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Science Is Big Winner in Japan's 1997 Budget

TOKYO--Basic science is set to receive a big boost in the next Japanese budget, according to draft figures released Friday by the Ministry of Finance. The increase--a rise of 8% in a category that includes academic and basic researchers at national institutions--is in line with a 5-year plan adopted last summer to raise public spending on science and technology in hopes of securing long-term economic growth.

"Given that the budget situation is very tight with the government trying to reconstruct its finances, [science] is getting a lot of support," says Hiroyuki Osawa, a former vice minister of the Science and Technology Agency (STA) and a member of the Council for Science and Technology, an advisory body to the prime minister.

The additional money for science comes at a time when the government's overall budget is growing by only 3%, and many programs are being trimmed. But the focus on science is seen as a remedy for a stalled economy. "In various fields, Japan's [economy] is running into walls," says Masaki Tanaka, director for budget planning at STA. "There is a consensus in the government and the Diet that this kind of investment is needed to break through those walls."

The full extent of that R&D investment won't be known until the Cabinet completes action on the budget later this week. The portion of the finance ministry's draft budget labeled science includes less than a third of Japan's public R&D investment, which this year amounts to about $26 billion. In particular, the science category excludes energy-related research, including Japan's extensive nuclear program. But significant increases for research in information technologies and neuroscience, as well as the continued growth of programs financing postdoctoral positions, seem assured. The budget covers the 1997 fiscal year, which begins on 1 April.