Appeal and Statement on the East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and the Accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant
June 12, 2011
The Board of Trustees,
the Mathematical Society of Japan
On March 11, 2011, a gigantic earthquake and tsunami hit Northeast Japan and killed tens of thousands of people. Then a series of catastrophic accidents at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant contaminated the environment with vast amount of radioactive materials, deprivng nearby inhabitants of their normal daily lives. It is yet to tell when and how the devastating chain of events could be successfully contained and rectified. As scientists, Japanese citizens and inhabitants of the Earth, we deeply deplore that we were unable to preempt these disasters and are going to impose enormous burdens on the generations to come.
These debacles have shown us how much our life relies upon the planning and management of science and technology, such as atomic energy regulations. We must learn lessons from our mistakes, which costed us so dearly. We believe that we mathematicians with mathematical knowledge and skill are duly qualified to have a say in the community of scientists. We must accordingly ask ourselves whether we have been responsibly committed, and how we can contribute, to the science policy and management by means of our mathematical expertise.
In the decision making in science and technology policies, opinions of relevant experts are obviously indispensable. It is vital, however, that the discussions in such processes should be open to a broader community of scientists. Non-specialists could indeed provide useful perspectives free from preconceived ideas and biases. Each scientist in turn is morally obliged to publicly express his/her own opinion based on knowledge of a scientist, judgment of a citizen and conscience of a human being.
In order that these broad discussions and unimpeded expression of opinions be materialized, every scientist needs to have free access to necessary data. We do not think right judgments and decisions would be possible in a society where specific groups are exclusively briefed on inconvenient classified facts. We demand a fair social system in which accurate information is extensively collected and immediately distributed to the open community of scientists.
For decades, Japanese government and the nuclear industry have patiently fabricated "safety myth", an unfounded assertion to the effect that nuclear reactors in Japan are free from serious accidents. This dogma, which prevented Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) from preparing necessary emergency countermeasures against accidents, completely collapsed in the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami, resulting eventually in the erosion of people's trust in science and technology. We believe that mathematically justifiable method of risk control must be introduced, where every possibility, albeit infrequent and unlikely, should be properly inspected, estimated and taken care of from the probabilistic point of view.
Another factor which damaged the people's trust in science and technology is the fact that TEPCO and the government called the earthquake and the tsunami "unpredictable events" without conducting any scientific investigations into the accidents. We demand that the government immediately start thorough scientific analysis of the cause and development of the accidents; the effect of the radioactive emission to the environment; and the pertinence of the emergency measures taken. The detailed report of the analysis should be made public, so that the lessons of the disasters will be shared by scientists all over the world. In order to ensure scientific objectivity, this scientific analysis and report should not deal with legal and financial liabilities.
We believe that legislators and administrators who are responsible to policy making should be able to discuss science and technology on their own. We emphasize that all the officers who work in national and local governments are required to command basic literacy in science and a mathematical way of thinking. Science and mathematics count for ordinary citizens as well. If each citizen could share scientifically accurate knowledge and methodologically right judgment, irresponsible rumors about accidents would not do any harm, and therefore potential social unrest could be no excuse for governments/corporations to resort to cover-up and disinformation. Such knowledge and judgment can be acquired only through systematic education of science and mathematics, starting from elementary school to colleges and universities to lifelong learning.
We are afraid that there might be general perception that mathematics is simply a tool to solve questions which have unique solutions. This perception is wrong in two ways. First, the principal target of mathematical education is logical thinking together with improved sensitivity to quantities, forms and their changes. Second, mathematics applies not only to deterministic situations but also to the control of indeterministic risks such as accidents and disasters. In such situations, probability theory is available as a suitable framework. We mathematicians are liable to teach people how to make logical and scientific decisions by the aid of mathematical thinking.
For us mathematicians, the first priority obviously is the research of mathematics. Nevertheless we are aware that we have civil duties of responsible members of the society. The Board of Trustees of the Mathematical Society of Japan hereby declare that we will stay committed to education and science policy with our mathematical expertise.