More Minerva News and Discussion (2.1)

David Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 30, 2008
Minerva Takes Flesh: Pentagon and Science Foundation Sign Social-Science Deal

In a memorandum of understanding that was signed today, the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation agreed to work cooperatively to support social-science research on topics of interest to the Pentagon.

As widely expected, the NSF has agreed to help review proposals submitted to the Pentagon’s Minerva Research Initiative, a fledgling program that will offer grants to university-based scholars to study the Chinese military, the records of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and other specific topics.

The two agencies will soon – possibly within a week – release a joint request for Minerva-related proposals. Those proposals will be judged by the NSF’s typical merit-review panels, though both the science foundation and the Pentagon will have the right to nominate experts to serve on those panels. (The Pentagon is also accepting Minerva proposals through a separate pathway known as a broad agency announcement. Proposals that are submitted via this second track will reviewed through the Defense Department’s usual processes, not by NSF panels.)


American Anthropological Association, Public Affairs Blog:
Minerva & NSF

July 10, 2008

The Pentagon has launched a program called the Minerva Research Initiative that would fund university-based social scientists to study topics of interest to the Department of Defense, such as the Chinese military and religious fundamentalism. The AAA expressed its concerns about Minerva in a letter to Washington, and urged the Pentagon to coordinate with the National Science Foundation and other agencies that have extensive experience in peer-review and are familiar with the ethical standards and concerns of our discipline. The Pentagon was apparently listening. Pentagon officials signed an agreement with NSF last week enabling the two agencies to collaborate on approving Minerva-funded social science research. Still, there are concerns within the discipline that research will only be used when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda.


David H. Price
Inside the Minerva Consortium: Social Science in Harness

Counterpunch, June 24, 2008

Minerva doesn’t appear to be funding projects designed to tell Defense why the US shouldn’t invade and occupy other countries; its programs are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of counterinsurgency, and answering specific questions related to the occupation and streamlining the problems of empire. This sort of Soviet model of directed social science funding will make America’s critical perspective more narrow precisely at an historical moment when we need a new breadth of knowledge and perspective.


The U.S. military’s quest to weaponize culture
By Hugh Gusterson | 20 June 2008


Kintisch, Eli. (2008). Defense, NSF team up on national security research. Science, 11 July, 321 (5886): 186-187.

The program will have two arms of equal size. One will be managed by Defense officials and the other by NSF, with some Pentagon input on the selection of reviewers. “There are several topics of mutual interest” within the Minerva areas, says David Lightfoot, who heads NSF’s social sciences directorate. “Securing the national defense was part of our charter in 1950,” he adds.


Nature. (2008). Editorial: A social contract — Efforts to inform U.S. policy with insights from the social sciences could be a win-win approach. Nature, 10 July, 454: 138.

Social scientists, meanwhile, should embrace the opportunities that the AAA pointed out last November in a report on engagement with the military. These include studying military and intelligence organizations from the inside and educating the military about other cultures and societies. Outrage at the current administration should not derail efforts that have potential to be a win-win for all concerned – including, most especially, the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and regions of future conflict.


Steven R. Corman
Minerva Followup
COMOPS Journal, July 11, 2008

I think what’s really going on here is that that the anthropologists, who have an NSF division of their own, want to be sure they have control over the money (isn’t that a conflict of interest?). Also many of their members are squeamish about taking money from the Big Bad DoD, and somehow the same money will be purified if it is routed through NSF.

In a press release yesterday, the AAA bragged that “the Pentagon was apparently listening” because they signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the NSF. Well, not exactly. The MOU is about future NSF programs. The original Minerva program is going ahead as planned, with DoD organizing the reviews.


Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Pentagon Funds National Security Research

American Forces Press Service
, July 14, 2008

The Defense Department is continuing its efforts to finance university research on national security-related issues, a senior Pentagon official said.

The Minerva Initiative is an effort to build the Defense Department’s capacity to reach out to the academic community for research in social science topics of interest to national security both present and future, Thomas Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, said in a teleconference with online journalists and bloggers July 10.

Mahnken said the project has multiple strands, such as an agreement with the National Science Foundation and “broad agency announcements that seek research proposals in specific areas of study.

A memorandum of understanding recently signed between DoD and that the National Science Foundation allows researchers to apply for grants to study subjects that may be of interest to U.S. national security. Officials anticipate the agreement will fund work leading to new knowledge about topics such as religious fundamentalism, terrorism and cultural change.



Press Release 08-114
NSF Signs Memorandum of Understanding with Department of Defense for National Security Research

“To secure the national defense was one of the original missions we were given when we were chartered in 1950,” said David Lightfoot, assistant director of NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences Directorate. “We’ve always believed that sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and other social scientists, through basic social and behavioral science research, could benefit our national security. In fact, we’ve always done so through various research projects. The MOU gives us another tool and more resources to do what we’ve always done well.”

According to the MOU, funding for research projects will be determined on a case-by-case basis. DoD will consider supporting proposals submitted to regular NSF programs managed by SBE. In return, DoD will get the gold standard for the U.S. peer review process ensuring the research meets specific criteria for intellectual merit and broader impact.

Grant proposals will be evaluated by SBE’s normal merit-review panels, though Pentagon officials will have some input into who sits on the panels. The research will not be classified and there will be no constraints on the researchers’ ability to publish their results.