I had a dream.
In the dream, many students and researchers were entering the neuroscience field from various fields including psychology, computational science, and economics, and clinical medicine. As a result, the number of members of the Japanese Neuroscience Society (JNS) had finally exceeded 10,000. The general public also became pretty much interested in neuroscience, which was now one of the two most popular scientific fields, along with space science dealing with the successor project of the JAXA Hayabusa2. My laboratory was being flooded with graduate students who wanted to participate in our research projects—so many that it was difficult to choose which ones to work with. Students, young researchers, and senior researchers were working day and night, enjoying the discussions about new discoveries. Every year we celebrated the young researchers in our laboratory who obtained their positions in universities and research institutes in Japan and abroad, starting to walk their own paths independently. Some researchers obtained positions outside academia, such as industry and government, while conversely people having working experiences in these fields were rejoining us, bringing a breath of fresh air to our laboratory. Young researchers could obtain a sufficient start-up fund to set up their own laboratories and a support from core facilities for expensive equipment and services, such as generation of viral vectors and animal models. All researchers could obtain a reasonable size of competitive research grants based on a fair review, and once obtained, research funds could be used flexibly beyond the boundary between fiscal years. Annual reports had been simplified to one page so that researchers could concentrate more on research activities. Thanks to this supportive environment, groundbreaking achievement had been obtained, some of which lead to industrial and medical applications, such as the diagnosis and treatment of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Is this just a pipe dream at such a time when economic development is unlikely to happen due to the declining birthrate and aging population? I do not think so. However, in order to realize this dream, it will take not only researchers’ efforts but also understanding and support from various sectors, such as the political, educational, and economic communities. We at JNS are determined to continue to make efforts to improve the research environment surrounding neuroscientists through various activities. I would like to reiterate that the changes to the Society’s bylaws, including the incorporation of the Society and the introduction of the councilor system, are one step in this effort. By registering as a general incorporated association, the JNS, which is currently a voluntary organization, will be able to improve its credibility as an organization in the eyes of the public. It is also expected that the incorporation will ensure greater fairness and transparency in the operations of JNS. In the future, by becoming a public interest corporation, it will make it easier for the Society to conduct profit-making projects for the public interest and to strengthen our financial base. In addition, by introducing a councilor (delegate) system that embraces diversity in terms of areas of expertise, gender, age, and region, we hope to be able to reflect the voices of a wider range of members in the management of the Society. We are aiming to shift to the new system by the end of FY2022.
At the same time, I would like to remind each and every one of our members that you are also responsible for creating a better environment for the next generation of neuroscience researchers. In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” In the same way, I would like you to think about how each member can contribute to the development of the Society and the improvement of the environment for neuroscience research in Japan, instead of only asking what the Society can do for you.
In order to gain as much public support as there is for research in space science, steady outreach and public relations activities are essential. When publicizing neuroscience outcomes, it is often performed from a perspective like “a discovery useful for the diagnosis and treatment of XX disease.” However, I believe what we really need to communicate is the wonder and fascination of neuroscience. The Society holds the Brain Bee, a competition among high school students, and delivers a series of public lectures titled "Master of Brain Science" for the general public (available on YouTube). I would like to see more and more of these activities being promoted at the individual member level.
Keio University, to which I belong, was founded on the principle of jitsugaku, which refers to practical science, and one of its former presidents, Shinzo Koizumi, advocated that “That which is immediately useful soon becomes useless.” In other words, the fact that we do not know what kind of research will develop greatly in the future is what makes research interesting. This is why we need to be cautious about research funding systems that place too much emphasis on industrial applications. It is necessary to spread research funds to a wide range of fields even if they are not currently trendy. In the U.S., the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) is currently being discussed with the aim of bringing about a major change in the prevention, treatment, and cure of various diseases. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is known for its success in creating ARPANET, the prototype for the Internet, and the global positioning system. ARPA is also said to be a model for the Moonshot Research and Development Program in Japan. In ARPA models, however, it is crucial to give sufficient discretion to Program Officers and allow them to undertake challenging, high-risk research under a philosophy that it is okay to fail. I believe that advocacy efforts are needed to make Japanese politicians and bureaucrats better understand that it is essential to invest in basic research in a wide range of fields and to have a system that fosters high-risk, high-return research. The Society for Neuroscience in the USA is asking individual members to engage in advocacy activities with their local legislators. Perhaps we too are required to engage in this kind of activity.
Together with each and every member, I would like to move forward for the development of neuroscience in Japan so that my dream will come true.