Keynote speech by Ryoji Noyori
Thank you for your kind introduction.
I am Ryoji Noyori, President of RIKEN, an Independent Administrative Institution, in Japan.
I am very gratefulHYIthat I was invited to such an august meeting.
I am greatly honored to have been invited to give a talk to you, who are leaders from around the world of persons responsible for science and technology policies in various countries.
I understand that we are going to discuss matters related to the session title, “Science’s Involvement in Innovation.” In this connection I would like to talk about what I have been pondering about in recent years from the standpoint of a scientist.
I have been engaged in research and education for the last forty years or so.
There are various scientific fields, and different types of persons are engaged in research, and I think it is extremely important that these persons carry out their research based on their own individual senses of value.
Succinctly put, I think “Science is destined to be involved in society in our age.”
It is necessary for people who are involved in scientific research, and also people who are involved in its actual management to accept this reality very seriously from their own standpoints.
Especially, in modern society we benefit tremendously from the advancement in science. On the other hand, it is also a fact that science casts a shadow over society, and society is perplexed by it. Thus, the involvement of science in society can never be disengaged.
The title of this section, “science’s involvement in innovation”, is one of the forms of science’s involvement in society. And there is no doubt that in the 21st century, the so-called “century of knowledge”, the importance of science will become increasingly more evident.
In Japan the importance of science’s involvement in society has been widely proclaimed in recent years due in part to the protracted economic recession. The government has been frantically working on schemes to realize such involvement.
On the other hand, it is a fact that there is a trend, which is very disconcerting from the standpoint of researchers. Often we see the trend in the whole scientific and technological community to place extreme importance on industrial technologies aiming for short-term profitability in order to promote the strengthening of science and innovation.
I show you this figure, which graphically shows in a simplified way science’s involvement in society according to my own understanding of it.
Scientific research is an intellectual activity, and simply put, it consists of creation and utilization of knowledge.
Utilization of knowledge produces science-based technologies and industrial technologies, but what is important here is that industrial technologies are a mere fraction of science-based technologies.
Industrial technologies, of course, must be commercially viable, but a nation cannot sustain itself only with industrial technologies that aim at short-term profitability. We have to be careful not to make the nation’s entire science and technological activities oriented towards industrial technologies.
Rather, in order to sustain society over a long period of time, we should pay ample attention to science-based technologies, which create sustainable civilized society. Even though economic effects of such highly public technologies are not necessarily self-evident, I believe that future industrial technologies will emerge from such science-based technologies. Only by such industrial technologies can an affluent society be built for our grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s generations.
Especially, the tendency to place importance on short-term profitability will result in uniform evaluation, which will spread copy culture over the whole society.
The spread of copy culture will cause lack of respect for creativity and disdain for genuineness.
Original items usually have faults and are quite often incomplete.
Persons who produce original-like copies fastest either legally or illegally tend to be highly rated. This is an extremely grave situation.
As a result of this trend, scientists, artists and writers who seek creative essence in truth, goodness and beauty become dispirited due to futility and disappointment, and consequently from a long-term viewpoint the nation will be impoverished.
I wonder how many people can really discern values created by genuine creators’ souls. This is a very big concern of mine.
Therefore, it is highly important to place importance on creative and free research activities by researchers.
I want to share with you my philosophy of science.
“Scientific research is a never-ending journey of knowledge. There is more meaning in various encounters during the journey and making a good journey itself rather than reaching the destination. Excellent research nurtures talented people and also contributes to society”.
What I mean is that research has a goal, and when the goal is reached new problems will emerge. Also, during this process, various unexpected discoveries will be made. Science will continue to evolve forever in this way. Furthermore, as a result of such process new research fields will be explored and in turn new employment opportunities will be created with pervading social effects, and research itself will have educational effects of nurturing new scientists.
I myself am a chemist and for forty years have been working on selective production of left- or right-handed molecules: asymmetric synthesis.
I discovered the principle of asymmetric synthesis in 1966, but no one in the world thought much of the discovery back then.
However, I discovered highly useful asymmetric hydrogenation from 1980, and in 2001 I was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Our kind of chemistry is not only scientifically meaningful but also industrially useful.
This is a manufacturing plant of perfume menthol using our catalyst for production. It is one of the largest asymmetric synthesis plants in the world, and is a pride of Japanese industry. Approximately one third of the menthol produced in the world is supplied using this Japanese asymmetric synthesis plant. I would like to emphasize that this is the result of research conducted in an industrial-academic collaboration.
Arther Kornberg who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959 said “There is a saying ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions’, but the truth is ‘Invention is the mother of necessity’”. Although I think that “Invention” should be replaced by “Discovery”, the creation of new scientific knowledge leads to the invention of new science-based and industrial technologies.
We must definitely place importance on creative research.
Finally, I would like to share my thoughts with you from the point of view of a scientist.
How far do you think scientists think ahead when they work?
Scientists may seem to work with logically sound plans, but that is never true.
The reason is that we know very little about nature yet and what science-based technologies can do is very limited.
Planning is important, but what can be accomplished by planning is known to be not so significant.
Then, what do we rely on? For scientists, “Uncertainty” is the anchor of their souls, and the origin of discovery and exploration of new fields.
Planning is very important, but history has shown that what was discovered due to uncertainty is incomparably better than what was achieved with plans.
However, when a scientist claims this view, such a view becomes a root of suspicion and distrust towards the community of scientists by politicians, bureaucrats and managers who value “goal-oriented management.” They will criticize scientists by saying “scientists are impertinent”.
We are merely in different positions and I am not saying which group is right. I think, however, that it is important to understand each other well regarding this matter.
Science has infinite possibility and contributes to society. To produce better results to humankind, I think it is important for scientists and policy makers to have honest discussions and build a system that truly contributes to humankind.
Thank you very much.