Minerva: DoD and NSF team up for peer review
I’ve been thinking about the Human Terrain System (HTS) lately, and the relationship between anthropology and the U.S. military more generally, because I’m working on an article on the topic for Weghat Nazar, an Egyptian monthly, which I’m co-authoring with Egyptian journalist Amal Osman. As part of my research for the article, I just came across a few interesting news items (via a listserv I joined on anthropology and the military) related to military funding for social science research.
Basically, the news, reported in Nature on July 10, is that “on 30 June, the defence department signed a memorandum of understanding that will direct some of its money into social and behavioural science research through the National Science Foundation (NSF).” Here are a few relevant bits from the article:
“All proposals will be selected for funding through the NSF’s standard peer-review process. The research will be unclassified and no restrictions will be placed on researchers’ freedom to publish their results — or for that matter, to criticize the defence department….”
“The NSF agreement has been widely acclaimed by university administrators, who welcome the extra research money . But it has aroused the suspicion among some researchers that it will distort social science towards military priorities. Of particular concern is the fact that the defence department will have some say in the choice of the NSF’s peer reviewers.”
This has also been covered in Science. Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
What this seems to mean is that applications for Minerva Project money will go through an academic peer-review process, rather than being vetted by military officials, which was something critiqued when Wired first reported on Minerva when it was announced a few months ago.
The official NSF announcement is available on their website, and has also been covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, which clarifies that there are two tracks for reviewing proposals, and also a mechanism for people to refuse DoD funding for their NSF project applications:
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.)
But today’s agreement is broader than Minerva: It also creates a mechanism through which the Department of Defense can help to finance other national-security-related proposals submitted to the NSF. In such cases, scholars will have the option to decline the Pentagon’s money.
Anthropologist David Price has described in counterpunch his concerns about how military funding will transform the kinds of research that social scientists do:
…today, American social science faces new forms of ideologically controlled funding that stand to transform our universities’ production of knowledge in ways reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s ideological control over scientific interpretations.
(Meanwhile, if anyone has anything interesting to say about HTS or the relationship between anthropology and the military that they think would be particularly relevant to a Middle East audience, please get in touch with me at lisa.wynn[at]mq.edu.au.)