Over the past several weeks I have received many emails from all over the world asking me if reports about government plans to pull the plug on humanities and social sciences departments at Japanese national universities are accurate or just a bad joke. At this point it's not clear exactly what the government intends.

It is mind-boggling to these overseas observers that Japan would embrace ignorance as a recipe for nurturing educational excellence, the ostensible aim of a new reform initiative announced this past June. Overseas researchers are alarmed that this hollowing-out of higher education will adversely affect their research in Japan and stifle intellectual inquiry about subjects the rest of the world still holds in high esteem.

Can Japan really catapult more of its universities into the top 100 world rankings by gutting the study of subjects that constitute the core of universities' traditional mission? There is a risk that rather than improving Japan's mediocre universities, the education ministry's foray may make it the global punchline for jokes about educational reform. It is hard to imagine that scrapping the study of humanities and social sciences at Japan's national universities will bring any tangible benefits, while the downside could well be staggering. This anti-intellectual salvo from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government fits into a larger pattern of dumbing down education, promoting patriotism and stifling dissent.