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Editorial: Nobel laureate Maskawa's work to keep science an agent of peace must survive

What can a scientist do to realize a world without war? That was the question Nobel laureate and Kyoto University Professor Emeritus Toshihide Maskawa, who died recently aged 81, actively asked through his work.

    Maskawa's work on theories relating to elementary particles that make up our universe was a global success. But he also took it upon himself to wear two hats; he was deeply involved in anti-atomic arms activism and the peace movement to protect Japan's Constitution.

    In his speech upon receiving the 2008 Nobel Prize in physics, he described his research and also touched on his experiences of war.

    The kind of research that receives Nobel recognition can contribute to the development of the human race, but can also be used as a tool of war. Maskawa felt that people engaged in the sciences need to be keenly aware of this possibility.

    This philosophy was one he inherited from his time studying theoretical physics at Nagoya University under his mentor Shoichi Sakata. Maskawa's belief that "before a scientist can love their work, they must as a human love the human race" came from Sakata.

    He didn't hesitate to be political, either. When the administration of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went ahead with a controversial state secrets law and national security legislation, Maskawa opposed them as a representative for the scientific community. When Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga rejected six candidates for the Science Council of Japan, Maskawa's name was among those on a joint statement protesting the government's actions.

    It seems he was also deeply concerned about the stifled atmosphere around scientific research in recent years. A tendency to value "useful" applied research ahead of foundational research has grown more pronounced.

    The Japanese government has trimmed funding for national universities. Conversely, the Ministry of Defense has established research funding systems to support technology that can be adapted for combat applications. In the previous fiscal year, it received 120 applications for the 10-billion-yen (about $90 million) bracket.

    Maskawa raised the alarm against these trends, saying, "What's frightening is for scientists to become tamed and part of the system." In World War II, many scientists were harnessed by the military for weapons development.

    The experience that sparked Maskawa's wish for peace was watching an incendiary bomb piercing the roof of his home during the World War II bombing of Nagoya. He would also say that "as a member of the generation who knows firsthand what war is, I speak for the sake of our grandchildren's future."

    That drive has now been entrusted to young generations.

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