Koji Tachibana is a working adult student majoring in cultural anthropology at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Immediately after graduating from the School of Agricultural Sciences, he was hired by a company making equipment used in biotechnology research. His job was to write user manuals for the scientists who were the customers of his company and that is how he became aware of a serious problem. He realized that it was somehow impossible to “ reach” the scientists, to “talk” to them. And if he could not “reach” them, how could he convey to them the features of the equipment? Finding himself in such inner turmoil due to this lack of communication, he started doubting not only his future as seller of the equipment, but also the future of the scientists themselves.
The NPO Science Communication was born in 2003. As the director was a friend of his, Tachibana started helping with the work of distributing relevant news through the website and email magazines. While keeping his day job, his work of collecting and disseminating information enabled him to witness firsthand the first steps of the NPO Science Communication.
“Kagaku Café Kyoto” was launched in 2004 in Kyoto. The Café, whose name contains the Japanese word for “science” (kagaku), was started by members of the general public with the goal of creating a venue where people of different viewpoints could discuss various topics relating to science and technology. Following such grass root activities, 2005 saw the simultaneous opening of philosophy cafés all over the country. In the science and technology white book published yearly by the Ministry of Science and Education, they refer to a forum for discussion called “Café Scientifique” through which French and British scientists fulfill their duty to society. The Ministry obligated Japanese scientists too, to disseminate scientific knowledge to the common people. In addition, a movement to open science cafés based on this imported western idea started also among philosophers.
While science cafés of “imported form” were spreading, either through grass root activities or by order from the authorities, Tachibana and his friends opened their own unique café. Together with classmates whom he met at lectures for working adult students at Ochanomizu University, he founded the group “Science Plaza”. The invited speaker for the first gathering, celebrating the opening of the Café, was a veteran journalist from the science department of the newspaper Asahi Shimbun and the discussion centered around events, which symbolize the history of nuclear power.
The first symbolic event was the publishing in 1952 of the Japanese manga series “Astro Boy”. Then, in 1954, many Japanese fishing vessels were exposed to radiation and their catch of tuna fish was contaminated as a result of the H-bomb test over the Bikini Atoll. In 1965 the first Japanese nuclear power plant started operating in Nakagun Tokaimura, Ibaraki. And finally, 1979 was the year of the accident in the American nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island. Throughout the history of nuclear energy, judgements about its value have been fluctuating greatly even in media reports. Encouraged by the great success of his first venture, Tachibana went on to open science cafés all over the country.
After becoming a member of society, he had recognized the problem of lack of dialogue with scientists and set a goal for himself of solving the problem by creating venues for discussion all over the city; in particular, he wanted to provide a venue where adults in the prime of life could engage in discussions. After graduating from the university until they reach retirement age, in other words, between the ages of 22 and 60, most people are overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities and they have very few opportunities to turn their attention to the problems of society. However, precisely because they are in the prime of life, they are also the main stakeholders when it comes to the problems brought by science and technology. Tachibana is thinking of creating venues all over the country where people of this generation could have the opportunity to bridge the gap between the weight of their responsibilities and the lack of learning opportunities.
There is an area of science that can be called “trans-science” meaning that value judgement should not be shouldered solely by scientists. Within this area of science fall problems caused by the use of nuclear power that can differ depending on one’s place of residence or situation. For instance, how many percent is the likelyhood of damage to the health from radiation or how to interpret the risks from the accident itself.
Tadachibana strongly emphasizes the necessity to discuss such topics that are closely related to the land, particularly in normal times, before a disaster occurs. For example, there is region in Chiba prefecture where an industrial complex would experience severe problems due to liquification after an earthquake. The community needs to share the knowledge of such risks before a big accident or other disaster occurs. Tachibana himself, having worked in the field of chemistry and lived in close proximity to a chemical plant, feels a strong sense of urgency for such a Science Plaza.
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