June 18, 2008

A Familiar Name In A Familiar Context [8:01 am]

Who’s surprised that PSU’s MP3 watchdog president. Graham Spanier, has a new mission: The Pentagon Enlists Social Scientists to Study Security Issues

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

[...] Although the Pentagon regularly finances science and engineering research, systematic support for the social sciences and humanities has been rare. Minerva is the first systematic effort in this area since the Vietnam War, said Thomas G. Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, whose office will be overseeing the project.

But if the uncustomary push to engage the nation’s evolutionary psychologists, demographers, sociologists, historians and anthropologists in security research — as well as the prospect of new financial support in lean times — has generated excitement among some scholars, it has also aroused opposition from others, who worry that the Defense Department and the academy are getting too cozy.

[...] “I am all in favor of having lots of researchers trying to figure out why terrorists want to kill Americans,” said Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at George Mason University. “But how can you make sure you get a broad spectrum of opinion and find the best people? On both counts, I don’t think the Pentagon is the way to go.”

[...] In January Mr. Berdahl and a small group of senior scholars and university administrators met in Washington with Defense Department officials. Also there was Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State University and the association’s chairman. He said the scholars helped refine the guidelines, advising that the research be open and unclassified.

As for the issue of Pentagon financing, Mr. Spanier said, “Peer review is a good idea, but there are many different ways to do that.” He added, “We have pledged to go back and recommend individuals who could help in that process.”

“The beauty of Minerva,” Mr. Spanier said, “is that it provides a lot of opportunity for people in the social sciences and humanities to solve national-security-related questions.”

[...] To Mr. Spanier of Penn State, the answer to scholars who oppose Pentagon financing is simple: “Those who don’t want to do their research in the context of Department of Defense funding shouldn’t apply.”

Much later: the death of Paula Lloyd — Anthropologist’s war death reverberates (pdf)

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