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Pentagon moving into social science

The New York Times reports on a new Pentagon program to make more systematic use of social scientists.

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.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has compared the initiative — named Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom (and warriors) — to the government’s effort to pump up its intellectual capital during the cold war after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.

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.

$50 million will be routed through the National Science Foundation, in an effort to make the program feel more familiar-- to reduce anxiety among researchers about working with the military, and increase the scholarly rigor.

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