THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
October 7, 2021 at 16:46 JST
Syukuro Manabe speaks at a news conference at Princeton University on Oct. 5 after he was named as a co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. (Roku Goda)
Syukuro Manabe, the Japanese-born meteorologist at Princeton University who co-won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, blamed a lack of dialogue between scientists and policymakers for Japan’s brain drain.
Manabe, 90, is seen as a symbol of the Japanese scientists who left the country for a better research environment overseas. Another example is the late Yoichiro Nambu, a co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
Manabe moved to the United States after receiving his Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Tokyo in 1958. He later obtained U.S. citizenship.
He said he is concerned there is “less and less curiosity-driven research” in Japan than in the past.
“Curiosity is the thing that drives all my research activity,” Manabe said at a news conference at Princeton University on Oct. 5. “I really have great fun in trying to understand climate change, although it is not too easy.”
The comments came amid a policy debate over allocation of research funding.
Speaking about his decision to move to the United States, he said scientists can pursue what they really want to study there.
He said he has access to all the computational equipment he needs to conduct his research.
Manabe said there is a disconnect between policymakers and researchers in Japan. He called on them to give more thought to how they can better “communicate with each other” to improve the domestic research environment.
Manabe was the 28th Japanese-born Nobel laureate and 19th in the field of natural science since the beginning of this century. Japan is second only to 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 dropped to a record-low 10th in the world in a ranking of highly cited scientific papers between 2017 and 2019, according to a Japanese government institute.
The report landed as Akira Fujishima, a chemist and honorary professor at Tokyo University of Science who is seen as a potential candidate for the Nobel Prize, prepares to establish a base of research in China, which overtook the United States for the first time in the same ranking.
Experts fear that if the Japanese government continues to increasingly direct funding toward applied research rather than fundamental research, that could prompt more scientists to seek opportunities elsewhere and eventually leave Japan.
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