New governments mean changes of the status quo. Even if the last government assured you of X, the new one might tell you tomorrow, “not X”.
Japan has been under a new government since September of this year. And as is the case for so many governments all around the world, it is now contemplating severe funding cuts for – yes, you guessed it: fundamental research.
Because fundamental research is useless, right? No direct applications, right? No one will see in a country’s overall economic and technological performance that they saved a bunch of money on science, right?
Wrong! Maybe you don’t see it today or tomorrow. But you will see it, trust me. Do I really have to say things like laser technology (you probably own a CD or DVD player, right?), GPS, etc.? Because the laser is an outcome of quantum mechanics no one dreamed of when quantum mechanics was founded, and GPS technology actually needs Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity for its precise calculations of location. Any country who fails to attract brain and to invest into fundamental research will end up missing out on some future development that we can’t foresee now.
When IPMU was founded as part of the WPI Initiative, I thought, “Wow! See how Japan is leading the way in fundamental science, now, in a time when all these short-sighted decisions to cut money for fundamental research happen all over the world!” I thought this was an extremely positive signal. And IPMU was able to attract a lot of extremely good brain, to the loss of other countries who did not offer them good opportunities to do their research. Now this exemplary project is in danger.
What will happen if our funding is cut? IPMU cannot continue to attract top-level researchers. And for those of us already here, life will become harder, other places will become more attractive. What’s great about IPMU is that if we tell our director “I need to fly to [insert far-away oversea place] to attend a conference/talk to my collaborator“, we know he will say yes. Our costs will be paid for. That’s what we need to do our work. We need to talk to smart people, we need to collaborate. We need to make our results public. And while the internet is great, we need to talk to our collaborators and contacts in person once in a while. And this costs money, especially if you are in Japan and the others are overseas. We all had friends (or have maybe done it ourselves) who had to stay at the Youth Hostel during a conference because their department couldn’t give them proper travel support. Well, if you need to fly in from Japan, being ready to share a room with ten strangers and only eating sandwiches will not get you far. If your department can’t support you, it just means you’re not going. And this means that your chances for success in an academic career just went down significantly.
But it’s not too late yet. No decisions have yet been taken. Our director believes that letters sent to the Japanese Ministry of Education stressing the importance of a well-functioning institution like IPMU for Japanese research might still turn things around. We have written letters ourselves. We have contacted our colleagues and collaborators abroad. Most of them have been very good about it and promised to write, because they understand the importance of having institutions like IPMU for the entire field. Maybe you want to write, too.
Please send your message to
nak-got “at” mext.go.jp
with the subject line
No. 14, WPI
You don’t need to be a scientist to do this. Feedback by anyone is useful!