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Boosting confidence and impact of research in Japan: Key takeaways from Tokyo symposiums

Tokyo | April 30, 2024

By Jason Chan

Panelists discuss ways to increase trust in science. (Photo: Japan Association for the Advancement of Science)

Panelists discuss ways to increase trust in science. (Photo courtesy of the Japan Association for the Advancement of Science)

In cross-sector symposiums aimed at revitalizing Japan’s scientific endeavor, panelists focused on improving gender equality, science communication and research evaluation

Japan — a science and technology powerhouse — has been facing some challenges. Society is aging, its economy has fallen from third to fourth place globally, and its scientific impact has dropped below the 10th position globally in terms of highly cited articles. A sense of urgency is spreading through the science and policy community, which is constantly exploring effective ways and interventions to reverse the trend.

In a series of symposiums held in Tokyo, the Japan Association for the Advancement of Science (JAAS)opens in new tab/window — regional convening partner in Japan for Elsevier’s Confidence in Researchopens in new tab/window initiative in collaboration with Economist Impact — focused on key topics to raise the confidence in and impact of Japanese research.

Here are some highlights.

Revitalizing Japan’s scientific endeavor through greater gender equality

Presently, advancement and opportunities for women in science in Japan are among the lowest in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The low diversity rate and underutilized talent is viewed as a major factor hindering the revitalization of Japanese science.

Gender imbalances and unconscious bias in professional advancement continue to persist despite improved working conditions for female researchers, with the gap significantly larger for those in STEM fields. There also exist many preconceived and unfounded beliefs about women in science, and panelists say interventions aimed at junior-high and high-school students and their parents can help address these challenges.

Panelists also made a firm call for any discussion to be supported with facts and evidence. Some of the issues faced by female researchers, such as the lack of work-life balance, are also common for women in other sectors, emphasizing the need to address societal issues beyond the science.

Through discussions of gender equality in a research environment, what sets Japanese science apart, and key actions that need to be taken, participants gained a deeper appreciation of the current state of gender equality in science. This discussion also marked the first step for JAAS in actively promoting gender equality and diversity in science towards taking a new approach for revitalizing science in Japan.

Fostering trust in science for greater impact

The exponential growth in scientific knowledge has led to major advances, but the channels disseminating the findings have proliferated in ways that make assessing and discerning their accuracy and credibility more complex. Prolonged public mistrust of scientific information erodes societal uptake of scientific progress. “Fostering Trust in Science” was a joint discussion among the Japanese Association of Science & Technology Journalists (JASTJ)opens in new tab/window, the Japanese Association of Science Communication (JASC)opens in new tab/window and JAAS. Panelists whose work involves science communications were invited to participate in a conversation that ranged in scope from the importance of continuous knowledge communications to respecting the audience when conveying information. They highlighted that government acknowledgement and provision of transparent information are crucial. Additionally, the connection between conspiracy theories, distrust in science and issues faced by socially vulnerable groups were also called out. The symposium concluded by emphasizing that fostering trust in science is a task for the broader community, including science communication.

Robust research evaluation is the foundation of a good research culture

Panelists discuss next steps towards more effective research evaluation methods. (Photo courtesy of JAAS)

Panelists discuss next steps towards more effective research evaluation methods. (Photo courtesy of JAAS)

In recent years, there have been calls to review research assessment practices for a fairer and more accurate reflection of the quality and diverse impact of research. In this symposium, researchers and government representatives discussed research assessment approaches that could inspire greater motivation in researchers.

In the medical field, one participant mentioned a survey that established a strong tendency towards metrics-based evaluation. Another highlighted the need to pay close attention to the diversity and multifaceted dimensions of research activities. Panelists suggested an initiative that would assign digital object identifiers (DOIs) to measure raw data and evaluating them as part of a researcher's achievements. Participants believe that reforms to research evaluation will enhance societal trust in research activities. One of Elsevier’s key initiatives looks at the future of academic evaluation to understand its connections with and impact on the broader society.

The big picture: What is science and what is it good for?

The annual JAAS symposium was open to the public as an extension of its for-members online series of “What is science?” seminars to explore and discuss different aspects of science. The audience — comprising people from different walks of life — discussed the multitude of connections between humankind and science and the ability to recognize the different interpretations for expansion of personal horizons and discovery of new aspects of science.

The session was a great opportunity to appreciate different viewpoints on science, exchange ideas, broaden perspectives and share a common interest in science. Fueling interest and passion for science naturally is one of the cornerstones for ensuring Japan’s future as a research and science titan.

Poster for the session "What is science?" (Credit: JAAS)

Poster for the session "What is science?" (Credit: JAAS)


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Jason Chan

Director Communications, Asia Pacific


+65 6349 0240

E-mail Jason Chan