• Kyodo

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The head of a global academic council has urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to provide a reasonable explanation for his decision to reject the appointment of six scholars to a government advisory body.

“To ensure an open and enabling environment for science in Japan, it would be helpful for the Japanese government to respond to the requests for an explanation, and to agree to an open discussion of the matter with the (Japanese council),” said Daya Reddy, president of the International Science Council, in a recent written interview with Kyodo News.

The international council, which consists of organizations such as natural and social science unions and associations as well as national academies, is the largest global science organization of its kind, according to its website. Its activities include giving science advice to governments.

Daya Reddy | INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE COUNCIL / VIA KYODO
Daya Reddy | INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE COUNCIL / VIA KYODO

“It is important that academies and other merit-based scientific bodies be free to determine their membership and their office-bearers, be free from political or other outside interference in determining their strategies and the scope of their scientific activities,” Reddy said.

Despite requests from the Science Council of Japan for a more detailed explanation of the rejection of the six nominees among 105 scholars recommended by the council, Suga has yet to give one. The council has also asked for the six to be appointed.

The prime minister has said the members of the council must be selected bearing in mind that they are public servants with special roles, and thus must “behave in a balanced manner based on wide perspectives,” without elaborating further.

Reddy, also chair of the Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science, said, “Policymakers have an important role to play in ensuring that the conditions exist for healthy and vibrant science systems that can provide an enabling environment for science.”

He pointed out that many academies around the world receive government funding on the grounds that they are able to pursue their objectives independently, in line with the free and responsible conduct of science principles.

Opposition parties and some academics have perceived Suga’s decision as politically motivated and an attack on the council’s independence, since the blocked nominees had been critical of security and anti-conspiracy legislation adopted by his predecessor Shinzo Abe.

While Suga has denied that was the case, government sources told Kyodo News that concerns over the nominees’ stance on government policies including the security policy was a reason for the rejection.

On Wednesday, Takaaki Kajita, president of the council, submitted to Shinji Inoue, state minister in charge of science and technology, an interim report on a review of how the council operates. Inoue has said the government is likely to have “some indication of to proceed by the end of the year.”

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