“Why is there no looting in Japan?”

With news continuing to pour out of Japan regarding the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, one journalist asks, “Why is there no looting in Japan?

And solidarity seems especially strong in Japan itself. Perhaps even more impressive than Japan’s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting, and I’m not the only one curious about this.

This is quite unusual among human cultures, and it’s unlikely it would be the case in Britain. During the 2007 floods in the West Country abandoned cars were broken into and free packs of bottled water were stolen. There was looting in Chile after the earthquake last year – so much so that troops were sent in; in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina saw looting on a shocking scale.

Why do some cultures react to disaster by reverting to everyone for himself, but others – especially the Japanese – display altruism even in adversity?

This is an interesting question that I am sure a number of sociologists could respond to. This sounds like a Durkheimian issue about social coherence: what holds Japanese society together, even amidst disaster, while other Western societies have less social coherence in the presence of a disaster?

The globalization of scientific research

A recent report from the United Nations suggests that while the West (and the United States, in particular) still dominate scientific work, other countries are gaining ground. Here are some of the measures from the UNESCO report:

In 2007 Japan spent 3.4% of its GDP on R&D, America 2.7%, the European Union (EU) collectively 1.8% and China 1.4% (see chart 1). Many countries seeking to improve their global scientific standing want to increase these figures. China plans to push on to 2.5% and Barack Obama would like to nudge America up to 3%. The number of researchers has also grown everywhere. China is on the verge of overtaking both America and the EU in the quantity of its scientists. Each had roughly 1.5m researchers out of a global total of 7.2m in 2007…

One indicator of prowess is how much a country’s researchers publish. As an individual country, America still leads the world by some distance. Yet America’s share of world publications, at 28% in 2007, is slipping. In 2002 it was 31%. The EU’s collective share also fell, from 40% to 37%, whereas China’s has more than doubled to 10% and Brazil’s grew by 60%, from 1.7% of the world’s output to 2.7%…

UNESCO’s latest attempt to look at patents has therefore focused on the offices of America, Europe and Japan, as these are deemed of “high quality”. In these patent offices, America dominated, with 41.8% of the world’s patents in 2006, a share that had fallen only slightly over the previous our years. Japan had 27.9%, the EU 26.4%, South Korea 2.2% and China 0.5%.

Even though the United States still dominates a number of measures, UNESCO concluded Asia is the “dominant scientific continent in the coming years.”

A couple of things are interesting here:

1. Even if jobs have left the United States for cheaper locales, the US still has advantages in scientific research. How long this advantage holds up remains to be seen.

2. These are just three possible measures of scientific output. Other ones, such as journal citations, could be used but this seems fairly effective to quickly look at several measures.

3. It is interesting to think about how science itself will change based on increased research roles in non-Western nations.

h/t Instapundit