Anthropology Association Urges Government to Tread Cautiously With 'Minerva' Project

May 27, 2008

In the latest sign of scholars’ anxiety about Pentagon-financed social-science research, the president of the American Anthropological Association has sent a letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget expressing concern about the “Minerva consortium,” a program announced last month by Robert M. Gates, the secretary of defense.

The Minerva program, which will offer grants to universities to study topics of interest to the Pentagon, has been condemned by some scholars and praised by others.

In her letter, the association’s president, Setha M. Low, writes that “it is of paramount importance for anthropologists to study the roots of terrorism and other forms of violence.” But Ms. Low, who is a professor of environmental psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, argues that it would be better for such research to be financed by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Endowment for the Humanities because, she says, those agencies are more familiar with anthropology and have established structures for peer review.

At a Congressional hearing last month, Mark L. Weiss, director of the National Science Foundation’s division of behavioral and cognitive sciences, testified that his agency was willing to work with the Department of Defense, and cited a recent joint research project titled “Explosives and Related Threats: Frontiers in Prediction and Detection.” The foundation’s social-science advisory committee will discuss potential future linkages with the Pentagon at a meeting next week. —David Glenn