The Power of Science to Overcome Crisis

SARS-CoV-2 has turned out to be a devastating virus. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened our eyes to the extent of its impact, noting “this is not only a health crisis, but a job crisis, a humanitarian crisis, and a development crisis”. How can humanity deal with this and other crises? Foremost through science. Each country invests in its science base in order to prepare for the (unknown) challenges of the future. This can be a pandemic, an energy crisis, the climate destruction, food crisis, health crisis, in short if we want to react rationally to a crisis the better the science the better we can develop an appropriate answer. Good science costs money! But there are studies that show that those countries that invest more into it are also reaping most of the economic benefit.

Here are some examples: The governments of Korea and China invest more than 1% of the GDP, Germany roughly 1% but Japan only 0.65%. For a high-tech country like Japan this is much less than the competitors. As a consequence, Japan has much too few innovations that lead to start-ups and even worse has only 3% of the venture capital available in the USA.

Knowing full well that the “New Normal” that we are experiencing now requires ingenious solutions for the problems ahead these are the true problems of the Japanese economy: The science base is underfinanced, the technology transfer is underfinanced, the start-ups and IPOs are too low. If we consider that many people have lost their jobs during the crisis, we should not assume that the post-Covid economy will be the same as before the pandemic.

We have to generate new jobs. Here the USA can serve as an example. 75% of all new jobs generated in the US are delivered by companies less that 5 years old, hence by start-ups. We need a concerted effort of the government, the business world and the scientists to restore Japan to its economic greatness.

By Dr. Peter Gruss, President/CEO, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)

The Japanese translation of this article was published on July 21, 2020 in the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun newspaper under the title "危機克服に科学の力を".