“Science and technology that starts from the ‘living person’”


“Science and technology that starts from the ‘living person’”

Mariko Kato
9th Chairperson of Japan Inter-Society Liaison Association Committee for Promoting Equal Participation of Men and Women in Science and Engineering, Emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo Yokiko Atomi


 The Japan Inter-Society Liaison Association Committee for Promoting Equal Participation of Men and Women in Science and Engineering (hereinafter referred to as “EPMEWSE”) is an organization that was established in March of 2002 with the aim of promoting the equal participation of men and women in the field of science and engineering, with which 72 academic societies are presently affiliated (Note 1). When eastern Japan was stricken by an unprecedented major disaster on March 11th in 2011, I was serving as the 9th chairperson of the EPMEWSE (also as a chairperson of the Gender-Equal Committee of the Japanese Society for Biological Sciences in Space and a director of the Society of Eco-Engineering), and also serving as a member of the Positive Action Subcommittee of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Gender Equality setup within the Cabinet.

Since one of the important roles of the EPMEWSE is to submit recommendations and requests to the government, I determined to carry out that responsibility as a chairperson as of 3.11. After a year of discussion, a request entitled “Now Is the Time to Bring Diversity into the Field of Science and Technology – the Request for Accelerating Gender-Equality (「今こそ、科学・技術分野に多様性を-男女共同参画の加速に向けての要望- )” was finally summarized, and then it was sent to various sectors of society under the name of 41 organizations including 6 academic societies that were affiliated with the EPMEWSE on March 26th in 2012. In the request, it was pointed out that the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident had revealed that various systems of many different fields in our country need to be reviewed and reconstructed, and “the field of science and technology, in particular, needs to be innovated in order to bring about a sustainable society in the future, by reviewing the various systems from different standpoints while being freed from the constraints of specialized fields and also by seeing matters form a perspective that starts from a living person,” and which can be promoted and realized by accelerating the formation of a gender-equal society. Thus, the government was strongly urged to improve the environment of both men and women scientific researchers and engineers on the basis of the Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan and the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality.

And also, concerning each of the 36 scientific terms, students were asked respectively “whether or not they have heard of it” and “whether or not they are interested in it.” Terms related to astronomy, biology and the environment were proved to be well-known, and among those, 10 terms such as the big bang, International Space Station, black holes, DNA, gene recombination, biological clocks, dioxin, meltdown, global warming and ozone holes were recognized by more than 90% of the students, and in addition to these 10 terms, the general theory of relativity, carbon nanotubes and artificial intelligence were included in well-known terms among students in the Faculty of Science and Technology.

This survey was conducted only at a specific university, and each figure might vary depending on at which university or college (a specific part of the college-age population) a survey is made. However, the overall trend is thought to reflect the atmosphere of the Japanese society as a whole, including students and their families.

In this article, I would like to introduce the background and meaning of this request as the 9th chairperson of the EPMEWSE who summarized it on the basis of the contents of the 9th EPMEWSE Symposium that was held on October 31st in 2011(see also the 2nd feature article of July “Gakujyutsu no Doko [Trend in Science]” edited by Science Council of Japan and published by Japan Science Support Foundation).

1. The earthquake disaster and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident: You have to ask yourself where you should start from as an individual person and as a scientific scholar.

The direction of science and the foundation of science and technology are now being questioned. One and a half years have almost past since we suffered the unprecedented Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident that followed the earthquake, which could be called a human generated-disaster. Most of the reports presented by various investigation committees end in just pursuing the responsibilities of related parties. However, is it only the related parties that are involved in problems? The Japanese archipelago has been blessed with incomparably bountiful nature, which has at the same time, however, brought major earthquakes every one hundred years and claimed tens of thousands of lives on a scale similar to the recent earthquake.

Why has the field of science and technology failed to share such a historical fact and faced it squarely? Each scientist has to put him or herself at the starting point and be prepared to sincerely face such a fact as well as his or her own attitude toward science and their way of living. But where is its starting point?

2. Review the foundation of the field of science and technology!-“Life and health” from the foundation for advanced science

The investigation report on the percentage of women prepared by the EPMEWSE in 2011 indicates that the percentage of women increased only 1% among academic societies that are affiliated with the EPMEWSE (EPMEWSE website, graph 3). In addition, only a few women are found among decision makers such as chairperson/vice-chairman, director/manger or councilor/delegate. It is important for women, who are sensitive to on-site problems, to consider themselves as fundamentally “weaving a life” with an open mind, and to propose a drastic solution toward further advancement of the slow-moving project of realizing a gender-equal society -“Target of a 30% increase by 2020.”(The goal is to “increase the proportion of women in leading positions by up to about 30% in any area of society by 2020.” (Office of Promoting Gender Equality decision in June of 2003 and the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality [Cabinet approval in December of 2010])

While summarizing what was discussed at the EPMEWSE Symposium, I looked into problems relating to women and an aged society, which we cannot overlook when considering the quality of life (QOL) of humanity in the near future. Japanese women are known for enjoying the longest life expectancy in the world; however, the truth is that the number of women who need to be taken care of gradually increases from the age of 70 onwards, and 50% of those from 85 to 89 years of age and 70% of those over 90 years of age need long-term care. The proportion of women from 85 to 89 years of age who need long-term care is about 1.5 times larger than that of men of the same age-group, but there is no difference in the proportion among men and women of 90 years and upward. Regardless of gender, about 70% of them need long-term care. (The actual number of women who need long-term care was 680 thousand, which is 3 times as great as that of men.)

The time period when people are in bad health (not completely independent) is getting longer and longer from year to year, and women have to deal with their poor health longer (from 12 to 13 years) than men (about 9 years). How should women scientists accept such reality? The human life-span has doubled during the past 50 years, and we are going to live more than a century, a hundred years, in the near future. Yet the government, the scientific world and the educational world have no countermeasures to deal with that, and moreover, they assume there is nothing we can do about Alzheimer’s disease but to accept it.

Advancing age and maladies are seen as inevitable and a great portion of the science budget is invested for countermeasures to be taken after something happens. Has our nature, human life and humanity come to be regarded as a subject for education or study somewhere between elementary school and university? Scientific study in our country has developed without directing attention to a flesh-and-blood (as a living being and a creature) person. It is only in the research horizons of the humanities and literature that human beings are discussed, and lifestyle–related diseases are considered to be caused by one’s own fault. Where does this strange scientific and technological nation originate from?

Human being are descendents of lives that emerged and have evolved in the gravitational field, and they are also a species that are able to produce “artifacts” as Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, the director of the Center of Research and Development Strategy, Japan Science and Technology Agency (former president of the University of Tokyo), has stated before. Rather than developing regenerative medicine for medical treatment, brain science for curing depression or Alzheimer's disease or robot engineering for nursing care, we need to construct an area of science that takes into consideration that human beings, creatures (animals), are going to live longer than a century and also will have produced an artificial world, are discussed and examined from various viewpoints.

The existence of cells, a unit of life, depends on their activities. Brains construct themselves as being dependent on output. Human bodies are strong, but their inhabitable area is extremely limited since their fine and precise system can operate in an area that allows the homeostasis (Note 2) system to work. Scientific research has hardly ever been conducted on how biological bodies respond within a limited area where the homeostasis can operate, more specifically, what impact temperatures, pH (hydrogen-ion exponent) and other factors have on responses bodies make chemically and mechanically.

In addition, differences between model organisms and humans, especially differences in their mechanical response strategies have almost never been studied comparatively yet. Yeast, which is monocellular, was found to be surrounded by cell walls like that of bacteria and plants; however, is the same true in the case of human bodies that have elasticity produced from protein (collagen) and an elastic property, and are made from protein that dynamically responds to a variety of stimuli in fluctuation. Differences lie not only in the size of genomes, but also in their mechanical structures.

Since the discovery of the DNA double helix, reductionalism has increasingly advanced as a new study methodology, which has led to a widening of the gap between life science and brain science. The area of engineering, which takes a central role in the field of science and technology, is lacking in the education of life science, and what is more, the indispensability of learning the nature of a living person is not understood. Nobody raises a question about the strange Japanese educational system in which students are separated into either a humanities course or science course at an early stage before they enter university.

I want people to realize that we, human beings, are living in a void area, that is to say, in the middle of a gap between conventional medicine and basic science. Our science, science for daily life, is missing. I think nothing is more dreadful than this. It is life and environment and body, the work of nature, that support humans who spontaneously make efforts and learn; therefore, the scientific and technological area that tries to find out the rules by which the brain is constructed to be a controller is indispensable.

One of the major components of this area, and one that plays a key role in helping cells to deal with outside stimuli, is stress protein. Even in this research field, advanced achievement has been made in terms of medical treatment, and protein structure has been analyzed deeply; however, research on human bodies that are surviving daily life and living cells that are living in human bodies and dramatically adjusting themselves to changing situations has almost never been highly evaluated.

3. The science that can respond to the voice of women who are weaving lives and surviving daily life and the voice of elderly people who survived the war need to be presented.

I want to introduce a viewpoint from which human existence is observed as it is. Actually, that is one of the reasons that led to the submission of the request. That viewpoint is also a starting point for considering a “living person,” science and technology. When comparing the system of life that is orchestrated to depend on activities and is capable of adjusting itself to outer stimuli and nature that we cannot simulate perfectly, we realize that the main issue is how the field of science and technology should be reconstructed and where its starting point is.

Keiko Higuchi and Nada Inada, who survived the war and have been working actively until now with an adaptable mind, point out what lies under these problems between human beings and science. “Senselessness that is called common sense” is still around in daily life and is constraining people, especially women. Underlying problems are related to our real life and day-to-day activities, which involves questions such as how our life can be described in scientific terms or how daily life will be discussed in science and connected with advanced scientific innovation. This is exactly what was pointed out by a lot of people after the earthquake. Scientists have not yet realized the fact that science and technology is disassociated from life or living, and saving a life.

There must be a kind of science that can substantiate efforts and teaches the process of life. In order to live without receiving nursing care, women as well as men need innovative science that helps them to understand their own internal system so that they can generate and improve their lives internally.

4. Science that improves human life has not emerged yet.

The study of humans has to go hand-in –hand with education, which is what I learned at the faculty of education. What counts most does not lie in genetic determinism, but in making efforts. More specifically, is life science which indicates that life is supported by a life system, in other words, life science and brain science, which are the background of “adaptive life science,” taught at the faculties of education in Japan or in training courses for paramedics (health-care-providers engaged in medical practices under the direction of medical doctors in a medical setting such as nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, etc.)?

Human brains are different from those of other animals in that they can renew themselves daily. Additionally, the basic circuitry for “self-renewal” including a brain that directly relates to a body is produced by activities. If you make a conscious effort to maintain the circuitry, it will not be cancelled. When elderly people lose their jobs, it is equal to erasing accumulated information from their brains. The social system has to be reassembled so that elderly people can lead lives that allow them to further develop their brains that have been trained over the years.

The time women spend for giving birth to and rearing children provides them with the best chance of learning first-hand about the system of a living person. Therefore, it is necessary to take some measures that guarantee to support their lives during this time, and by doing so, allow them to apply what they have learned from firsthand experience in their career, rather than adopting the same retirement age system for everyone. Ageing, eating, exercising and being active are a far cry from advanced science. If people living in the 22nd century cannot go hand-in-hand with life science and brain science, which specifically work on the life of a living person, and other areas of advanced science, people they will not be saved. Science that improves human life has not emerged yet.

5. Realize the promotion of scientific and technological innovation in the post-earthquake Japan

How will the life a woman that gives birth to and rears children and the “great lesson” taken from real life be developed in science and be incorporated into the new orientation of science? Fair judgment is alienated by an “exclusive attitude such as seen in a village community,” and misguided thinking is still deeply rooted in Japanese culture, as shown in the exceptionally high suicide rate (especially for men) in spite of being a developed country, which tells us that Japan has to change immediately. What is science and technology that can bring out “flesh-and blood life=the potential of the human body” and improve the quality of your life? That is the starting point of the field of science, as inscribed as “Know thyself” in the Delphic instruction of ancient Greece, that is to say, to know how you are made up as a creature, and to examine and discuss your own decisions you made and actions you took in terms of science and education. Some typical approaches might include, for example, incorporating traditional Japanese and Asian body culture into science, or creating a new basic science that does not disregard the entire human body like reductionism does. That means setting up a new framework where researchers from different fields take down fences and interactively understand the science and technology of others and cooperatively create a new area. Currently, there is not such a framework yet. If women, who have observed matters from the starting point of life and have broadened their horizons, can join as decision makers, this new area will be created. This project demands that the entire nation should work on the construction of a new system. This is exactly what I wanted to say in the request.

In a super aging society, how can elderly people be utilized? How can women go forward in the field of science and technology? These have become international issues. Setting up various physical training methods and the scientific and technological support for implementing such training as training (educational) programs through imitating an experimental system will provide women with the needed training to become a leader. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), which has an office in Hiroshima, is an institute that provides training programs for lasting human development. The UN includes the promotion of gender equality and the improvement of the status of women in the Millennium Development Goals, so we might have the option of bringing forward proposals here.

However, why do we have to leave our problems to the UN? Before that, let us realize the innovation from the field of science and technology for our future in Japan at any cost, by observing matters from various viewpoints without sticking to specialties, while placing the starting point on a living person.

The EPMEWSE entered the 11th term, and the 3rd wide-scale survey will be conducted for the promotion of gender equality in the field of science and technology. It will be an important survey that will reveal the results of measures already taken, the current state of gender equality and existing problems. What proposals will Japanese science and technology after 3.11make and, which direction will it take on the basis of the survey results? I put my hope on the proposals and positive actions it will take.

(Note 1) Japan Inter-Society Liaison Association Committee for Promoting Equal Participation of Men and Women in Science and Engineering: total number of members: about 480 thousand, female members about: 40 thousand, percentage of female members: 8%

(Note 2) Homeostasis: It is also called internal constancy, which is a faculty set in a creature for keeping the constancy of its internal environment. A multicellular creature is provided with the mechanism to maintain the homeostasis both at a cellular level and at a whole organism level. In the case of a human body, cells in the body are provided with a mechanism to maintain pH, temperatures, osmotic pressure, blood-sugar levels, etc., which are factors that determine chemical reactions made inside and outside of cells, within a certain range as well as recover the original state mechanically.

Profile of Yoriko Atomi:

Born in Onogawa Village, Tsukuba County, Ibaraki Prefecture. Graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan Komaba High School. Graduated from the Department of Health and Physical Education, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Humanities, Ochanomizu University in 1967. Completed her doctoral course at the Graduate School of Education, University of Tokyo. She has a doctor’s degree in education. After serving as an assistant, a lecturer and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Tokyo, she became a professor at the Graduate School of Art and Science, University of Tokyo in 1994. In the mean time, she conducted studies on genetic engineering, molecular biology, molecular and cellular biology as a guest investigator at the Department of Zoology, University of California, Berkeley in USA, and as a domestic researcher supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture at the Department of Genetic Engineering, National Institute of Neuroscience, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, and as a visiting researcher supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and Northwestern University in USA. She became an emeritus professor of the University of Tokyo in 2007. Served as a project researcher at the Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science from 2007 to 2009, and has been serving as a project researcher at the Radioisotope Center from 2009. She is actively working toward the realization of the new area where people can learn “their own physical system” before getting sick and learn how they can live out their natural life until 120 years of age vigorously and energetically with holistic science.