Soon after the first group of ERATO projects was completed, the NSF commissioned the first ERATO study (JTECH 1988), co-chaired by Dr. William Brinkman from AT&T Bell Laboratories and Dr. Dale Oxender. Their team included Colwell and Rowell, who are also members of the present study. Additional members included Drs. Joseph Demuth, Richard Skalak, and Edward Wolf. Since there were then far fewer projects and since only a few had been completed, the 1988 panel was able to assess the quality of the research but could not evaluate the program's sociological or political impact.
The 1988 panel rated the scientific quality of the overall program as high, but found considerable variation from project to project. The panel cited two examples of ERATO successes: one where the work achieved international recognition for the group, and another where the work enhanced an existing but strong program that had been only marginally funded before. The panel also mentioned at least a couple of political successes: (1) the program had been renewed for seven continuous years, and (2) other institutions were copying the ERATO model.
Finally, the panel noted that ERATO was a small program, and members were somewhat skeptical about its eventual payoff since ERATO could not be compared to much more visible projects like the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) project, for example.
In contrast, the 1995 panel found ERATO research to be of very high quality and disagreed with the earlier panel on ERATO's impact. This panel believes that ERATO has had a major impact on Japan, even more significant than some of Japan's bigger projects, since it has been able to change the culture. By 1995, ERATO had become a very well-known program in Japan and had gained international recognition and respect. Its biggest former skeptics are now supporters of the concept: the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture (Monbusho), and other Japanese ministries are implementing similar programs, and the government is nearly doubling JRDC's basic research funding for 1996.