Latest Defense Department Minerva Grants Look at AI, Misinformation, Climate

As part of its Minerva Research Initiative, which “supports social science research aimed at improving basic understanding of security, broadly defined,” the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has selected six teams to pursue fundamental social science research through the Defense Education and Civilian University Research. The award totals $2 million for the six projects, which will be funded over the next three to four years.

Logo for Pentagon's Minerva Research Initiative showing line drawing of goddess Minerva with owl on her hand

According to the department, the program, known as DECUR, develops collaborations between so-called defense professional military education institutions, such as the military academies or National Defense University, and civilian research universities. The aim is “to improve national security-relevant basic social science research, train future military leaders in social science methods, enhance scientific cooperation between civilian and military educational institutions, and ultimately better inform DoD policymakers’ understanding of the social and cultural forces shaping U.S. strategic interests globally.”

Each project has a principal investigator drawn from a civilian institution and a co-PI from a military institution. Two of the six projects focus on “security risks in ungoverned, semi-governed, and differently governed spaces”:

“Strategic Competition in Cyberspace: Measuring the Effects of Cyber Campaigning through Experimental Methodology” | Richard Harknett (University of Cincinnati) and J.D. Work (National Defense University)

“Understanding Multi-stakeholder Regime Formation: The Case of Cislunar Space” | Mariel Borowitz (Georgia Institute of Technology) and James Clay Moltz (Naval Postgraduate School)

Two others take on additional issues in the cyber realm, such as “community studies on online and offline influence” and “social and cultural implications of artificial intelligence”:

“Characterizing and Countering the Normalization of Extremism and Communal Violence in Cyber-Social Space” | Yu-Rin Lin (University of Pittsburgh) and Deborah Wheeler (United States Naval Academy)

“Artificial Intelligence Design across Cultures: Cognitive Linguistics Describes Ethical Implications” | Scott Jarvis (University of Utah) and Gwyneth Sutherlin (National Defense University)

Another examines the social implications of climate change:

“Critical Minerals, Battery Technology, and Reducing Dependence on Hostile Suppliers in the Clean Energy Supply Chain” | Joshua Busby (University of Texas, Austin) and Emily Holland (United States Naval War College)

The sixth project tackles the topic of “computational social science research to difficult-to-access environments”:

“Assessing the Influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Local Communities at Global Scale” | Kenneth Joseph (University at Buffalo) and Camber Warren (Naval Postgraduate School)

Heidi Shyu

Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research & engineering, detailed how the subjects covered aren’t necessarily focused on the war-fighting and battlefield operations associated with any military, but they do dovetail with the priorities of the National Defense Strategy. DoD, she was quoted, “depends upon groundbreaking social science research to better understand the evolving geopolitical environment in which our military operates. Generating unique insights into topics as varied as the destabilizing effects of climate change and the threats of misinformation, Minerva and the DECUR program have for years been key tools in the protection of our national security.”

Even with that vote of confidence, Minerva funding in the $20 million range is relatively small in Pentagon terms (although substantial in academic social science terms), and has at times looked to be under threat. In addition to DECUR, Minerva offers university research grants and supports some programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace Collaboration.

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