Nobel laureate worries about research climate in Japan

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Syukuro Manabe, the Japanese-born meteorologist at Princeton University who co-won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, blamed the lack of dialogue between scientists and policymakers for the brain drain in Japan.

Manabe, 90, is seen as a symbol of Japanese scientists who left the country for a better research environment abroad. Another example is the late Yoichiro Nambu, co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

Manabe moved to the United States after obtaining his doctorate. in meteorology from the University of Tokyo in 1958. He then obtained American citizenship.

He expressed concern that there is “less and less curiosity-driven research” in Japan than in the past.

“Curiosity drives all of my research,” Manabe said at a press conference at Princeton University on Oct. 5. “I really have fun trying to figure out climate change, although it’s not too easy.”

The comments came amid a political debate over the allocation of research funding.

Speaking about his decision to move to the United States, he said scientists can pursue whatever they really want to study there.

He said he has access to all the computer equipment he needs to conduct his research.

Manabe said there is a disconnect between policymakers and researchers in Japan. He called on them to think more about how they can better “communicate with each other” to improve the national research environment.

Manabe was the 28th Nobel laureate of Japanese origin and the 19th in the field of natural sciences since the beginning of this century. Japan is just behind the United States in natural science awards.

But concerns have been raised in recent years about a decline in Japan’s research prowess.

This year, Japan fell to a world record of 10th in a ranking of the most cited scientific articles between 2017 and 2019, according to a Japanese government institute.

The report landed as Akira Fujishima, chemist and honorary professor at Tokyo University of Science, considered a potential Nobel Prize nominee, prepares to establish a research base in China, which has overtaken the United States. for the first time in the same ranking.

Experts fear that if the Japanese government continues to direct more and more funding towards applied research rather than basic research, this could prompt more scientists to seek opportunities elsewhere and possibly leave Japan.

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