Looking for a few good anthropologists

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images During the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many social scientists have decried the U.S. Defense Department’s lack of cultural sensitivity. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University, is doing something about it. He has announced Project Minerva, which will fund research by social scientists on topics ...

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593514_080721_gates_815390842.gif

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

During the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many social scientists have decried the U.S. Defense Department's lack of cultural sensitivity. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University, is doing something about it. He has announced Project Minerva, which will fund research by social scientists on topics such as the influence of religion and economics on terrorism.

Rather than welcoming Project Minerva, however, many academics, particularly anthropologists, oppose it. In the recent FP Web exclusive "When Professors Go to War," anthropologist Hugh Gusterson wrote that many anthropologists -- who are in a largely left-leaning discipline -- simply won't stomach being funded by the Pentagon. Thus, those social scientists who do apply for funding will be a thin slice who have no qualms about accepting the Defense Department's money. This will lead to "selection bias," in which only a narrow range of perspectives end up being funded.

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

During the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many social scientists have decried the U.S. Defense Department’s lack of cultural sensitivity. Now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University, is doing something about it. He has announced Project Minerva, which will fund research by social scientists on topics such as the influence of religion and economics on terrorism.

Rather than welcoming Project Minerva, however, many academics, particularly anthropologists, oppose it. In the recent FP Web exclusive “When Professors Go to War,” anthropologist Hugh Gusterson wrote that many anthropologists — who are in a largely left-leaning discipline — simply won’t stomach being funded by the Pentagon. Thus, those social scientists who do apply for funding will be a thin slice who have no qualms about accepting the Defense Department’s money. This will lead to “selection bias,” in which only a narrow range of perspectives end up being funded.

In response, Duke University professor Peter Feaver argues this week in “Pentagon Funding? Bring It On.” that the challenge of selection bias can be overcome and that Gates is committed to openness and academic freedom. Proposals will be selected on the importance of the topic being investigated and the quality of the methodology — and not on whether the results will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy for the military.

What do you all think? Should social scientists be funded by the Defense Department in an effort to bring more cultural sensitivity to the military’s methods? Who’s right? Gusterson or Feaver?

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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