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Update: AAA response to NSF-Minerva partnership

17 July, 2008

Update Friday July 18, 6:09pm: The below is not for the general AAA membership.  It’s for the media — part of the AAA president’s admirable effort to reach out and inform the media about AAA-related stuff.  Here’s a clarifying note from Jennifer Steffensen at the AAA:

“President Setha Low has not issued any kind of formal statement about the NSF-DoD agreement on Minerva. The call will be an opportunity for media to learn about the AAA’s perspectives on ethical standards for social science research, and to provide some background on the issues at stake with Minerva.”

So don’t bother with the conference call unless you run a blog or work for the media.  I’ll make the effort to wake up at 4am for the call and report back here.

–L.L. Wynn

Tom Strong sent me this announcement which annoyingly enough, I haven’t gotten myself, even though I’m an AAA member (harumph!). For those of you who are interested in the American Anthropological Association’s reaction to the partnering of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to review Minerva Project research, you might want to join this conference call (but unfortunately that translates to 4am Sydney time):

Anthropologists Critique Pentagon’s ‘Minerva’
Conference Call July 31, 2-3 pm

For Immediate Release:
July 16, 2008

Anthropologists have a long and, at times, troubled history of working with the military during times of conflict—from World War II to the present-day war on terror.

Recent controversies surrounding the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System, a $40 million program that embeds cultural advisors in combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan, have spilled over into new anxieties surrounding the Pentagon’s ‘Minerva’ program, a Defense Department initiative to fund social science and humanities research in Pentagon-designated national security-related areas, including terrorism, religious fundamentalism and Chinese military and technology.

Following a speech on April 14 by Defense Secretary Robert M Gates announcing his vision for Minerva, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) issued a letter from its president to address some concerns about the program. The letter called for a redirection of program management to external organizations that have extensive experience in peer-review and are familiar with the ethical standards and concerns of the anthropology discipline.

“Rigorous, balanced and objective peer review is the bedrock of successful and productive programs that sponsor academic research. Agencies such as NSF, NIH and NEH have decades of experience in building an infrastructure of respected peer reviewers who referee individual grant proposals and give their time to sit on panels,” President Low stated in the letter to key White House and congressional leaders.

On June 30, the National Science Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Defense Department, sealing the deal that the two agencies will cooperate on the management of Minerva for the next three years, with the possibility of an extended contract.

According to the MOU, research proposals will be evaluated by the NSF’s standard merit-review panels, but Pentagon officials will have decision-making power in deciding who sits on the panels. Research will not be classified and researchers are free to publish their results.

Despite the AAA’s enthusiastic support for NSF involvement with Minerva, there remain concerns within the discipline that research will only be funded when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda. Other critics of the program, including the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the program would discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique of the military.

AAA President Setha Low will be discussing Minerva and the AAA’s reaction to the program during a conference call on Thursday, July 31 from 2-3 pm.

Following discussion on Minerva, the July 31 conference call will feature a discussion on the global food crisis with anthropologist Sol Katz, co-chair of the AAA Task Force on World Food Problems.

For more information or to sign up for the call, contact Jennifer Steffensen at 703-528-1902 x 3039 or jsteffensen[@]

Useful Links:

DoD Broad Agency Announcement

Letter from AAA President Setha M Low

Statement by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists

NSF Press Release

AAA President Setha M Low’s Web page

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lemia permalink
    17 July, 2008 10:21 am

    You state that the HTS program is worth $40 million, but I do believe it is up to $200 million now. At least, this is the buzz at Ft. Leavenworth … although I did hear that they overspent their budget a couple months ago. They are now pushing their way into AFRACOM – a nifty way to secure more money for the trough.

  2. 17 July, 2008 12:28 pm

    Thanks for clarifying, Lemia. Yes, I think $40 million is an old figure but I’m not really sure where to get up to date figures for what’s being spent on HTS. What’s AFRACOM?

  3. steve permalink
    18 July, 2008 1:18 am

    AFRICOM (not afr_A_com) is the DoD’s new combatant command for the continent of Africa, excluding Egypt. Up to now, the DoD has dealt with Africa through three different commands that are responsible for three different parts of the world, including the European Command and the Pacific Command. This is the first command dedicated solely to Africa. It’s also supposed to be a new style of command that consults with civilians on the State Department side.

    And $40 is an old budget figure for the HTS program. It’s actually well over $100 million now.

  4. 18 July, 2008 2:02 am

    I just finally got around to reading this as it is a subject that interests me greatly. I spoke with my husband who is in the military and he is not familiar with AFRACOM. He did say that there is a fairly new command arena know as AFRICOM (African Command- Like SOCOM-Southern Operations Command) which is about three years old.

  5. 18 July, 2008 2:36 pm

    Thanks Donna and Steve. Steve, any source you can point me to for figures on money spent on HTS?

  6. Costa permalink
    18 July, 2008 4:13 pm

    Of everything I read about the Minerva project, this is what concerns me the most:

    “The University becomes an instrument rather than a critic of war-making, and spaces for critical discussion of militarism within the university shrink.” (Statement of network of concerned anth)

    I always envisoned that universitites would produce independent research, without the bias or agendas of their funders. The Minerva project to me is a sign, of what is to come: a guide to what is important reaserch, at least deemed important. As research becomes funding driven we lose the crucial critical discussion “power”. Sure the research is not classified, but I assume, that if you want to continue to receive funding from the government agencies, to continue research the analyses will be somewhat favourable not critical. And only in the retirment memoirs, will the true discussion begin.


  1. More Minerva News and Discussion « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY
  2. AAA Conference Call on Minerva | Savage Minds

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