New concerns on the Pentagon initiative “the Minerva consortium” were raised recently by the American Anthropological Association.  Minerva is a DOD initiative that seeks to “involve universities in the global war on terror” (Wired news) .The anxiety of scholars about the use of social science research in unethical manner with the purpose of enforce military operations is justify and related with a history of past violations (e.g. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,Human Radiation Experiments, etc) that led to the establishment of scholarly ethics codes of human research . This is a worrisome development that is generating heated debates. An overview of the Minerva initiative in a recent article at the Insider Higher Education address the responses to a recent letter by the president of the American Anthropological Research Association to the Bush administration and the Congress. The Chronicle of Higher Ed. News Blog indicate that in this 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.
This however is not addressing the crucial questions that seem to linger behind the debate: what will be the purpose of social research funded by the Military in the current context? is this about the building of a ‘better public policy’ of conquest? will social research be use to harm the subjects of research?. Those are critical questions that cannot be avoided. Again, it is important to remember that there is a past and current history of governments using professional expertise to justify and/or support human rights abuses (e.g. torture and the medical profession). In a similar manner in a critical posting at the Open Anthropology blog is asked the following question:
Are American anthropologists being called upon to cure the pathologies of their own society, to reduce the toxic glorification of war and the malignant sanctification of brutes in uniform, or to provide practical advice on how to better control subject populations?
Finally, I wonder , following Sharon Weinberger posting at Wired news : “will Minerva go the way of theVietnam-era Project Camelot?”
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