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Archives [ April, 2015 – March, 2019 ]

Nobel Perspectives: A Scientist’s Cause

Original Broadcast Date:
October 29, 2016(UTC)

In more than a century since the industrial revolution, the ceaseless development of science and technology has assumed a vital place in the lives of people all around the world.

Medical, sanitary, and agricultural advances have brought great improvements in both lifespan and quality of life. Meanwhile, inexorable progress in manufacturing, telecommunications, and IT has driven prosperity in many regions worldwide.

However, such advances also have their pitfalls. Industrial accidents that pose a danger to both human lives and the natural environment remain commonplace, with the 2011 accident at the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant standing as a salient reminder to all of the potentially dire consequences when we lose control.

The discussion that provided the basis for this edition of GLOBAL AGENDA took place at this year’s Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum, held annually in Japan’s historic capital, Kyoto, and was chaired by Tomoko Kimura, presenter of NHK WORLD’s science magazine show Science View.

The expert panel was made up of four Nobel laureates: Taiwanese chemist Yuan Tseh Lee (Chemistry, 1986); American Physicist Jerome Friedman (Physics, 1990); Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka (Physiology and Medicine, 1992); and English biochemist Richard Roberts (Physiology and Medicine, 1993).

The discussion began with consideration of the relative risks and merits of different forms of energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. While there was general agreement that fossil fuels were neither a safe nor sustainable means of power generation, there was some distance between our experts on the most appropriate alternatives. Prof. Friedman passionately espoused the need to develop next-generation nuclear facilities to meet the energy needs of an ever-growing population, but Prof. Roberts spoke of the potential of biological energy and photovoltaics, and smaller scale, more localized production and usage of electricity.

Next was an exchange on the ethical and social responsibilities of scientists. There was consensus on the nature of technology as what Prof. Yamanaka described as a “double-edged sword,” capable of bringing both great benefits and wreaking untold damage if not applied correctly. The experts saw scientist’s key role not only as responsible custodians of the knowledge they acquire, but also as more effective communicators of the ramifications of their research. There was also contemplation of the benefits of inculcating a scientific mindset even in fields unrelated to the sciences.

Individual panelists’ closing thoughts on their own personal research goals for the future were preceded by a sequence on sources of funding and the sometimes-uneasy alliance between academics and business, as Prof. Lee revealed his own rather idealistic hope that more young scientists would set out to “do something for the benefit of society,” rather than to simply turn a profit.


Shinya Yamanaka

Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University
Senior Research Investigator
Gladstone Institutes (San Francisco, CA)

Richard Roberts

Chief Scientific Officer
New England Biolabs, Inc.

Yuan Tseh Lee

President Emeritus
Academia Sinica (Taiwan)

Jerome Friedman

Institute Professor Emeritus
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Tomoko Kimura

Navigator for Science View, NHK WORLD