US Department of Defense Militarizes Social Science

by Vins

In 2008, the US Department of Defense founded the Minerva Initiative, a “social science research initiative” which focused on regions of “strategic importance to US national security policy.” The initiative focuses on results that can be used in the field (that are “warfighter relevant,” in the words of the Minerva Initiative website). The DoD is issuing $17 million to fund twelve new projects for 2014-17. As Nafeez Ahmed reports in the Guardian, the DoD funding social science is a conflict of interest and certain proposed projects raise questions about how the social science might be used in warzones.

One of the twelve projects, a study done through Cornell University, is being funded to determine the causes and dynamics of “social contagions” via the Internet in protest and revolution. Democratic revolutions like that in Egypt in 2011 are being researched in terms of these “social contagions,” implying that even peaceful protestors may be “contagions.” The research may also lead to social manipulation via social media, since the research projects are supposed to have applied uses.

The United States is already developing software that would have the potential to manipulate social media though a contract with CENTCOM. [Editor’s note: For previous coverage by Project Censored of this topic, see “US Military Manipulates Social Media,” the #2 story from Censored 2010-2011.] This study plays to a similar tune as a project funded by Minerva last year entitled which was meant to determine “Who Does Not Become a Terrorist and Why?” the research for which was based on interviews with activists in NGOs among others. The frightening implication of the research being done is that peaceful protests and organizations can be equated to social contagions. The Minerva website reports, “scholars have already briefed valuable, warfighter-relevant insights to senior officials,” suggesting the results of studies like these will be or are being employed in warzones.

The Washington Post covered Project Minerva in 2008 when anthropologists spoke out against the initiative saying that it could make universities “instrument[s] rather than a critic[s] of war-making.” The New York Times also published an article addressing the same concerns. Both included support of the program from the former US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as well. The new research projects funded in 2014 have received no US corporate coverage and the Minerva Initiative has not been covered by US corporate media in six years.

Source: Nafeez Ahmed, “Pentagon Preparing for Mass Civil Breakdown,” Guardian, June 12, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jun/12/pentagon-mass-civil-breakdown.

Student Researchers: Ira Fleming (Pomona College) and Carlos Ballesteros (Claremont McKenna College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)