politics

Scholars decry Suga's academic panel rejections

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI

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The council, set up in 1949, has repeatedly opposed military technology research at universities, most recently in 2017. Its objections to government funding for such research is contrary to efforts by Suga's predecessor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to build up Japan’s military capability.

This is not just a Japanese trend, around the world most research institutes are becoming more and more careful about "dual use" technology and the importance of not supporting military advances when their mission is to help peaceful purposes. Ethically this is as important as protecting the vulnerable population from being abused during research or avoiding large scale ecological destruction with the indiscriminate release of genetically modified life forms.

It is not surprising that hundreds of academic groups reject this badly made and yet completely unjustified decision. Seeing the huge political cost this is having for his government you just have to wonder how this is still better than just do the right thing (either give a proper, valid justification or just take back the rejections). Its almost as if this was the main reason he was let into his current position.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

He is the PM, so he is upping the auntie "his word is law" he doesn't have to listen to better educated people, they are very confusing for him. It's a sad indictment on the leadership of Japan.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

"Uncle Reiwa", in his new guise as the power-wielding PM, is a different "munchkin" from the "strawberry-picking peasant" from Akita. "He/She Who Must Be Obeyed" is the self-styled title of all Asian autocrats and woe to any intellectuals who question the principle of "L’État, c’est moi!". Even in 21st century Japan democratic values have their limits when talk of checks and balances on the exercise of power is put on the table.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Japanese media keeps beating this dead horse.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

I like how the article says many Japanese. Like AP speaks for the majority of Japanese people. I talk to many Japanese and they know that these articles are bull, and it's because the academics that were nominated had ties to projects to china, helping Chinese get military technology. But the media twist into something else.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Sounds like Suga is trying to pull a Trump; "swear loyalty to me if you want this job."

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Many Japanese, especially academics, are wary of the potential for the abuse of power given the country’s history of militarism and anti-communist campaigns after World War II.

In fact many Japanese academics/professionals are wary of such political activists who never lead or represent Japan's entire academic circle.

Their intelligence is also tested or called into question when they always liken Suga, his predecessor Abe or anyone in ruling power to Hitler.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

“Political interference over the council membership destroys the principle of academic freedom,” Masanori Okada, a law professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and one of the six scholars, said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Rejected Candidate Okada, I find it most concerning that you were unable or unwilling to say anything about why On the Merits you should have been selected, but instead wish to claim that you must be selected no matter what.

Further, I can already tell Rejected Candidate Okada that his claim will likely fail in court should he choose to file suit. While 1975 (Gyo-Tsu) 120 decided 1978.10.04 is mostly remembered for its effect on foreigners, it has also expressed an opinion about the use of Discretionary Powers in an Establishing Act - Constitutional protections do not go as far as denying the statutorily-established power of the responsible officer to take the totality of the circumstances and make a free discretion decision as to whether or not to make the Establishing Act. Legal actions that nevertheless are not to the benefit of Japan can compose part of the reason to deny the benefits of the Establishing Act.

This lack of comprehensive analysis is by itself sufficient to cause doubt as to your qualifications as a law professor fit to take the Science Council of Japan, the nominally highest academy in the land...

Takaaki Matsumiya, a Ritsumeikan University law professor and one of those rejected, told the news conference that Suga reinterpreted Article 15 of the constitution regarding appointments of public servants “in a way he can appoint or dismiss any public servants just as he wishes."

“I find this extremely dangerous,” he said.

Rejected Candidate Matsumiya has not explained why it is necessary to bring the constitution into this. The Prime Minister just executed his statutory powers. The objection is more emotional than logical and is in itself a reason to cause doubt as to the qualifications.

The council, set up in 1949, has repeatedly opposed military technology research at universities, most recently in 2017. Its objections to government funding for such research is contrary to efforts by Suga's predecessor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to build up Japan’s military capability.

Should it not be the people, rather than a bunch of academics that decide whether university research should include military technology, and also technology which can also (or even primarily) benefit civilian use?

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

Bravo! Kazuaki. Do you have a blog or youtube channel. Very articulate!

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

@Kazuaki Shimazaki,

You cannot be serious! You really want the people to decide who should be a member of the National Academy. I hope you are aware that you are talking about science here not about popularity.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

@Crashpilot Today 12:41 pm JST

I said that it should be the people who decide whether University research (at least partially sponsored by taxpayer money, BTW) should allow for dual-use or military technology, not a bunch of ivory-tower academics. Especially since they clearly are not NEARLY as concerned about the possibility of dual-use technology in China.

As far as appointments are concerned, I don't object to the idea of nominations by the academics. I do object to the notion that the Prime Minister's power to appoint is necessarily limited to one of formality (as in, it doesn't exist). I also object to people necessarily thinking that there is an abuse of power here when the Disqualified are showing their lack of qualification even in their whines to the media.

If Okada or Matsumiya were for example physics specialists, I might accept that level of argumentation on an area they claim no expertise in. But they claim to be legal experts, and their argumentation plain doesn't give me the vibe they are on that level. Thus ironically their answers give credence to Suga's decision.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Wham! Shimazaki. Killing it!

If the academics want to choose who they want, why don't the become independent from the government and stop taking taxpayer money. I'm sure they can get funding from other NGOs.

I also really don't see the use for this organization as it is just a relic from after WW2 which was needed for a recovering Japan.

It seems rather that these academics are just title hunting so they can impress their friends in their academic circles.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Should academics cooperate with the government to develop new weaponry and hence for arms buildup? The Japan Science Council was founded in 1949 by leading scientists at the time out of deep reflection of their war-time cooperation with the government.

The catch is the Council is government-funded and may not be free from governmental interference.

In the U.S., there seems no similar body to Japan Science Council, but individual researchers freely contract with the DoD and get research funds for arms development.  A military-academic complex must be stemmed before it grows too big in either country.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@virusrexToday 09:50 pm JST

The candidate is not the one that should justify his selection, is the council, and for that is necessary first for Suga to explain what reasons he have for the rejection.

A question that needs to be asked here is how much legal obligation is there for Suga to justify his decision, at least at this point in the game.

As an example, how much would you like, as an employer, to be forced to explain the individual factual reasons for rejecting each applicant. Not for firing them, hiring them.

If Suga is not obliged to justify his decision, or it is unclear that he's required to, then it makes sense for Suga to not prematurely set a precedent by providing an un-necessary justification or making a more extensive justification than he is required to.

As a general principle, "victims" of an administrative act (or refusal to make one) can ask for administrative review of the decision, and in the process they can obtain an Explanation as required by Article 29 of the relevant law. Of course, they can also file to have the decision judicially reviewed, and in the process the defendant will have to provide at least some sort of explanation.

Now, candidates do NOT decide what is what the government do, they advice and check, and their work is to oppose measures they judge to be against what the government itself says should be done.

This account seems to greatly underestimate the real power of the council:

From: https://japan-forward.com/speaking-out-the-science-council-of-japan-should-protect-academic-freedom/

There is a case symbolizing the rejection. Hokkaido University applied in fiscal 2016 for the ministry’s security technology research promotion program, and the ministry adopted a study proposed by the university’s professor, Dr. M (academic field: fluid mechanics) for covering a ship’s bottom with fine bubbles to reduce navigation resistance. The epoch-making study would cut fuel consumption by 10%, not only for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, but also for private sector tankers and ships. 

In its statement on March 24, 2017, however, the SCJ criticized the study as a military research. The virtual pressure from the SCJ led the university to withdraw the study from the Ministry of Defense program in 2018.

They are not exactly harmless advisors.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

This is like modern version McCarthyism of Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

A question that needs to be asked here is how much legal obligation is there for Suga to justify his decision, at least at this point in the game.

This is an action that is costing popularity to the prime minister, at this point is developing into a snowball, the not justifying the decision is what is making the cost so high. It makes absolutely no sense to spend so much political capital just to "not send a precedent", specially because rejecting the nominations is the one that is setting a precedence. Saying that a justification is not necessary is ignoring a terribly clear political reality. Popularity is extremely expensive, and he just used a lot of it just to be able to reject scientific nominations for a council without being able to even give a reason.

Defending against this decision, justifying the nominations requires these reason, else the defense can simply say the prime minister is infringing academic freedom and it will be true by default.

He is not just any employer, he is administrating public resources and rejected to confirm members of a council meant to keep an ethical control of its government. The public see this as an abuse. Your problem is thinking that anything legal is also free to do. I never said it was illegal, I said it was necessary.

They are not exactly harmless advisors.

They are not meant to be harmless, their role is to criticize anything that is judged contrary to what has been agreed to be done about resseach. Precisely because to exert pressure (not approve, not decide) about research is their role. The government wants to research without justifying itself against the organism made precisely to do that, but keeping the council so it can pretend to be still ethically bound by them. That is invalid, like removing any kind of penalties from the laws punishing political corruption.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@virusrexToday 06:13 am JST

First, precedents are extremely long-term things, so to leap into setting one to avoid short-term political pressure is doing everyone a disservice.

Second, it is not clear that the prime minister "deserves" to lose this popularity, at least in this set of cases. As far as can be seen, he has not committed any procedural violations. His decision is also not manifestly unreasonable - if anything, the lack of analysis and balance on the part of the "victims" cause a reasonable, third party observer to have manifest doubts as to their suitability. The screaming seems more political and/or ideological than on grounds of legality and rationality.

Ignoring the long term costs of precedent setting, it is extremely far from clear that ANY explanation will reduce the backlash appreciably. The objection is a mix of political posturing and ideological, and thus is not rational.

He is not just any employer, he is administrating public resources and rejected to confirm members of a council meant to keep an ethical control of its government.

The wording of the law allows him to "appoint", not only "confirm" the members of the council.

第七条 日本学術会議は、二百十人の日本学術会議会員(以下「会員」という。)をもつて、これを組織する。

2 会員は、第十七条の規定による推薦に基づいて、内閣総理大臣が任命する。

If you consider the legislative history of the relevant law, before the 80s, the members of the council were elected, with zero involvement by the government. An objective view of the legislative history would argue the legislators have decided to allow at least the possibility of a veto by the government, and he has just used it.

They are not meant to be harmless, their role is to criticize anything that is judged contrary to what has been agreed to be done about research.

And it is their role to be rational and scientific about such objections, rather than making objections without considering realities. For example, the law explicitly says in its Preamble:

日本学術会議は、科学が文化国家の基礎であるという確信に立つて、科学者の総意の下に、わが国の平和的復興、人類社会の福祉に貢献し、世界の学界と提携して学術の進歩に寄与することを使命とし、ここに設立される。

Note the part about 人類社会の福祉に貢献 (contribute to the welfare of human society). Objectively speaking, technology to cut fuel consumption by ships does that, won't you say? They objected anyway and caused the program to be terminated, did they?

They cannot complain about the other parts of government playing their legislatively-allocated cards to counter such abuses of power.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

First, precedents are extremely long-term things, so to leap into setting one to avoid short-term political pressure is doing everyone a disservice.

Which is why it would have been better to accept the nominations. In comparison giving the obviously needed justification to avoid the debacle that is happening right now is a much less important one.

Of course he deserves the drop in popularity, this measure was obviously going to have that cost if not made with proper justification, so either this is the price he was willing to pay (maybe because of hidden deals?) or he is deeply unprepared for the job he is supposed to do and did not predict this outcome.

His decision of not offering any explanation causes third part observed to understand there is no such thing (different from just the obviously invalid one). A valid, good explanation should be a huge remedy to this, but since he does not have such an explanation (not based on just having the power to silence criticism).

Appoint or confirm is irrelevant for this, he did not do the selection, the people being selected are not the ones that have to justify the selection ether. And the possibility of a veto is not the problem, using it in an apparently irrational way to defeat the whole purpose of the council is what is costing the PM.

And it is their role to be rational and scientific about such objections, rather than making objections without considering realities. For example, the law explicitly says in its Preamble:

Sure, and that would have a good argument, if he was to use it and specially defend it against the opinion of the council (that obviously is opposite) that would be the academic discussion minimally expected from such a precedent setting decision. Both the council and the members are in the opinion that their work is contributing to the welfare of human society. In the modern word having a strict control of dual-purpose technologies, the same as ethical treatment of human and animal experimentation or taking care of not destroying biodiversity by genetically modified organisms is a huge part of the guidance that science needs to actually improve humans lives.

Having a coronavirus vaccine in a couple months would be a very nice development right? but is that enough to simply ignore ethical considerations and force test it in humans including causing the death of some of the subjects? Having proper ethical control of the science is much more important than any specific advancement, Japan is now trying to go back a few decades of progress.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

virusrex Today 02:20 pm JST

Which is why it would have been better to accept the nominations.

I think you need to think hard about why you chose this argument, recognizing clearly whether you are debating facts or the law. If you are objecting because you quietly feel they deserve to be appointed On the Merits, then you are arguing Facts. If you think maybe the Prime Minister could be right that they don't deserve to be appointed, but they should be anyway, you are arguing Law. Which is it, and why?

Of course he deserves the drop in popularity, this measure was obviously going to have that cost...

That's an argument that the drop was foreseeable, which is different from arguing he deserved the drop.

His decision of not offering any explanation causes third part observed to understand there is no such thing

Said 3rd party is being prejudicial. A fair third party, in my opinion, should in such a case be an inquisitor by looking at the immediately available evidence and considering whether the accused has a case to answer, before burdening them with the duty to reply.

Appoint or confirm is irrelevant for this, he did not do the selection, the people being selected are not the ones that have to justify the selection ether.

Yet they have decided to protest with a purported justification anyway, and in that justification along with their past works gives us information to assess their level. You might have the right to maintain silent, but if you speak, it might just go against you

And the possibility of a veto is not the problem, using it in an apparently irrational way to defeat the whole purpose of the council is what is costing the PM.

Wait, wait, wait. I think you've finally managed to come to the crux of your own objection. Why is it irrational or why would it defeat the "whole purpose of the council" if we accept (as seems superficially plausible based on the "victims" own statements) that maybe these candidates just aren't very good.

In the modern word having a strict control of dual-purpose technologies

They are not so much having a "strict control" of dual-purpose technologies as banning any kind of dual purpose technology. And we have to, in any case, have a regard to whether the argument is rational or ideological, or whether the council is actually itself crushing academic freedom.

To my mind, a political scientist (such as a jurist, as most of the "victims" this round seem to be) is free to take any position under the principle of academic freedom. Certainly, I agree to penalize them on the mere basis of them having an anti-governmental position, even to the extent of denying them an Establishing Act, is unjustified.

However, this is only true to the extent their views are made with a scientific, reasoned basis with due consideration of the strength of the opposing argument. Otherwise, the argument has no more value than that of the opinion of a housewife, except while we don't ignore the opinion of the housewife nor do we grace it with the weight we give to an "authority". An opinion by an authority made without said reasoned basis is an abuse of trust.

Compared with them making an anti-governmental position, the bigger problem, at least as far as I can see, is that the arguments are not reasoned or balanced to the extent we might expect from an expert. I claim no degree in the law, only a greater interest and knowledge than the regular layman, yet you can hopefully see I'm already taking into account of more legal factors than they are.

With due notice that any decisions to deny a natural right should be subject to stricter control, as should any revocation of even a granted right due to the reliance factor, granting of a non-natural right is free discretion and subject to a lower standard of scrutiny - one of manifest irrationality (the common law might call this Wednesbury unreasonableness). Looking at the answers of those scholars, I can hardly say the PM's decision falls under this category, nor is it clear that the decision is against the interests of the civil service or the population. At this point, he has No Case to Answer.

Moderator: Please keep your comments shorter.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

1.- The one that choose the argument of setting a precedent was you, not me, my point is only that this makes no sense because he already did set one, and a much worse than having to explain a decision that can easily be interpreted as an abuse against academic freedom, which is doing it without any valid explanation. That is like saying someone wanted to avoid accidental fires in his kitchen so he blows up the whole thing so there is nothing left to burn.

2.- The drop is foreseeable and desirable, politicians perceived as abusing their power should have political consequences, especially when doing things without any obvious justification and without giving explanations.

3.- Being prejudicial is the only option when the PM does something against an organism made specifically to control their power. Just doing it looks terribly bad, but not giving a justification is much worse. People are entitled and justified then to take it as something negative, it is very likely something negative after all.

4.- Every single piece of research proposal can be constructed as dual-purpose very easily, if the council did a blanked ban nothing would be ever researched with government funds at any university or research institute (and obviously scientist would not support the protests against the PM, they would all be out of their jobs thanks to the council). Your comment just betray a deep ignorance about the real considerations of dual-purpose technology development. It is not as easy as you think it is.

5.- All the reasons you make could be good justifications, maybe, or they could be terribly low quality arguments easily defeated by the council experts. The only way we could know is if Suga used them (or better ones) to justify his decision. Once again, you give many reasons why he could be justified, but not even one why he should not justify his action and expect no consequences.

Saying his decision is "not clearly" against the interest of the people is precisely why it should be justified, to make it clear (If someone tells you to drink something that looks dangerous, and he tells you "it is not clear if this will poison you" you would be perfectly justified in rejecting it). Or else let the public doubt it and consume the political funds he got and later fail to implement anything else that may be unpopular.

Look at it this way. If in a company something wrong was discovered thanks to whistleblowers, someone has to stop doing it but the rest of the company is happy it stopped. Then a new management comes and fires every single one of the whistleblowers and nobody else, it would look really bad. The firing could be justified by many perfectly valid reasons, but the obvious one is a bad one. The new management team, if it was competent, would justify their reasons properly and avoid negative consequences, but if it says "we fired them because we can" it would not be surprising nor unjustified that everybody else think that they intend to do wrong things and are pre-emptively taking care of the opposition to do it without hindrance, or that they are terribly incompetent and better if out of these jobs.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

virusrexToday 08:48 am JST

He certainly set one there. I just point out there are valid reasons he does not want to set one where the government forced to justify a non-hire decision.

Not when they are defensibly NOT abusing their power. The only reason you have for suspecting such is that they happen to have anti-governmental positions, when it can just as easily be due to a lack of balanced consideration.

Yet the will of the legislator (discernable by comparing it versus the previous version) is that he is allowed to do so.

Why don't you discuss the concrete example already brought up, to explain why it is proper to shut down that application?

Well, they'll have to up their game by putting out better arguments then, would they?

Let's talk about an actual event. Right now, in HK there have been a number of firings against recommendations of teachers and professors. The political aim is quite apparent (in fact, they are confessing such on TV)...

On the other hand, there is this teacher who tried to teach his students that the Opium War was because the British wanted to help China to be free of drugs. Ha ha ha, new one on me. If they fire that one, regardless of any political motives, we will have to concede it is a valid shot.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Those are not valid reasons, he can choose which precedent to set.

-take a measure that is widely seen as an abuse of his power to censor criticism.

-take a measure that is controversial but with a solid explanation that justifies it.

Those are his only two choices at the moment, if he wanted to avoid setting a precedent at all (as if this was such an important priority as you think it is) then he would have simply appointed the nominations. But since he considered more important not to include people that criticize what he wants to use it is easily seen how his first option is the worst precedent, since it is much more easier to abuse in the future.

Him choosing this first option means the second one is impossible for him. That justifies his drop of popularity completely, since he must be then inadequate for the job or actually intends to use his authority to restrict academic freedom.

Once again you put out what you think may be valid reasons to not appoint candidates that the council consider perfectly adequate. Those reasons are irrelevant because the Primer Minister has not used them, that can be because he knows they are terribly weak and can be defeated easily or because he does think the researchers are balanced and correct, just not in the direction he wants them to be. The important point is that he is offering no explanation at all, so he has to accept the consequences of not doing it and let people assume the worst reason is true.

Why don't you discuss the concrete example already brought up, to explain why it is proper to shut down that application?

Sure, bring the reference to the full research proposal, the reasons for which the council criticize it and why the council still recommended against it, as happens frequently the devil is in the details. There are plenty of possible reasons why an overly generalized description of a project do not include the parts where it is not justified. Even the worst possible projects can be presented as positive if you just skip the bad parts.

The council do not need to "up their game" with better arguments because Suga has not put anything on the table, the council position right now is that he is acting with the sole purpose of restricting academic freedom, Suga refuse to defend his position, the council was not refuted logically, so why would they change their arguments? they got him by default.

Again, what you think Suga could use to justify himself is completely irrelevant as long as he doesn't, you know, use it in the first place.

Your example is precisely why an academic discussion has to be done, it should be easy to prove a professor with demonstrably wrong views on history cannot continue in his position. If the people in charge of that decision think is something that should be done then they can put the tiny amount of effort to justify their decision.

In this case the justification is quite more difficult to do, because the opinion of the academic community in general is that the nominees are not just subversive researchers without any base for their criticism, but if Suga thinks it is something so important that should set a precedent, he of course thinks he is justified in doing it. Or not, and he will have to take political damage for doing something not justified.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The catch is the Council is government-funded and may not be free from governmental interference.

This line seems to suggest the prime minister has authority over personnel affairs in the Japan Science Council because its budget comes from the government. Do Council members then have to cooperate with the government for its arms buildup policy when asked to do so?

If yes, then all national universities in Japan will face the same problem. How should academic freedom be guaranteed under such circumstances?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Get a room, guys...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Immediately coming into my mind is the Manhattan Project initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt during WW II that produced the first atomic bombs. Should scientists cooperate with the government to produce such weapons? 

Weren't they merely made use of for their talent by the incumbent government and politicians? Were they happy to see their research result in the demoniac annihilation of the two cities?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It’s said Roosevelt hastened nuclear bomb development to forestall Hitler’s Germany. The U.S. intelligence, however, found Germany had already scrapped the plan. Despite this find, the Manhattan Project was continued, thus producing the first atomic bombs in human history.  

At Yalta, Truman whispered into Starlin’s ear that the U.S. had successfully tested an atomic bomb. By that time Japan’s surrender was imminent, the reason why the heads of the Allies gathered there to talk about a post-war process.

Was it necessary then for the U.S. to carry out a biomedical experiment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan’s surrender was at hand?

Were the scientist who cooperated with the government by participating in the Manhattan Project happy to see their research result in such inferno? That is the question being asked in this fuss over Japan Science Council.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One thing that is always stuck in the back of my mind is the government has more power than a group of the most intelligent minds in Japan including presidents of the institutions of higher learning.

A prime minister and people under him that compose the government may be the ones who failed to pass an entrance examination administered by the university where these scholars are.

Should politicians be given more power than scholars? This is a universal question, I think, that applies to any country.

This dilemma may be overcome only if the government pays due respect to what the scholars recommend rather than reject the recommendation outright, saying they don't like it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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