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Japan Science

The Lack of Scientific Philanthropy In Japan 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-science-for-you dept.
ananyo writes "The University of Tokyo this week will unveil Japan's first institute named after a foreign donor: the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe. The announcement adds Norwegian philanthropist Fred Kavli's name, along with a US$7.5-million endowment, to one of Japan's most successful institutes. The new center marks a turning point for Japan: to date, the country's universities and research institutes have long had to make do with few philanthropic donations. Strict laws governing university finances, and the lack of a philanthropic tradition, have discouraged the gifts that serve Western institutions so well. To get around the laws, instead of handing the endowment over to the institute, the Kavli Foundation will continue to manage the sum, giving the institute the return on the funds."
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The Lack of Scientific Philanthropy In Japan

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  • by Linzer (753270) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:15AM (#38978867)

    Here, I think "Western institutions" should be understood as "mainly in the US, and to some extent the UK and the English-speaking world". To the best of my knowledge, in all other countries the situation is closer to that in Japan than in the US: the bulk of academic research is performed by public institutions using public funds.

    • by CRCulver (715279) <> on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:21AM (#38978899) Homepage

      To the best of my knowledge, in all other countries the situation is closer to that in Japan than in the US: the bulk of academic research is performed by public institutions using public funds.

      There's still plenty of private funding even in countries with strong welfare states and comparatively little patronage. I work in Finland in a branch of linguistics that was fortunately founded by some wealthy men a century ago, and the endowments they left behind are still vital funding today. The heiress of a major multinational corporation studied at our department, and since she has such nice memories, we've recently been given millions in grants. We wouldn't get much done with the public funds available to us.

      • I have worked in Switzerland in the life sciences and there is plenty of private funding bodies or foundations that fund fundamental or applied research. There is certainly no shortage of rich families there. In my experience, it is rare that they fund a chair or a whole institute but it is relatively easy to get money for a PhD student or a postdoc. Companies are more difficult essentially because they always want to get something marketable out of their external funding and their grants come with all kind
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:24AM (#38978911)

      Exactly. Here in the Netherlands universities are funded based on the number of students that graduate and additional grants for specific research projects can be obtained by submitting proposals to national or European government bodies specifically created for this purpose. Private philantropy is basically only a factor in the medical sector, where patient organizations may fund research into specific diseases. Ocasionally companies sponsor research but this can hardly be called philantropy.

      • by Linzer (753270)

        Private philantropy is basically only a factor in the medical sector, where patient organizations may fund research into specific diseases

        Good point about medical research: that is a sizable exception. The difference with the model prevalent in the US is that those organizations typically collect many small donations, as opposed to large single endowments by wealthy donors.

      • Ocasionally companies sponsor research

        Not for long. The Dutch government has apparently decided to slash funding for basic research and replace it with "public-private partnerships" because, lacking any evidence to support this theory, they feel that scientific research should be guided by commercial applications and business opportunities. This philosophy nearly ruined research in the UK. At least in the US (which does a decent, though worsening job of supporting basic research) philanthropic giving is common enough that even non-life-sciences

      • Ocasionally companies sponsor research but this can hardly be called philantropy.

        "Strategic philanthropy" is a business term for charitable activity aligned with the business mission
        For example, a local grocery store/pharmacy chain funded a school of pharmacy at one of the local universities

    • by prefec2 (875483) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:47AM (#38979015)

      Private donors are only necessary in societes where the state or other public institutions cannot handle the task (alone). This concepts is well suited for the US and to some extend for the UK, but from my continental European view, this is state business. The term state has a different conotation in Europe. It is the primary organisation of all people. It was founded to guarantee some services (education, research, safety, cultural development, social wellfare etc.) independent from the will of some donors, because they are unreliable (in our cultures).

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Thursday February 09, 2012 @08:30AM (#38980017) Homepage Journal

        Private donors may be necessary, but they are abhorrent. The technology to practically produce Butanol was done partly with public funds but the patent is now held by Butamax, a holding company for DuPont and BP. If you try to produce Butanol, a carbon-neutral 1:1 replacement for gasoline with improved emissions, they will sue you.

        Fuck private donors, I'd rather public research. It might go slower, but we the people could see the benefits of our investments sooner. Or, you know, at all.

        • by operagost (62405)
          What you're talking about is a problem with patent law and socialism, not private research. If there had been no use of public funds, then the ability to profit from the results is understandable in a free market. The patent eventually runs out. When part of the funding is public, and then the capitalist is allowed to benefit from the patent, it's crony capitalism.
      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        because they are unreliable (in our cultures).

        Well, they're unreliable in our culture, too. Now if only our government took care of its citizens as well as yours does.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Private donors have a dark side to them: institutions that live on donations become slaves to the donors, and donors' ideas may not (and usually don't!) align with what's generally good for the academic integrity of an institution of higher learning.

        My pet peeve: collegiate sports in the U.S. Many in the academia somewhat reluctantly agree that providing public entertainment is not necessarily in the core mission of, say, a Big Ten university. So, in an ideal world, they'd be able to simply disband the foot

    • Agreed. I admit I was surprised to read this.

      Slavoj Zizek said once that there's an element of hypocrisy in charity and philanthropy, e.g. Soros fixes with the right hand what he breaks with the left one, and that the rational thing to do is to put together a system (taxation, for instance) in which philanthropy would be unnecessary. This scheme is what I'm familiar with, and so far it works.

    • by Cimexus (1355033)

      I think that's right. Philanthropy of the scale and type referred to in the summary is really quite an American thing (I wouldn't even extend that to the rest of the English-speaking world to be honest).

      One nice thing people around here (Australia) will generally say about Americans, despite the fact that poking fun at Americans is somewhat a (light hearted) national pasttime here, is that they are generous. They generally mean this on a personal level, but having lived in the US for quite a while myself, I

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:42AM (#38978997)

    Obviously it is not common in Japanese culture to do such big donations. Most likely their society and culture works different from the US/UK culture. This hardly classifies as a problem. Honestly, they have most likely other ways to finance education and science. And when I look at their industry and how good they are with their products, well I guess their system works.

    BTW: I do not want a totally US-ified world. It is great to be different.

  • USA-centric bias (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolus&gmail,com> on Thursday February 09, 2012 @04:49AM (#38979025) Homepage Journal

    "The gifts that serve Western insitutions so well"


    "The gifts that serve US institutions so well". FTFY.

    One more typical example of a Slashdot poster / submitter / "author" assuming that US="The western world".

    • by Cimexus (1355033)

      Agreed. The US has a culture of philanthropy far, far larger than exists anywhere else (including other Western, English-speaking countries). It's immediately obvious if you spend any decent amount of time in the US (particularly in medical, artistic etc. fields) how much reliance is placed public donations, both large and small, compared to other countries.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Before we criticize why they can't donate money easily in Japan, let's think a second.
    Imagine that I am rich (and perverted, but then I repeat myself).
    Imagine that I really like [insert my favorite not so useful subject. Ok. it's B**bs].
    I donate X Billions to University Y IF they study b00b enhancement.
    We now have the Countries Finest NOT studying cancer cure...

    Or if we want a real world example.
    Wall Street sucking up all the smart brains so that they can program the computers than then battle in Economi

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      I think the problem is more systemic than this. For many different reasons, medical research is a rather poor-paying career, compared to other careers available to kids smart enough to go that route (such as finance), so even if some rich people do give some funding, it's not enough to overcome the poor conditions for that career overall, and these research fields don't get that many really smart people going into them. It's not just Wall Street, or rich people wanting more research into b00b enhancement,

      • How about this - when you go into a "needed" career. You get massive tax breaks. All nurses will be exempt from vat/saletax after x years of service. A system open to abuse I guess. But so it any tax system.
        • How about this - when you go into a "needed" career. You get massive tax breaks.

          So, who decides what is "needed"?

          And how much will it cost to bribe him/her/it to make my chosen career "needed"?

          Or, for that matter to make my (hypothetical) ex-wife's career not "needed"?

          • by Cimexus (1355033)

            While it hasn't got anything to do with tax, Australia's immigration policies are based on such a concept.

            There's a list of 'needed' careers, or careers in demand that gets updated from time to time by the relevant government agencies (relying on figures from the Bureau of Statistics and Department of Employment and Workplace Relations). If you have qualifications in a needed field, you'll find the immigration requirements significantly relaxed compared to others. Here's the current list of 'desired' occupa

    • by operagost (62405)
      I think there's a pretty good market in curing cancer. In fact, I'm sure that billions more are spent in treating cancer than making big boobs. There is certainly a market for big fake boobs, but people like John Huntsman, Sr. would be spending big bucks on cancer research even if he was only in it for the money. Big boobs are great, but they're not much use if you're dead. I'm not sure why you think that public funds are inherently more "good" than private-- just because they're "more democratic"? Iro
  • Philanthropy good? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by solidraven (1633185) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @05:27AM (#38979183)
    In a good system the resources are already there, and as far as I know that is pretty much the case in Japan. So the only logical conclusion is: "Philanthropy is a solution to a problem that shouldn't (and in this case doesn't) exist."
    • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:52AM (#38979591)

      In a good system the resources are already there, and as far as I know that is pretty much the case in Japan. So the only logical conclusion is: "Philanthropy is a solution to a problem that shouldn't (and in this case doesn't) exist."

      The problem with funding like this is that it empties public research into private ownership by making funding the goal of schools. The first and foremost goal of schools is and should be to teach.

      In California, we have this terrible system which from the article seems to be on the brink of being exported to Japan.

      To put things in perspective, almost 36% of all taxes in California go to education ($49 Billion FY2012-2013 : []), and that's not including money from bond initiatives for stem cell research or other earmarks which end up at research universities, and it's not including the costs of education as part of rehabilitation for the mentally ill or incarcerated prisoners, which end up being another $18B (drill down on the numbers on that government site).

      If you consider only K-12, there are 9,600 publicly funded schools serving 6.2M students (; that's a cost of $63,000 per student, working out to ~$4M per school.

      And the teachers at the schools in my area are constantly trying to raise funds for books, paper, pencils, and white board markers. At $63,000 per student per year, you'd think they'd buy them a damn box of pencils.

      Before you try to claim "that's not a lot per student", realize that the median household income in California is less than that, it's just under $61,000 for the whole family, including all wage earners (U.S. Census : []).

      I don't know where the hell all this money is going (I'd like an independent audit, please!) but it sure as hell isn't getting to the classrooms, so it has to be disappearing somewhere between the Franchise Tax Board and the classrooms.

      As far as higher education is concerned, the colleges around here are canceling classes all over the place. You'd think that the more students they had, the more tuition they'd get, the more classes they'd have, but no, tuition collected is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the almost $10B in taxes paid to them by the state, and they optimize on the basis of revenue instead (hey, why have a student spend 4 years * tuition, when you can cancel a class and have them spend 5 years * tuition instead?). They also optimize it by preferentially admitting out of state students (who have to pay higher tuitions), but that's OK, those students can go to other states themselves, and pay out of state tuition there, instead.

      And this is the model school system you are going to hold up for other countries to follow?

      Japan: Save yourself before it's too late!

      -- Terry

      • by jellie (949898) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @10:04AM (#38980727)

        Your numbers for the K-12 education are off by an order of magnitude. The total state budget for K-12 education is $39.2 billion. With a total enrollment in the state of 6.2 million students, then it's an average of $6,300 per student.

        What's really destroying education in California is Proposition 13. That single proposition stripped away a significant amount of money earned from property taxes. The housing market has ballooned a lot over the past few decades, but now many properties have an assessed value way below their true market values.

    • by operagost (62405)
      So who decides what's "good" to research?
      • How does this even relate to funding issues?

        And the simple fact is, any research is good research. If something doesn't work as expected or not at all it's still useful. Many great discoveries started as a series of accidents or failures. The main importance is that these are well documented and shared so other people don't make the same mistakes..
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:04AM (#38979357)

    As a Tokyo U. graduate who had more or less no difficulty obtaining nearly $200k to spend on my PhD work while a student, believe me when I tell you that U-T is rather well off. OK, that's an anecdote, but I know you like data, so how about some anecdata:

    The University of Tokyo - the only winner? []

    In particular, note the horrific Figure 1 on the top left of page 2. See the dot way up there? There's Tokyo University, getting assloads more research money than any other university in Japan, even though it doesn't have a whole lot more staff to spend it. Well, that's the data part, here's the anecdote:

    The linked document is actually an article written by a University of Tokyo staffer attempting to dispel the "myth" (= fact) that Tokyo University gets way more funding, per person, than any other university (or research institute) in Japan! Amazing.

    Though having said that, it's perfectly understandable. As anyone who has spent even a year working in Japanese academia will attest, knowing how to lie with a straight face is probably the single best skill one can bring to their career. Sure, that talent can give you a career boost pretty much anywhere, but in Japan, it's a really big deal. French is for love, perl is for line noise, and - just trust me on this one, dear reader - Japanese is for lying.

    It's little wonder, then, that research institutes in Japan are so backward (relative to their insane budgets). (Reason #2, for anyone still reading, is that retirement at (or close to) age 60 is compulsory for all academics, which cuts brutally short the careers of those few brilliant researchers who can pass on their expertise to future generations.)

    tl; dr: anyone donating to Tokyo University is stupid and/or has been deceived; it's already bleeding cash.

  • Because 'kavli' in Greek means 'cock'.

  • A bit about Japan (Score:4, Interesting)

    by identity0 (77976) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @07:00AM (#38979621) Journal

    A lot of people in this thread seem to be coming to the defense of the Japanese university system, but what the poster said is basically true. In addition to not having much in donations, it's not as geared towards research like American schools, being instead more of a place to make good white-collar workers for their industries. They have fewer grad students and less research budgets. I would generally say that the US is better off in term of research.

    See this article for an exception that proves the rule: []

    And those saying that "It's a state matter, the state should fund all reasearch" - you do know that you can have both, right? In fact the US government spends gobs of money on research, the donations come on top of that.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I will see your "US governments spends gobs of money on research" bullshit and raise it to a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson:

  • 20 years of high taxes and inflation took away all sorts of purchasing power from the Japanese, whether they would or would not do more 'scientific philanthropy' if they had more purchasing power if government was not stealing their government, I don't know.

    But I do know that there would have been much more investment capital in everybody's pockets, and the real driver of useful innovation is not government but private enterprise.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You know the main issue in Japan has been _deflation_, right?

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Deflation is the boogeyman that the politicians like to throw around, covering themselves with the nonsense propagated by the Keynesian charlatans. Deflation is what Japan SHOULD have, because of how productive Japan is, but instead it has inflation, which is what government creates with all the money printing.

        Were it not for the government actions of the last 20 years, Japanese would have 5 times more purchasing power and prices would have been much lower in Japan. Instead the purchasing power is stolen f

  • Japan’s university law, however, does not allow public universities to put money into high-yield but risky investment schemes. That makes it nearly impossible for institutions to use the returns on an endowment to continuously support themselves, as the other 15 Kavli institutes do. “You’re better off just spending the endowment,” says Murayama. Murayama says that the money will allow the IPMU to continue wooing foreign researchers by, for example, finding jobs for spouses and helping to place researchers’ children in international schools. The ministry considers such expenditures to be “personal matters” and not reimbursable with public funds.

    So instead of spending the money on research today they are investing it. Wow I guess their research is not a sound investment. Even the University doesn't want to spend money on it.

  • . . . now that the science departments are being supported externally, the Japs can continue to follow the traditions of Western schools - to gut the science departments' funding to build fancy new stadiums and buy more football uniforms!

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun