Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An ethical foreign policy?

Some of the bureaucrats here really haven't got a clue. This is another all-too-typical example of the sort of mindless box-ticking mentality that dominates here.

The backstory to this is that a year ot two ago there was a minor scandal with some Tokyo University professor being caught falsifying data. Fortunately it coincided with the South Korean cloning thing so didn't attract much attention, either at home or abroad. Still, someone obviously considered it was important for all scientists to have a refresher course on research conduct.

So today this arrived in my mailbox (edited highlights):
We will have a briefing session in the title above [Briefing Session for FRCGC Rules for Conduct in Research Activities].
All who are engaged in the research activities are required to attend the session.

Please note the language used in the session will be Japanese.

Date and Time: Friday, March 30, 2007 14:00 - 15:30
OK, there will be an English-language handout, which is more than they have yet managed for the new employment system. But really, which genius thought it would be useful, let alone important enought to make it compulsory, for people to sit through some old fogey waffling on for a full 90 minutes in a language they don't understand? Of course, once you understand the bureaucrat's mindset it makes perfect sense: it's not important that we actually understand the new rules, it's important that they can tick a box to say that we have attended a lecture in which the rules have been explained to us...

Of course my lab would be well within their rights to demand Japanese language ability from all employees if they wished - but to do so would be to essentially rule out any possibility of attracting researchers from abroad. The lab seems to have some aspirations of internationalisation, and when I was first employed, English language ability (and not Japanese) was specifically required. However, that seems to have been dropped in more recent recruitment.

I wonder if they will arrange a special 90 minute one-on-one session for jules when she returns from her trip :-)


EliRabett said...

Sorry, look out the window, you are in Japan and they speak Japanese. OTOH, you get to teach in Japanese too, which is a very good revenge.

James Annan said...


I explicitly acknowledged that they are perfectly entitled to insist on Japanese language ability if they wish, but they chose to offer many of us jobs in full knowledge of the fact that we do not speak the language.

The real problem is that they have no policy on the matter - information in English is provided (or not) in a totally ad-hoc manner, and exclusion on the grounds of language ability is commonplace. I think you'd have to agree that making people sit through a 90-minute seminar in a foreign language just so a bureaucrat can claim the staff have been informed about a new policy is pretty absurd, especially when said policy deals with the subject of ethics in the workplace!

EliRabett said...

I have to start by saying that Japanese is oom more difficult than German, but the policy when I was in Germany was that there was no policy, there were expectations. If the meetings were small you could do English, more formal ones were in German. If you couldn't keep up you just went to sleep and asked later if you still had a job.

The whole thing is one of expectations. They expect everyone, including you, to show up. They don't necessarily expect you to understand, and someone should be perfectly happy to brief you later on what you missed.

jules said...

They expect everyone, including you, to show up. They don't necessarily expect you to understand, and someone should be perfectly happy to brief you later on what you missed.

Japanese bureaucracy and language being what they are, our colleagues would much prefer that information is provided for us in English from the source. They do not feel happy carrying the burden of having to explain the rules to us. It is hard enough for each individual to understand the rules as they apply to themselves, and they really can't do it for their non-Japanese speaking colleagues who do have a habit of having unusual circumstances, making the rules even harder to apply.

James Annan said...

And just to back up what jules said, the obvious channel of responsibility for this is that of line management. Unfortunately, both of our direct managers are absentees with permanent positions elsewhere, who only turn up to the lab once or twice a month (as expected they weren't at this lecture), and who freely admit that they have no idea how the Byzantine rules work. Next above them is the program director who happens to simultaneously be leader of a research group, director of another program, and director of the whole lab too so I hardly feel it is reasonable to bother him with every piece of bureaucratic trash I might pick up.

I went to the meeting today in a good humour, read the English handout and sat listening for 30 minutes to some old fogey by which time I thought I'd done my bit. The guidelines are presented in an incredibly patronising and scolding manner (someone obviously thinks all us researchers need a good telling off) although the main underlying request to keep better records is not entirely unreasonable. I'll wait and see what sort of a bureaucratic monster it turns into before passing judgment.

Anonymous said...

According to my understanding of what the "teacher" said, the main expected utitlity of the notebooks is to defend ourselves against undue accusation of misconduct (fraud etc.), rather than to prevent real misconduct.