Mohamad Mahathir, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, awarded RIKEN Honorary Fellowship
On July 30, Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, visited the RIKEN Wako campus to be awarded an Honorary Fellowship through the RIKEN program to recognize outstanding local and international achievements by individuals in a variety of fields. Mahathir is the second recipient of the honor. He was chosen for the award, “...in recognition of his profound understanding of science, his strong leadership in actively promoting science and technology policy, and his eminent political and diplomatic achievements in furthering prosperity in Asia and around the world,” said RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori in his introductory remarks.
After accepting the award, Mahathir gave a strident and often hard-hitting speech, on topics ranging from Asia’s place in the world to the moral responsibilities of scientists. The former physician, after acknowledging the crucial importance of scientific advances to the region and the world, spent considerable time during his talk cautioning those present against complacency and hubris: two dangers facing researchers who wield the enormous power of science.
He deplored the use of science in the development of instruments of war. “If we care to examine, we will find that every scientific discovery has been used to enhance the power to kill people,” he claimed. “Every advance that we make in scientific knowledge―be it in chemistry, physics or biology―has been used to increase our capacity to kill. And we know that we have never hesitated to use these weapons to kill.”
In his speech, Mahathir spoke on a subject that he has been addressing for much of his long career as a doctor, politician and statesman―the inequities between the rich nations of the West and the developing countries of the world. To ensure that the benefits of science are shared equitably with all the people of the world, he proposed forming an international body to oversee and license certain scientific research, an organization that would have jurisdiction over all countries.
Mahathir also urged scientists to use their knowledge and skills to address pressing issues confronting humankind, including overpopulation and drug addiction, as well as global warming and natural disasters. He said scientists should start by being aware of the dangers, and be sure to get their priorities right. “Today we know that we have only to determine what we want to produce, and if we provide sufficient money and scientific manpower for research and development we can achieve our objective,” he said. “Truly, there are lots of things that can benefit from science for the betterment of human life.”
He cited examples of projects that could be tackled immediately, including various ways to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and the environmental degradation that can result. Some technologies he mentioned were hybrid cars, as well as ways to harness wind and wave power, thermal differentials in the deep ocean, and the physical and geothermal power of volcanoes.
Water, he noted, is both a crucial resource and a source of contention in the world today. We could contribute to the alleviation of water-related conflict by transporting water by pipeline, as we do oil and gas. In this way, he said not only would we be able to provide drinking water, but enormous areas of arid land would become green as food crops are grown.
Pipelines conveying water from Malaysia to Singapore.
He asserted that Asia’s role in the world should be in keeping with both its rising economic power and its culture. “Asia is an important player because the peoples of Asia have largely retained their moral values. Perhaps Asians are too conservative,” he said. “But we need [to] temper progress with tradition.”
Asians must seek to end the use of military force to resolve disputes, he said. “It is time that the solution to conflict is not through the determination of who is the winner. It is time to seek a solution that is in favor of both, in a win--win result. Rather than contest, there should be compulsory negotiation, arbitration or judgment by third parties,” he said.
Mahathir exhorted his listeners to “return to sanity, to resurrect moral values,” while there is still time. “If this world and humanity are not to be destroyed by science then we need to agree on an international scientific code of ethics or morality,” he warned.
“In the effort to regulate science and its applications, Asians must push for a no-war, no-loss solution,” he continued. “Asia has a capacity in science equal to that of the West. Asia therefore has clout. We should use this clout to create a better world. A code governing scientific research and development...will achieve this.”
The former Malaysian prime minister concluded his lecture with a warning: “Unless we realize this, the future of Asia, science and technology is bleak.”
Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad was prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. During his term in office he spearheaded the rapid modernization of the Malaysian economy, now one of the largest and most powerful in Southeast Asia. Along with the phenomenal economic growth, his policies virtually eradicated poverty, and put a host of social indicators such as literacy levels and infant mortality rates on a par with those of developed countries.
Mahathir is also known as an advocate of ‘Asian values,’ and as a vocal critic of the rich nations of the West.
Born in 1925, Mahathir studied medicine at the University of Malaya, and built a successful private practice in his home state of Kedah. He began his political career in 1946 at the age of 21, joining the nationalist United Malays National Organization (UMNO).
Long an admirer of Japan, Mahathir used this country’s rapid postwar growth path as an example for his own nation, transforming Malaysia from an exporter of rubber and tin into a major manufacturer of electronics, steel and cars.
Mahathir is married to Tun Siti Hasmah bt Mohd Ali, also a physician. They have seven children.
A snapshot of RIKEN research to solve several serious environmental problems
RIKEN researchers are dedicated to improving knowledge about our world and bettering our lives–their activities range from exploring the cosmos to unraveling the intricate and complex processes that maintain our health. And, some RIKEN researchers are focused on solving serious environmental issues.
Recently, the push to discover novel genetic resources from the natural environment has been increasing worldwide. At RIKEN, young scientists are launching collaborative projects using a ‘meta-omics approach’ in their bid to discover novel biological resources. One group, for example, is using the termite symbiotic system to research bio-energy (Fig. 1). The group is hoping to conduct this work in partnership with other researchers from south-east Asian countries, other tropical nations, and Japan. Their aim is to establish a fundamental technology that will provide a bio-based energy and materials and improve the environment to achieve a sustainable society.
Another research group is focusing salty winds that contribute to damage caused by the accumulation of salt in soils, which is becoming a serious agricultural problem across Asia. Using heavy ion beam irradiation generated at the RIKEN ring cyclotron, the group, along with their colleagues from Tohoku University, has produced a novel, salt-resistant rice species (Fig. 2).
In collaboration with industry, another group has developed a novel process for extracting large quantities of a particular mucin (a type of protein) from several species of jellyfish that have become pests in Japan's coastal waters. One of the larger species can break set fishing nets after jamming them up (Fig. 3), while smaller species can clog water intakes at nuclear and conventional power plants. This substance, known as 'qniumucin' after a Japanese myth, can be used as a starting material for the production of designer mucins with multiple uses.