Japan’s scientists struggle to share research despite policy push

With general public’s trust in science reaching new highs, researchers want more help to communicate their findings

April 10, 2024
Japanese Tower of the Sun or taiyou no tou created by Taro Okamoto for Expo '70
Source: iStock/kuremo

Japanese researchers want more support to share their findings with the general public, following a decade-long government push to publicise the work that universities and research institutions are doing, according to a survey.

That almost a third of Japanese academics are choosing not to communicate their findings to a general audience is a “missed opportunity”, researchers from the academic publisher Springer Nature said.

Since 2010, the Japanese government has emphasised the importance of public support for science and technology initiatives and has invested in boosting links between the institutions and the general public accordingly.

The government’s latest science and technology policy, released in 2021, sets out plans for “Society 5.0”, a concept for the future world that integrates cyber and physical space. To achieve this, the policy states, the country must foster “consistent interest” in science among the public.

However, in a survey of almost 1,000 Japanese scientists, Springer Nature found that while almost all the respondents wanted to communicate their research findings to the wider public, 80 per cent felt they needed more support to do so.

According to Nick Campbell, vice-president of academic affairs at Springer Nature: “The need for support is really wide-ranging – from help with communicating in plain language, visual communication and social media to understanding how to deal with the media.”

About a third of the Japanese researchers surveyed had not shared their findings with the general public in the past three years or more, while 12 per cent had never communicated their research. The main reason for not doing so was a “lack of opportunity”, according to the results.

But the public want to hear more from scientists, according to Springer Nature, citing research conducted last year by US conglomerate 3M, which found that trust in science remains high among the general public. In a sample of the general population across 18 countries, including Japan, 86 per cent said they trusted scientists, up from 80 per cent pre-pandemic.

The findings are consistent with research from other organisations conducted in the wake of the pandemic, which generally show that faith in science grew during the crisis.

“With the latest global data showing that nearly 90 per cent of the respondents from the general population trust science or scientists, as well as the high desire for scientists’ communication and involvement in policy making, this is a missed opportunity [for] building our understanding of how to tackle the world’s most pressing problems,” researchers from Springer Nature said.

For the 70 per cent of scientists who had shared research recently, they did so mainly through press releases and public lectures, but about a third of those did not have a “clear idea” of their target audience.

“Whilst the survey responses suggest that additional support from institutions, such as embedding practices into workflows, would be hugely appreciated by the researchers, responsibility for better communication of research to the public is a shared one,” said Dr Campbell. “It shouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of researchers.

“Funders, institutions, publishers, the general media and social media platforms all have a responsibility to help improve this crucial area for maintaining public support for, and trust in, science.”


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