Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hugh Gusterson, "When Professors go to War"

Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology at George Mason University, was featured in Foreign Policy this month. In his article, “When Professors go to War,” he describes the potential ramifications of a Pentagon-funded Minerva Project. Given anthropology’s lean to the left and lingering frustration about the (mis)use of social science research in Vietnam, many anthropologists, Gusterson argues, are unlikely to participate in Minerva. Opting out of Minerva compromises the Pentagon’s reported mission of sponsoring research from across the political spectrum. Gusterson writes, “The Pentagon will have the false comfort of believing that it has harnessed the best and the brightest minds, when in fact it will have only received a very limited slice of what the ivory tower has to offer­--academics who have no problem taking Pentagon funds. Social scientists call this ‘selection bias,’ and it can lead to dangerous analytical errors.” The solution is simple: fund through agencies that have experience supervising social science research, such as the NSF or NIH.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Defense Secretary William Gates, and the House and Senate Armed Services and Budget Committees, AAA urged to have NSF oversee the funding process. It appears some progress has been made. NSF recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the DoD, allowing collaboration between the two agencies. However, this does not mean NSF will be reviewing Minerva proposals, and additional efforts are needed to facilitate joint solicitations.

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