Amid a number of reports about the government refusing to appoint six scholars to the Science Council of Japan based on the body's nomination, the Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the group's function and what it does.
Question: So what does the Science Council of Japan do?
Answer: In its capacity as the representative body of Japan's academics, the Science Council of Japan provides concrete policy recommendations on a number of issues to the government. The council's former President Juichi Yamagiwa, who is also former president of Kyoto University, offered a total of 85 suggestions to the government over a three-year period until the end of September.
From October the council has a new president, Takaaki Kajita, one of the recipients of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics and distinguished university professor at the University of Tokyo. Academics specializing in the humanities are also members of the council, and it also provides many suggestions on issues relating to education.
Q: What does the government do with the advice it receives?
A: It doesn't necessarily have to respond to the recommendations. But in recent years, the council has devised means to get their advice considered during policy formulations, such as by writing clearly which ministries and agencies their suggestions are aimed at. Aside from input from different subcommittees, among the means the council has to convey opinions it would like to see realized are "requests" compiled and put forth by the body as a whole, and it can also issue "advisories" as laid down in the Act on the Science Council of Japan. In cooperation with requests from the government, the council also releases reports and responses that include a collection of its views and other positions.
Q: What kind of advisories have there been up to now?
A: The most recent was in 2010, when the council pushed for social sciences and the humanities to be included among the fields eligible for promotion under the Basic Act on Science and Technology. Its aim was achieved this year, when the law was amended during a regular Diet session. In the past, the government also took the science council's recommendation into consideration when restarting Antarctic observation work that had been suspended.
Q: So their work involves providing opinions?
A: It also has an important role in building an international network with other scholars and academics. For that reason, the council is a member of over 40 international science groups, and has contributed a total of around 100 million yen (about $950,000) to them. The first usage of a Japanese area name on the Geologic timescale, Chibanian, is one example of the way in which the council has championed scientific causes and seen results; the naming was achieved through the council's membership in the International Union of Geological Sciences and personal exchanges.
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department)