US Military Funds Social Science (again)

“Minerva” is the name of a project announced earlier this year by the once and future US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to have the Pentagon fund social science research in support of the American “War on Terror.” (Minerva was the ancient Roman goddess of wisdom. Hegel once pessimistically declared that “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” That is, we only achieve wisdom once it is too late.)

Although the natural sciences have consistently been funded by the US military, social science (which has often been critical of the military and government policy more broadly) has experienced a more conflicted relationship. During the Cold War, the research funding policy that aimed at what was called “intellectual preparedness” led to the bankrolling of a wide array of social science projects, including Noam Chomsky’s early work on linguistics (Chomsky later became an outspoken critic of the war in Viet Nam) and, more notoriously, the “psychic driving” research of Ewan Cameron at McGill University in Montreal. From the Reagan Era forward, however, the US government often treated social science as being somewhere between useless and dangerous.

Now we appear to have come full circle, and the US government hopes to be able to harness social science with research grants totaling $50 million over the next five years. The Pentagon has just announced which projects will receive the first round of this funding. The e-zine Wired has published an article detailing these developments.

Although there has been little response from psychologists, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists (which earlier protested the embedding of anthropologists with the US military in Iraq) has sounded the alarm with respect to Minerva as well.

[Thanks to my colleague Fred Weizmann for bringing the Wired article to my attention.]

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About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

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