On October 1, 2020, it was reported that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga rejected the appointment of six scholars to the Science Council of Japan (SCJ), a prominent, independent government agency whose members are drawn from Japan’s academic and scientific communities, which is responsible for making policy recommendations to the government. Reports suggest that the decision to reject the appointments was made on political grounds.
According to its website, the SCJ “is the representative organization of [the] Japanese scientist community ranging over all fields of sciences subsuming humanities, social sciences, life sciences, natural sciences, and engineering.” One of the premiere scientific organizations in Japan, it has 210 regular members, half of whom are replaced every three years, with recommendations for new members coming from within the SCJ. The Prime Minister’s office normally approves those recommendations as a matter of course. In 2020, however, Prime Minister Suga’s office rejected six of the SCJ’s 105 recommendations. Following that decision, it was reported that all of those would-be members had publicly criticized controversial national security legislation passed in 2017 under Prime Minister Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, leading to widespread allegations that the decision to reject them was political, and setting off widespread concern within the country’s academic community. While Prime Minister Suga denied these allegations (and asserted that he had not personally made the decision, but that the recommendations were made in the course of a bureaucratic process before they came to his office), he has not offered an explanation of the rationale behind the unprecedented rejection of the six nominations.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparent politicization of a nomination process normally based on academic and scientific credentials. Such actions — particularly when they involve a prominent national scientific organization, which draws its members from higher education institutions around the country — may have a chilling effect on academic expression.