Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Military Industrial Congressional Academic Complex

Yesterday, a twitter friend started posting about defense dollars being spent at universities.  He was making a point about how people seem not to realize how much $$ go to universities from DoD:

I first took him seriously and defended the academic-military relationship, although he didn't need the lecture.  But since I had a bunch of tweets on this, I thought I would explain my take, as some folks do worry about academics getting money from the military or from government.

The first point is simply this: if one is going to do research that requires coding (and thus graduate students and/or undergrads) or travel for interviews, fieldwork, whatever, then one is going to need money.  Where does that money come from?  In Canada, there is not much in the way of private sources of cash, so one relies on one of the national grant agencies (universities tend to provide little $$ for research expecting that their profs get the national money).  If one does international relations, one can apply for money from the Department of National Defence and from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.  One could seek out money from the corporate sector (not so much in my area), but if people worry about the taint of government, the taint of corporations might bother them more.

My attitude towards govt $, military or otherwise, is simply this: if they do not tell me what to say or how to say it, then I am not worried about strings.  I understand that people might fear potential retribution which might cause self-editing, but I have yet to feel any pressure to say what I think the government wants me to say.  Indeed, my blogging and my pubs are not very filtered, with heaps of criticism towards the governments of the countries I study and also often of the oppositions of those governments. 

I can see how getting too buddy-buddy with the folks we study could cause problems, but extreme distance is also harmful because then we have no clue about that which we are studying.  Life, as always, is full of tradeoffs.  My preference ordering generally would be: university $ > national grant agency $ > government $ > private for profit $.  If I worked in the US, I would probably put non-profit (Carnegie, Ford, Pew, etc) in between university $ and national grant agency $.  Of course, once one adds in status and expectations, the ordering changes a bit with national agencies being seen as more prestigious and generally more valuable to one's universities since they get a cut.

I have long sucked at the teat of government in doing my work.  When I was a grad student, I received funding from the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, which is a U of Cal system wide institution that essentially represents the conscience money given to the UC schools to compensate for running the nuke labs.  IGCC was originally run by physicists who discovered sin--that they wanted to study how the stuff they built would not be used.  IGCC was mighty good to me, as has Canada's Dept of National Defence has been, with a couple of small grants to help with workshops and research travel (my trip to the Netherlands a couple of years back). 

So, when I hear folks complain about defense dollars going to the academic world, I think about how little my work has been shaped by those who gave me money, and how grateful I am to their generosity and their distance.  It is not a perfect world, which is why it is so much fun to study, and as I try to make folks aware of the tradeoffs policy-makers need to face, I try to make sure I am aware of the ones I make.  Consider this post a reminder to myself.

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