Anyone who wants to know what is wrong — and right — with research at the Genomic Sciences Center (GSC) of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) can turn to RIKEN's website. There they will find a detailed report containing both praise and criticism of the centre.
The material reflects the keenness of the GSC's director, Akiyoshi Wada, both to meet the Japanese public's demand for transparency in government activities and to create the openness that he feels is “necessary for interaction with the international scientific community”.
In March an external advisory committee, made up of four foreign and five Japanese researchers, reviewed the GSC's five research groups. Wada, who has been GSC director for two years, has made the unconventional decision to post its report, along with his item-by-item response, on RIKEN's website.
Panel member Kurt Wüthrich of the Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics at ETH-Hönggerberg in Zürich says Wada has made “a bold move”. “I have served on several such committees in France and Germany, and they always make the findings ‘public’, but that usually just means to make public within the research institute.”
The overwhelmingly positive comments — including “number one in the world” for Yoshihide Hayashizaki's project on mouse complementary DNA (see above) and “world leader, cannot be criticized” for Yoshiyuki Sakaki's Human Genome Research Group — perhaps made the decision to go public an easy one.
But Wada also had to address some delicate issues. For example, the committee suggested ways to make the GSC's new nuclear magnetic resonance facility, used for analysing protein structure, an “internationally visible, open facility”.
Wada claims that it is impossible to meet these suggestions, but he is working out a compromise in which about 10% of the facility's time will go to researchers in Japan and abroad who have been selected by international committee.
Some of the research-group directors are worried that making the evaluations public could perpetuate misunderstandings. For example, Hayashizaki praised the efficiency of his “factory-like” cDNA sequencing efforts. But the report turned this description on its head, with an implication that his work is factory-like and thus not scientific.
Some government officials are worried that its international outlook prevents GSC from repaying taxpayers with ‘economic fruit’. Wada replies: “There are two ways to make fruit: we could try to make money or we could raise the level of Japan's scientific reputation. The second is much greater than monetary profit.”