The Minerva Research Initiative was announced in 2008 by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Minerva looks to tap into the community of area specialists and other university researchers, particularly those who work on Islam, Iraq, China, and related areas.
In 2008 the project was provided $50 million by the United States Department of Defense to fund academic research on five separate themes. One focus was on China, a second on terrorism, a third on Iraq, a fourth on Islam, and a fifth that is open. The goal was to create improved relations between the Department of Defense and the universities and to develop knowledge that the military can benefit from in the long term.
Minerva has proven controversial. Although many scholars support Minerva, a number of academic researchers have sounded public alarm about the prospect of Defense Department funding for research. The American Anthropological Association sent a public letter suggesting that the funding be transferred to a different body, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). Hugh Gusterson, a prominent anthropologist at George Mason University, has written a series of articles in a variety of venues that have attracted significant attention. He worries that:
"any attempt to centralize thinking about culture and terrorism under the Pentagon’s roof will inevitably produce an intellectually shrunken outcome....The Pentagon will have the false comfort of believing that it has harnessed the best and the brightest minds, when in fact it will have only received a very limited slice of what the ivory tower has to offer—academics who have no problem taking Pentagon funds. Social scientists call this “selection bias,” and it can lead to dangerous analytical errors."
The Department of Defense funds Minerva directly and through the National Science Foundation.
- John Markoff (October 10, 2011). "Government Aims to Build a 'Data Eye in the Sky'". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-10. "Since 2008, a Pentagon project called the Minerva Initiative has paid for an array of studies, including research at Arizona State University into political opponents of radical Muslims and a University of Texas study on the effects of climate change on African political stability. ..."
- [See http://www.ssrc.org/essays/minerva/]