The Japan Landslide Society

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Message from the President

Toward a breakthrough of science and technology for landslide disaster prevention

President of Japan Landslide Society
Dr. Katsuo Sasahara, Professor, Kochi University

  The most important mission of the “Academic Society” is to promote the development of science and technology. This contains to produce the academic achievement by supporting the activities of researchers and engineers who are members of the society, and to exchange knowledge and experience among researchers and engineers. Here I explain my idea how to accomplish the academic achievement for researchers and engineers in Japan landslides Society. I appreciate you if you can find something good which support your research in this essay.

 Deadlock of recent science and technology

  It is said that the present age is full of a sense of blockage. The impasse of the capitalist economy has been pointed out, and the limits of democracy, which is recognized as the most important value in Western society, are also exposed. It may be a deadlock in modern rationalism.

  Similarly, science and technology seems to be at a dead end. “Technology” such as Information and Communication Technology ( ICT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI ) have been developing remarkably in recent years, but in existing academic fields, unsolved basic problems are still remain unsolved. This means that the essential ideas in science have not evolved. I think it is widely shared in Japanese society that this hinders the development of science and technology in Japan, and in turn it prevents the development of Japanese industry. Especially since the decline of the Japanese economy began in the 1990s, this sense of crisis has been supplied even in the industrial and political fields. Therefore, measures to promote research and development at universities and the private sector have been actively implemented recently to overcome the crisis. Even in the field of science and technology for landslide disaster prevention, many basic problems have been still unsolved. I explain some problems related to geotechnical engineering as examples of unsolved problems.

  The first example is the prediction of failure time of a slope based on the measured displacement. Thanks to the efforts of many researchers, many kinds of prediction formulae have been proposed prediction methods, a considerable number of prediction formulas for failure time based on measured displacements. But many scientists and engineers have not admitted the prediction method has been successfully established. This might be because many experts did not think formula for predicting failure time was not enough for the prediction of a landslide. For example, the prediction formula can calculate the estimated failure time when the measured displacement increases. However, even if the displacement simply increases, the slope will not collapse unless the slope satisfies the mechanical condition for failure. If it is possible to implement a shear test and the slope stability analysis, the groundwater level at the time of failure can be obtained. However, in an emergency when the slope is about to collapse, we cannot afford such time and labor. In addition, the slope during excavation collapses regardless of the groundwater level. We need a method easily to estimate the degree of slope instability from the physical quantities that can be easily measured in the field. Some experts who measured the displacement of a landslide on site told me a helpful story. For example, when the measured displacement starts to increase during heavy rainfall, they calculated the failure time of the slope by the prediction formula. However, the increase in displacement often terminated soon. In this case, it is necessary at first to judge whether an increase in displacement leads to failure before predicting the failure time. I think that the lack of a way to judge this is one of the reasons why the failure time prediction formula is still unreliable. This problem is an example of academic research not answering the demands from the practical field.

  Another example is the problem of dependence of the shear strength of slip surface clay on shear velocity. At a certain time, many indoor velocity-control ring shear tests were conducted, and they revealed that the shear strength may increase or decrease as the displacement rate increases. It has also been found that the rate dependence of shear strength may be related to the properties of clay. However, it is still unclear what clay conditions governs the rate-dependency. The effect of rate dependency of shear strength on the actual slope behavior, such as the shear behavior immediately before collapse, is still unknown. These unsolved issues prevent the use of dependance of the shear strength on shear rate in slope disaster prevention technology and practical planning and design for a landslide countermeasure. In other words, if these problems cannot be solved, the research on the rate dependent of shear strength will end up as “just a hobby.” This question is just a example of whether academic research can meet the demands of the practical planning and design for the countermeasures against landslides.

  It is not known whether the latest AI can solve the problems as above. Because AI is only a high-performance optimization method, thus, it is not possible currently for AI to do everything from finding and solving the problems in science and technology. Incorporating AI into the proper program developed by humans is necessary to demonstrate the capabilities of AI . However, if AI becomes able to do integrated programming that creates a “problem-solving process” by itself, the above will be possible. However, at present, it is necessary to clarify what is solved by using AI and what part of the problem-solving process can be easily solved by AI. In other words, AI cannot be an effective tool unless humans program the problem-solving process and incorporate AI into it.

  We need to think about how to solve “unsolved problems” in the field of science and technology for landslide prevention. All these problems are hindering the development of science and technology for landslide disaster prevention and should be solved by members of the Japan Landslide Society.

  First of all in the process of the solution, it is necessary for the researcher to recognize what he or she should solve the problems for preventing landslide disaster. The demands in practical project for landslide prevention might teach you what kinds of the problems should be solved.

  In addition, it is necessary to devise a method for disseminating information of your research activities to other researchers. If you think only a presentation once at the research workshop or meeting can make people understand your achievement, you should reconsider the strategy of the dissemination of your research. Since there are many presentations at the workshops and meetings, people could not focus only on your presentation. If you want to appeal your achievement, a complex “information dissemination strategy” is necessary. For example, you can make several presentations on the same kind of content at different research meetings of several academic societies, submit papers to academic journals together with presentations at research meetings, and publish the content of the paper as a repository on your own Web site. It is also important to submit a paper to an overseas journal. Because we Japanese researchers are not good at English, we hesitate to submit papers to overseas journals. It makes the result that a few papers by Japanese researchers publish on the international journals, thus, the research of Japanese researchers is hardly known overseas. Some Japanese researchers are doing good research, but few submit it as a dissertation in an overseas journal. It is certain that this is pushing down Japan’s status. It can be said that this is damaging Japan’s national interest.

  You also need to implement research activities as a joint research project with many other researchers. Many engineers in governmental offices or private companies tend to understand only the significance of the research on the society, that is, the research is positioned as one of the topics within the annual or action plan in government or university, rather than the impact on academic society. In other words, it is important for them that the research is “authoritative research” such as whether it was adopted for competitive funding of the government or a project within a research institution. It is natural to make such an evaluation because non-experts cannot understand the academic significance of the study. It is necessary for the researchers to obtain competitive funding from the government, thereby conducting research projects, and to appeal research projects using the name of competitive funding. The Japan landslide Society has a system called “Research Committee”. New research committees have been recruited every year. This community is also effective for making research projects and giving authority to your research. It is effective for the dissemination of the information of your research to hold workshops in the committee.

  It is necessary to have a two-pronged external strategy for the dissemination. The first is notifying experts of one’s research by “presentation at an academic meeting as a dissertation”, and the second is appealing to non-experts by “projecting”. However, we should not lose sight of “research” by becoming a “strategist” who thinks only about these strategies.

  Suppose you’ve studied a lot of existing papers to understand how far they attained the achievement in a particular field, and made careful examination of your data, which produced a unique idea you’ve never seen before. If you submit the manuscript with the content of this unique idea to an academic journal, it is often rejected. The reason is that neither the editorial board of the journal nor the reviewers can understand the academic significance of the idea. In other words, rejection by the academic journal may mean that your idea is new while difficult to be understood. It is natural for reviewers to reject quite new ideas because they should follow the level of existing research achievement in the field. Therefore, if you are not satisfied with the reason for the rejection when your manuscript is rejected, the content of your dissertation may be a new idea that the reviewers cannot understand. Therefore, please cherish the idea and brush up the idea further. It takes a long time for such “new ideas” to be recognized in the field. Researchers in the field need much time to study and understand the quite new idea. For that purpose, you need to submit many times even if the submitted manuscript is rejected, and at the same time, you need to make many presentations at academic meetings or workshops. It takes time, effort, and above all, an unyielding heart of you. I think that it is a “breakthrough” in the field that your new ideas are recognized by people in this way. This kind of “breakthrough” is needed for the development of the science and technology.