Japan Plans Boost for Hand-Picked Projects

The Japanese government is preparing to give science a hefty 9% raise in next year's budget. But researchers aren't quite ready to celebrate: Much of the increase appears slated for projects that will be hand-picked by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's office.

Agency spending guidelines, adopted by the Cabinet last week, include a new $2.17 billion account for R&D in information, life, and environmental sciences deemed to have potential for a high economic payoff. Science spending in usual accounts for the fiscal year starting in April 2000 will be nearly flat, says Nobuhiro Muroya, deputy director of planning for the Science and Technology Agency. The majority of the increase will go to the new category; to vie for funds, each ministry must propose projects to the prime minister's office, which will assess the projects--likely ones already on the drawing board--according to yet-to-be-defined criteria.

"This came up so suddenly, I don't think anyone in the science community knows anything about it," says one senior scientist. But they will soon: It should become clear by the end of this month which projects are on the funding fast track.