It was great to see many energetic, young people.

I also took part in the MIT Media Lab @ Tokyo 2014 at Toranomon Hills. I also attended the award ceremony of the 2014 L’Oreal – UNESCO For Women in Science Japan Award (1) at the official residence of the French Ambassador, among others.

At the end of July, I visited Paris for a meeting with the OECD. It was part of the World Dementia Council, which I reported on in April and began in London. I had half a day off so I went to see the Orangerie Museum.

As many unexpected things happened, the summer has become quite busy.

The One year anniversary of the GHIT


The GHIT is an acronym for the Global Health Innovation Technology Fund, the first of its kind where the public and the private sector join hands in order to tackle global health issues. It was started a year ago, on June 1st.

So, what’s so special about it? I believe it is the fact that this initiative provides a structure where it is possible to supplement the strengths of Japan by dealing with its weaknesses. The strengths I am referring to here are the core technologies and chemical compounds that Japanese pharmaceutical companies have to offer the world, but which are still ‘seeds’ requiring nurturing.

On the other hand, the internal obstacles which mire efforts to make these strengths viable and competitive on the world stage are the so-called weaknesses. These include the limiting of hiring to only people straight out of college, an organisational structure that arranges itself on the basis of seniority rather than ability. The failure to encourage a corporate culture that embraces opposing views and constructive criticism is another reason why Japanese firms are lagging behind on a global scale. Put simply, there is a problem with a certain mindset that the Japanese organisation has.

Another thing that makes GHIT unique is its funding structure. Five large pharmaceutical companies make an initial investment over a span of 5 years, the Gates Foundation matches this amount, and the Japanese government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare matches the total investment of these two, meaning that taxes paid by Japanese citizens also comes into play.

Although I had not been involved in the setting up of this unique schema I was asked to be the representative director and chair in the final stages. The reason why I was asked to do so, as any one who regularly visits my site may surmise, is the fact that the GHIT is international in nature. The board of trustees and the auditing body is composed half of Japanese and half of non-Japanese members, with representatives appointed by the Gates Foundation also included within the council members.

This setup, as keen readers may also have noticed, is slightly different from the more conventional Japanese approach of public-private-academic partnership, in the sense that the Gates Foundation is involved, lending the whole undertaking more open to the world.

The team put together under GHIT has worked hard and the efforts have paid off; there has been tremendous progress in its first year, I believe. The activities of the GHIT have been reported overseas in papers like The Economist, The Lancet, and the Financial Times.

The meeting of the Board of Trustees was held in Tokyo, June 6th, one year after its inception.. The review from the council members was also very positive.

After the evening reception, I went to Haneda. I was on my way to San Francisco.

Okinawa OIST, followed by Asian Pacific Congress of Nephrology


I was on a flight to Okinawa via Narita from Los Angeles. Reached Naha Airport at around half past ten at night, from where an hour’s taxi ride took me to my hotel in Onna village.

The next day, I attended the meeting of the board members at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), an institute that is a rare entity in Japan, completely open to the world.

I was also able to attend the opening of the very interesting and wonderful ‘Sketches of Sciences’ display presented by the Nobel Museum.

This display was a work by Volker Steger, and we got an intimate look into his creative insights. Of the 50 people Steger had worked with, one was Tim Hunt, and he was right there in the room with us as he is a member of the board of OIST. This added a new dimension to the already engaging display.

The Nobel Museum started the ‘Cultures of Creativity’ series in 2001 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize. Incidentally, the first travelling exhibition was held in Tokyo and was opened in the presence of Princess Takamado. I also remember having been involved in the capacity of vice-president of the Science Council of Japan, helping them to host a commemorative symposium in the Yasuda Hall of Tokyo University (an in-depth special program was made by NHK featuring this event).

I had a pleasant conversation with the current director, Olov Amelin. We reminisced about past events, and also talked about Dr. Lindqvist (in Japanese), the previous curator of the museum.

The next day, after finishing off some business in the morning, I headed for Tokyo. I was very anxious when I heard that that the flight would be delayed, but I was able to make it on time to deliver my keynote speech at the Asian Pacific Congress of Nephrology. Here, I met up with old friends from all across Asia. Time flew by as we spent a time that was tinged with nostalgia.

During the three days of this congress, I was able to take part in various ‘extra-curricular’ activities and spent a lot of time dining out with our guests from abroad, including some friends from Taiwan.

To Abu Dhabi and Her Highness of Qatar’s Visit to Japan


I arrived in Abu Dhabi on April 20th to take part in the Board Members’ meeting and graduation ceremony at Khalifa University. There are 350 students graduating this year. This university specializes in science and technology and is attracting many bright students.

The graduation ceremony took place at the Emirates Palace. The President of Khalifa University, Tod Laursen has held his position for four years and will see his first cohort of students graduate. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi was also present at the ceremony. Each student was handed the graduation certificate individually, signifying the significance and thought that went into the graduation.

I departed Dubai late that evening, or rather the next morning, at 3am and landed in Kansai Airport. Her Highness Moza of Qatar was visiting Japan and I joined the Qatar Foundation that day. The next day, I visited Kyoto University and joined Her Highness Moza’s tour of Shinya Yamanaka’s iPS Research Center. The next day, I joined their visit to Riken in Kobe and met with Chairman Noyori and went to the signing ceremony.

Japan’s relations with Abu Dhabi and Qatar have been centered on oil and gas but in these past ten years, mainly through the field of scientific research, efforts have been made for greater cooperation in human resources training. At the beginning of this year, there were several events held at Tokyo University between the main heads of the universities in Abu Dhabi and Japanese universities. In March, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi made a visit to Japan. During his stay, he visited the Tokai University Korin campus and spoke with Vice President Yasuhiro Yamashita regarding more interaction through judo as well as the joint development of solar cars.

Encouraging greater cooperation with the Middle East regarding human resource development is a wonderful thing for Japanese government and businesses, which tend to think of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates only in terms of business relations.

It is a challenge for not only Japan, but for all countries to develop individuals who can understand and reach out across the world.

Japanese universities should also build on their own unique strengths and have greater interaction and cooperation with the world.

December: Many Meetings and Busy Days


Following the seminar by Dr. Garrett on December 2nd, the Global Conference on Universal Health Coverage, organized by the World Bank and the Japanese government (1), was held on the 5th and 6th.

President Jim Yong Kim gave an excellent key note speech, and I had the opportunity to speak with him. At the time when President Kim worked at the World Health Organization (WHO), I was the WHO Commissioner, so we knew each other indirectly.

On the afternoon of the 6th, I went to Tokai University where I was Dean of Medical School (1996-2002) for the first time in in last few years and gave a special seminar. On the 7th, there was a conference at the University of Tokyo, hosted by the Graduate School of Public Policy, with the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident. The moderator was Mr. Nobuo Tanaka, a leading figure in international energy policy.

On the 9th, I had lunch at the French Embassy with Ambassador Philippe Meunier, who is the ambassador in charge of measures against AIDS and Communicable Diseases.

On the 11th, there was a meeting hosted by the Health and Global Policy Institute and held at the international conference center in the Parliament, which welcomed Governor Patrick of Massachusetts of the United States. Professor John Hamalka of Harvard University also participated via Skype. This turned out to be an outstanding conference and the governor seemed very satisfied. In the evening, there was a reception at the US Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Kennedy, there were many people there and it was a bit hectic.

On the 12th and 13th, I attended the Asian Innovation Forum with Mr. Idei, which I have already written about.

On the 14th, I headed to Abu Dhabi. There was a board members meeting of Khalifa University of Science and Technology (KUSTAR) in Abu Dhabi, there I had spent a few days just three weeks ago.

In the afternoon of  the 15th after a break upon arrival, the President of KUSTAR gave a presentation to the three international board members, and the next day, 16th, the board members meeting had a good discussion and future planning.

After lunch, I enjoyed playing some golf at the wonderful Yas Links course, and then headed to the airport.

I returned Tokyo on 17th. After arriving home, I rested a bit and then in the evening had dinner with Erik Solheim at the Embassy of Norway. Mr. Solheim aimed to be a politician since his youth, has been a minister, and has contributed significant work as a Cabinet member of the Government and the world in peace keeping mission of Sri Lanka.

It has been very busy month, but I have been able to enjoy meeting many incredible people.

Seminar by Laurie Garrett


Dr. Laurie Garrett is an incredible individual who is currently a Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. We had the opportunity of having her come to GRIPS during her one week stay in Japan. She has an amazing career, starting out as a researcher in biology and going on to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

She expresses and writes on Global Health that are based on her work in the field, and I first started to work with her after her 2007 Foreign Affairs paper. As you can see in the photograph in this blog post, she highly respects Nelson Mandela, who passed away recently, and she even has a life size replica of Nelson Mandela in her room.

She kindly agreed to be a jury member to select the winner of Noguchi Hideyo Africa Prize in 2008 (and in 2013) when I was the Chairman. I was grateful to have her on the committee as her opinions are based on observations from the field and deep judgment.

This made me remember something that happened when I was at the Davos World Economic Forum. When I introduced Ms. Sadako Ogata to her, she started to shed tears. I asked what happened and she replied that she respects Dr Ogata so much that she could not help but be moved to tears.

Around fifty people were at her seminar at GRIPS and it was very well received. Afterwards, many people sent emails to me expressing their thanks.

The seminar was based on the her recent article “Biology’s Brave New World: The Promise and Perils of the Synbio Revolution”.

There are also the following her interviews/articles on the Council on Foreign Relations

1) Staying Safe in a Biology Revolution

2) Making the New Revolutions in Biology Safe

3) H5N1; A Case Study for Dual-Use Search

It is difficult to predict where biotech will go from here. However, what can be said is that ICT, nano, bio will keep moving forward and that humankind will move towards Singularity1).

One wonders what kind of world we will be in the future.

Abroad in November -3: To Abu Dhabi


The Etihad flight took off from Narita at night, taking me to Abu Dhabi. I was going to attend the Global Agenda Council (GAC) that was being hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

It is already around my 6th year attending this council. Just like last time, I was staying at the magnificent Yas Viceroy Hotel. The council was to meet in a conference room adjacent to the venue of the recently held F1 races.

Until late in the evening, I was kept busy with my work, as I visited Khalifa Univesrity of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR) where I am currently a trustee. I mainly met with various people in relation to this post. As my work was starting to wind up, news came in that the plane due to leave Narita and fly in early the next morning with many of the delegates from Japan on it had suffered from mechanical failure and had been cancelled. I took the opportunity to have a relaxed meal with my local friends.

One of the co-chairs of the hosting side of this GAC was Nasser Al Sowaidi, the chairman of the Department of Economic Development who I had met earlier in March, and I exchanged some greetings with him.

On the second day, I was the chair for the Japan Council and I used the opportunity to hold talks with the China and Korea Councils, as well as the Council for ASEAN. On the third day, I was a panelist in a discussion where the panelists first discussed the topic in question, before the floor was divided up into groups and talked about the pros and cons, after which we had the Q&A sessions. It was a very enjoyable program.

The group which was delayed because of the cancelled flight reached a day later. Although they weren’t able to participate in the full program, they must have been tired. But they seemed fine as well.

Details about this delayed group can be found on Yoko Ishikura’s blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). As one may surmise from her entries, she is super-busy, yet she manages to find the energy and time to make entries in her blog. I am really awed by her passion.

At night, I met up with Ikuo Okamoto (Wikipedia page in Japanese) after a long time, and along with Jun Murai and Inakage of Keio University, we went to the Emirate Palace for dinner.

My stay in Abu Dhabi didn’t end there. The day after the GAC, I went to KUSTAR with Mr. Satoshi Sato, who had worked with me on the NAIIC. We gave a seminar on focused on the work on the NAIIC and the current affairs surrounding nuclear energy to an audience keen to know more, for UAE is currently building nuclear power plants. Many people in nuclear power-related organizations of UAE were in attendance, and the seminar was a lively one.

I would like to note that the Abu Dhabi government is pinning high hopes on KUSTAR. This I gathered from the plans I was told about after my talk. After dinner, I headed to the airport, from where I finally started on my way home. A long trip that started in New York finally coming to an end!

Abroad in November -2: From NYC on to KL


Flew in to Narita from New York City (NYC). Sent off all the winter clothing that I had used in NY to my home before changing onto a Singapore Airlines flight, A380. This was the first time that I would be in a Suite; unlike the Emirates’s first class, there was no shower in Suite but the private cabin was wonderful.

Reached Changi Airport at half past three in the morning, then a transit to a flight around six in the morning bound for Kuala Lumpur. I had a meeting at ten.

The meeting was being held to iron out the details of the cooperation agreement that had been outlined in San Francisco, and it took a last-gasp effort to get the agreement signed.  Although I am thankful to all those involved, there is still room for improvement.  It is important to learn to move a project forward and implement it. The experience gained through such undertakings will always turn out to be useful.

Flew back to Narita on the last flight of the day. I returned home long enough to change the contents of my suitcase before heading back to Narita in the evening to catch an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi in order to attend the Global Agenda Council hosted by the World Economic Forum.

A crazy schedule? Perhaps.

Abroad in November


I was very busy during November and I’m afraid I had not updated my blog for a while.

On the 10th of November, I flew to New York City (NYC). After arriving

in the afternoon, I met with doctors who are in clinical training  there. This time, there are about ten doctors joined this time, of which three are women and some with their children along. They are very brilliant young people. Dr. Kuwama, who is an alumnus of the program, was also present. In the evening, I went to see the Broadway musical, Wicked. This is the tenth year it has been on Broadway, and the singing of the two lead women were amazing. Considering the high quality of the performers, I can understand the level of competitiveness and cannot help but be in awe.

The next day, with three friends, I visited the Kinokuniya Bookstore, had lunch with a view of the beautiful garden of MoMA, went to see the special exhibitions of the director of MoMA, Glenn Lowry, whom with I was at the Roppongi Innovation City Forum, and saw the special exhibition of Magritte, and had dinner with the board members of the GHITFUND in preparation for the board members’ meeting the next day. The dinner took place at The River Club, the most  elite and sought after clubhouses in NYC. There are five condos that are $130 million, and Henry Kissinger is one of the current  residents. There is also a tennis court in the basement.

The next day was the first day of the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHITFUND) board members’ meeting. It was established  this past May but it is an innovative mechanism for contributions towards global health, and can be called the first Public-Private-Partnership from Japan, composed of the Japanese government, six companies, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was launched in May and I am currently serving as the Chair of the  Board.

In the afternoon, at the Japan Society,  I sat on a joint panel with the New York Academy of Sciences to introduce the GHITFUND.

After the reception, I attended a late dinner with the board members  of the GHITFUND at the Shun Lee Palace.

New York City was cold and there was even some snow.

The next day, I flew to Narita and made a transfer from there to Kuala Lumpur.