Japan builds bridges to rest of the world

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Sir

Your Opinion and News article about research in Japan raise an important and timely issue (Nature 401, 309 & 314; 1999). A focus on higher quality rather than quantity of scientific output, and more emphasis on cooperation with researchers abroad, are indeed important goals for Japanese science. But unfortunately the articles did not compare the Japanese situation with that elsewhere.

You report, for example, that 40 per cent of researchers submit papers only to Japanese journals, which is said to reflect insularity. But how can the reader draw such a conclusion without knowing comparable numbers for other countries? I would not be surprised if 40 per cent of researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom or Germany published only in national journals. And you did not mention that a considerable number of Japanese journals publish articles only in English, which is surely an attempt to reach readers abroad.

It is interesting to learn that 40 per cent of researchers submit papers only to Japanese publications, while 34.1 per cent also submit to international journals. Does that mean that 25.9 per cent only publish in overseas journals? If true, this would show that there are many internationally minded Japanese researchers.

You do a good job of pointing out weaknesses and important goals for Japanese research. But your omission of comparative numbers for elsewhere in the world does not allow readers to see the problem in its true proportions. It could even be the case that your articles inadvertently promote prejudices about Japanese science, which would be unfortunate at a time when many Japanese research teams are striving to attract foreign scientists.

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Buhlmann, P. Japan builds bridges to rest of the world. Nature 402, 458 (1999) doi:10.1038/44939

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