The Japanese have often been criticized for the lack of government funding of basic science, compared to the private sector. This neglect of academic science has been noted since 1970. The budget of public universities, where most government-funded research occurs, has failed to keep up with inflation since that time.

Japanese academics have always been dissatisfied with the poor state of university budgets, especially when compared to the U.S. On the other hand, the American scientific community tends to recognize more of the strong points of Japanese academic science than the Japanese community itself does. Who, then, criticizes the Japanese basic science effort? It seems that overseas critics are primarily concerned with trade and technology-related conflicts between the U.S. and Japan. They claim that American intellectual property has been virtually given away or stolen by Japanese manufacturers.

I remembered that the U.S. put pressure on the Japanese for not spending enough on basic sciences, and it made me wonder if a country like the U.S. can block access by a foreign nation to its universities. Is this legal under international laws?

The Japanese neglect of basic science has mainly been criticized outside of Japan by American science policy makers, who are concerned about the loss of intellectual property rights. In contrast, Japanese practitioners of academic science have bemoaned the poor financial state of universities. Both of these charges reflect how in postwar Japan, academic science has been overshadowed by private science, as practiced in corporate laboratories in particular.

Is blocking access legal, I tried to find a law that would allow this, but I couldn't find anything, except to find out it was a gentleman's agreement to share scientific knowledge.


2 Answers 2


Regardless of the spending stats asserted in the question (Denis quoted R&D, not basic science),

  • the US could certainly stop Japanese researchers from attending scientific conferences in the US,
  • it could stop US researchers with or without government funding from attending scientific conferences where Japanese attend as well,
  • it could try to ban the export of scientific journals to Japan, but this would be rather leaky as long as they are on sale in third countries,
  • it could not stop third country researchers from quoting US results in their publications unless they prevent US researchers from publishing at all.

Basic science is not generally considered to be patentable. Once it is published, other scientists are encouraged to try and reproduce the result and to build upon this foundation.

  • Pretty much all scientific papers are available on-line, which makes physical copies irrelevant.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 8, 2019 at 17:55
  • @jamesqf, remember the export restrictions on cryptographic software, even online? One can try, even if that is likely to fail.
    – o.m.
    Sep 9, 2019 at 4:40
  • I read the question as asking whether countries actually can do so, not whether they might try.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 9, 2019 at 5:00
  • @jamesqf, look at the Cold War efforts to limit research exchanges, or the extent of sanctions against Iran today. Strenuous efforts will have results.
    – o.m.
    Sep 9, 2019 at 5:04

Yes, in principle a country can prevent other countries "from having access to its scientific infrastructure".

For example, much of the United States' research and development is performed by its military-industrial complex. The military-industrial complex includes a variety of laboratories: some are run by universities, some are run by government agencies, some are run by private companies. These laboratories are funded by a variety of sources, including NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense. Discoveries are turned into products by both the laboratories and private contractors. At various times, U.S. export control regulations of various levels of strictness have been imposed on such work, and on work in related fields such as aircraft, rocketry, and satellites. A large number of now-civilian products rely on technology developed or improved by the U.S. military-industrial complex, including aircraft, satellites, the internet, and automatomobiles.

There is one major exception to the principle that a country can keep scientific secrets: The anti-nuclear proliferation treaty has provisions that force most countries to allow inspections of nuclear research reactors and the associated scientific infrastructure.

There are several practical reasons that most countries allow most of their scientific research to be part of the world scientific community:

  • There are huge economies of scale in scientific research. Any discovery can potentially be used world-wide.

  • Many great scientists are motivated by prestige within a world-wide community of scientists. Nobel Prizes, citation counts, and ratings of research institutions are three aspects of this phenomenon.

  • University-based research is subsidized by students who work cheaply as apprentice researchers. For example, the United States' research universities have come to rely on foreign Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows.

  • If a research project is isolated from the world, it is easy for it to either "go down blind alleys" or "reinvent the wheel". This can waste a country's entire investment in a field of research, over the course of many years.

  • 2
    Except that military secrecy does not just prevent "other countries" from having access to the technology, it (theoretically) prevents everyone outside the classified "need to know" community. And as a practical matter, espionage makes it rather likely that foreign countries will know more about the classified technology of country X than its own citizens.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 8, 2019 at 17:58

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