How Not to Embed Scientists in the Military?

April 6th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Wired’s Danger Room blog has the latest installment of the Army’s effort to embed social scientists with the troops serving in combat.  The Human Terrain Team participants have recently been told they will be shifted from contractors to government employees.  If they choose not to, they can leave the program.  The blog writer is expecting a mass exodus, and may well be right.  But the program has had a big list of problems, not the least of which are the casualties.  This paragraph has a nice summary, and you can search the Danger Room blog for Human Terrain to see the rest of the coverage of Human Terrain.

Three of the program’s social scientists have been killed on duty. One former employee has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, for a revenge slaying in Afghanistan. Another is awaiting trial on espionage charges. Most recently, a sexual harrassment investigation found that one of the Human Terrain groups in Afghanistan had become a “hostile environment” to female employees.

Now, there has been general criticism of this program, just like there has of the wars in which it has been deployed.  Those are all valid questions, but somewhat separate from the broader issue of what scientists can provide in terms of boots on the ground support.  Like their military counterparts – the Civil Affairs/Foreign Area Officers – the advisory role these scientists can play has value in working with the populations where military personnel are deployed.  It would behoove someone within the Department of Defense to do some kind of analysis of the Human Terrain program to try and see how the problems of that program can be avoided in the future.

3 Responses to “How Not to Embed Scientists in the Military?”

  1. stan Says:

    “Now, there has been general criticism of this program, just like there has of the wars in which it has been deployed.”

    As opposed to all those wars which were never subjected to criticism?

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  3. Jon Frum Says:

    When I was in grad school, someone told me “There is no science in social science.” Yep, true enough. I understand granting the name social science through tradition, but unless someone travelling with the military is studying the breeding habits of central asian lizards or setting up a particle collider in Kabul, there are no American scientists in Afghanistan. Cultural scholars, sure. Scientists, not a chance.

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  5. David Bruggeman Says:

    So it’s not enough for a field to have hypothesis, experiment and theory to be a science?

    Both sociology and anthropology do the same thing for humans as studying the breeding habits of central asian lizards. How are they not science?