A little over four years ago the U.S. Department of Defense issued its first Minerva grants. These often substantial awards have produced a significant number of publications by some of the “best and brightest” (including long-term Duck of Minerva guest blogger Josh Busby) in the field and, whether directly or indirectly, shaped the nature of (at least) contemporary security studies. But it seems to me that we haven’t had anything resembling a robust discussion about consequent costs and benefits to political science, international relations, and security studies.
A brief search online doesn’t turn up much. Sean Kay has a piece in Defense Horizons that praises the program. An older news-style piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis suggests both why the discussion matters (“That type of funding is on a scale most social scientists have only dreamed about”) and why it might be difficult to have. There’s–and I almost hate to say this–predictable nastiness about the whole thing from some anthropologists. But other than that….
I wonder what readers of the Duck (and my co-bloggers) think about the DoD’s “Minerva” social science initiative. Short story is, the Pentagon plans to fund $8 million worth of social science research through the National Science Foundation this year. The NSF program solicitation is to be found here.
Today, the Washington Post reported that one “Network of Concerned Anthropologists” has expressed concern with the initiative:
“The Pentagon’s Minerva Research Initiative, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom and warriors, will fund social science research deemed crucial to national security. Initial proposals were due July 25, and the first grants are expected to be awarded by year’s end. But the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, which includes professors from American and George Mason universities, said dependence on Pentagon funding could make universities an ‘instrument rather than a critic of war-making.’
American Anthropological Association has issued similar concerns.
I think this position is bunk. The fact that the DoD is asking certain questions in a certain way and will be interested in the findings does not mean the DoD controls the research or that the science is compromised. It doesn’t mean that social scientists will be militarized or are unable to be critical of policies based on certain empirical fallacies. It does mean that those who want the money will have to demonstrate the relevance of their research designs to the kinds of questions the DoD wants answered, but that’s no different from any other NSF RFP. What it also means (significantly) is that the DoD at least wants to send the signal that it is actually prepared to consider the results. In light of recent history, I think this is a great leap forward.
Then again, perhaps I am just in favor because I want some of the money.