Research into fundamental science that may reap little return in the short term would be left out in the cold if national universities are incorporated under a proposed law, Nobel laureate Masatoshi Koshiba told Kyodo News recently.
“There are cases when it takes 50 or 100 years for fundamental science to achieve results,” said Koshiba, 76, joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 2002. “It would be troubling if everything is determined by whether profits will be made within five to six years.
“If (national universities) are incorporated and become financially independent, research that does not achieve returns within four to five years will unavoidably be left out in the cold,” Koshiba said. “What will happen to work in the science and literature departments?
“Fundamental science that may not achieve results must be supported at the state level. (The government) should support it continuously, regardless of the economic situation,” Koshiba said. “It will result in the increase of intellectual property that all mankind shares.”
Koshiba, who has long emphasized the importance of fundamental science, also questioned the envisioned framework of incorporated universities setting up “midterm plans” on research and education following the issuance of the education minister’s six-year “midterm goals.”
Koshiba gave the example of electrons, which were discovered in the 19th century but only developed into the major industry of electronics in the late 20th century. “There are many such cases,” he said.
“Science is to do research because of the target’s fascinating and interesting characteristics,” Koshiba said. “It will be troubling if (research) is only judged on the scale of whether it is useful or not.”
The bill for national universities to be incorporated cleared the House of Representatives in May and is now under debate in the House of Councilors. If passed, 89 national universities will be incorporated next April, with some 120,000 employees being removed from the civil servant roster.
Koshiba, honored for his contribution to confirming the existence of cosmic neutrinos by developing a gigantic underground detector called Kamiokande, also called for support for a foundation he is setting up in the field of fundamental science.
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