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Editorial: 6 months on, Japan science council appointment refusal issue still in limbo

The Science Council of Japan has released a draft outline for organizational reforms that it has formulated upon the government's request.

    The government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party have called upon the science body to consider transforming itself into one completely independent from government agencies. The science council, however, concluded that its current form as Japan's representative academic organization is the most desirable way forward. The government should respect the draft plan.

    The government's calls for the science council to reform came after it surfaced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had refused to appoint six nominated scholars as new council members last autumn, sparking a public backlash. The reform request was condemned as the government's attempt to shift the focus of the problem to fend off public criticism.

    Though the science council has repeatedly asked the government to appoint the six scholars to the body, Prime Minister Suga has not responded even six months after the issue came to light.

    About 10% of seats in the council's Section I for humanities and social sciences remain vacant due to the appointment rejection. If the seats are left unfilled, that could impact the council's activities for coordinating policy proposals and other work.

    For this reason, the science council decided to name five of the six unappointed scholars as affiliate members or specially appointed affiliate members -- for which the prime ministerial appointment is unnecessary.

    It was an act of desperation amid the poor prospects of the six being formally appointed to the council anytime soon. The science council describes the move as a stopgap, and says it will continue to demand Suga appoint the six researchers to the council.

    All of this reveals that the fundamental problem has yet to be resolved.

    One of the six scholars, University of Tokyo professor Yoko Kato, opted not to take up the specially appointed affiliate membership, so that the appointment rejections and how they unfolded would "be remembered by history."

    The scholars who accepted affiliate memberships have also reportedly voiced a sense of discomfort over the appointment refusal issue being left unresolved.

    The science council has complied with the government request by putting together a draft reform proposal. It is now the turn of Prime Minister Suga to respond to the council's request.

    The law establishing the Science Council of Japan stipulates that its members shall be appointed by the prime minister based on the council's recommendations. Prime Minister Suga bears the responsibility to resolve this anomalous state, where six council seats are still vacant.

    The prime minister initially reiterated that he made the decision to refuse the appointment of the six scholars "from a comprehensive and panoramic viewpoint." When he was grilled over the issue in a TV program, he replied defiantly, "There are things I can and cannot explain." If he is unable to fulfill his accountability to the public, he shouldn't have taken such action in the first place.

    Unless the science council's activities are put back on the right track, Japan's national interests could be undermined. For Prime Minister Suga to continue to leave this abnormal state of affairs unattended, and without providing specific reasons for refusing the appointments, is unacceptable. He must appoint the six academics to the council right away.

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