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Noyori Academy Salon: Earthquake Prediction

  • 2014/06/05

University Professor Ryoji Noyori, President of RIKEN and a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (2001), has contributed articles to "Kamitsubute" in Chunichi Shimbun since January 2013. Based on the articles, he holds regular academic talks with students at Nagoya University. The sixth Noyori Academy Salon was held on May 26, 2014. Prof. Noyori and four students from different backgrounds openly discussed the topic of "Earthquake prediction." He introduced a case in Italy wherein researchers who were involved in earthquake prediction were charged for manslaughter when an earthquake killed more than 300 people in 2009. Prof. Noyori explained that the prediction in Japan started around 1965 but could not forecast the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 or the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and claimed that scientists and researchers must deeply reflect on themselves, more concentrating the wisdom of mankind and administrative reform as well as governing the way of research should be reconsidered by all who concern with science/technology.

Scientists should be modest and humble

Takunori Nagashima, junior student in the School of Engineering

When the accuracy of earthquake prediction is improved, to what extent should scientists/researchers publish information they have obtained through their research?

Prof. Noyori

Scientists/researchers know only a small part of the universe. They should first realize that fact. They should be prudent, modest and humble because they only know fragments of the universe and should explain that their knowledge is limited. They can raise questions and refer them to science, but they cannot completely answer them.

Honoka Kamei, freshman in the School of Letters

I believe it is important to reduce disaster risk to save lives. Is there a gap in attitude between scientists/researchers and the government?

Prof. Noyori

If I may use the word "curiosity," many scientists/researchers would not like it. They try to explain structures and mechanisms of the universe or natural phenomenon. The government manages the outcome derived by them. I believe that nowadays many things become vertically divided and horizontally separated. In this sense, scientists and researchers devote themselves to presenting their scientific results in their own communities, but they should do more than making themselves stand out and go out of their fields to make communication with different expertizes.

Yusuke Matsui, senior in the School of Engineering

I believe it requires courage for scientists/researchers to declare what they do not know. Are technology advancement and innovation still necessary for the improvement of our living environment and lifestyle?

Prof. Noyori

Some people claim that the computer is a key anchor to the development of electronics, airplanes, vehicles, medical care, television, computer innovation, space exploitation, and so on and that economic growth should be prioritized. All these developments are supported by energy resources. Society always changes with innovation/new technology. However, human personal desires can produce new problems in pubic society. If we maintain the current lifestyle with huge energy consumption and excessive trust in the market, the earth cannot be sustainable.

Takuro Shinkai, first year PhD student in the Graduate School of Agriculture

I believe disaster prevention and disaster risk reduction are more practical, but how to predict disasters by volcanology and seismology is not. How do you interpret and utilize these research fields in science?

Prof. Noyori

What is important in science is to provide proper views of life. When you get to the core of it, how to use science for survival of the human race is of utmost importance.


The original article was published in Chunichi Shimbun on May 27, 2014.

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