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Science as a Vital Point of Democracy: Lessons from the 'Egg Aging' Panic in 2010s Japan

Title: Science as a vital point of democracy: lessons from the 'egg aging' panic in 2010s Japan

Author: Tanaka Sigeto (Tohoku University)

Abstract:

Scientific research uses highly complex theory and technical methodology, which can be difficult for non-professionals to understand. Thus, if professionals make an unscientific policy recommendation using fake evidence, it will be difficult for the public to screen such an inauthentic proposal.

This happened in 2010s Japan. Obstetricians and gynecologists created data to show how rapidly women's fecundity decreases along with their increasing age by fabricating, falsifying, and cherry-picking results from studies of biology, medicine, demography, and psychology. Based on those questionable data, they and their organizations carried on a campaign for early marriage and childbearing. The campaign aroused public attention and influenced the government to introduce a new pronatalist policy in March 2015 that aimed at early marriage. Although there are many defects in the data that served as evidence for the policy, these defects had not been properly scrutinized at that time. In August 2015, a newspaper first reported faulty data on women's fecundity, which was being used in a high school textbook to encourage early pregnancy. Criticism subsequently grew, leading to the discovery of many questionable data used during the campaign. However, it was too late to challenge the hegemony of the discourse already established.

This scandal yields lessons in the importance of protecting democracy against fake science. This paper addresses two topics. First, we need a system that allows non-professionals to review scientific literature to conduct fact-checks of the evidence presented by professionals. Second, our review system should be ready for real-time checking of newly emerging discourses. My observation of the scandal carries suggestions about a concrete case of fake science and how we can rebuff it. (See http://tsigeto.info/misconduct/ for details.)

Keywords: Fertility; State, family and population; Gender

Conference: International Sociological Association (ISA), RC06/RC41 Joint Conference: Changing Demography / Changing Families (May 2018, Singapore)

Status: Before the abstract submission

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