Academics Target Pentagon's Social Science Project
A group of anthropologists is trying to get Pentagon stop funding an ambitious social science project. Instead, they want the work handed over to the National Science Foundation, an organization that, the academic group contends, would be better able to manage peer-reviewed research.
In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, the American Anthropological Association said that organizations like the National Science Foundation have "decades of experience" managing peer-review grant proposals. [This isn't the Association's only issue with Pentagon-funded social science; the group has strongly discouraged its membership from joining the Human Terrain program, which embeds social scientists in combat units. -- ed.]
At issue is the recently proposed "Minerva," an far-reaching Pentagon initiative that involves a number of projects designed to involve universities in topics of interest to the Pentagon, ranging from Chinese military technology to Islamic radicalism. While not a huge amount of money -- estimated to be in the millions of dollars -- it could be a significant infusion of funds for the social sciences.
Is it true that the Pentagon does not use peer review and lacks experience handling academic research? Well, it's partly correct. Certainly the Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) has decades of experience handling basic research, and has even funded proposals in the social sciences, most notably during the Vietnam War (and in the past few years as well). That's why it's somewhat strange that the Pentagon office tasked with Minerva is not DDR&E, but Policy.
As for peer review; the Pentagon certainly does know how to use peer review, but often chooses not to do so -- depending on the office -- arguing that it wants to fund high-risk, high payoff research proposals. In the social sciences, the Pentagon likely has even less experience with peer review.
What is the Pentagon's reaction to this proposal? Not all negative.According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a senior Pentagon official said the department is looking at arrangements that could include cooperation with the National Science Foundation.
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