On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge paid a visit to the University of Maryland, to announce the award of a three-year, $12-million grant from DHS for the creation of a Center of Excellence for Behavioral and Social Research on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism. The center’s team is composed of psychologists, criminologists, sociologists, and political scientists. Maryland’s VP for research made great claims for this practical application of the social sciences: “The expertise of social scientists can help disrupt terror operations and reduce the after-effects of attacks. But so far the nation hasn’t taken full advantage of their knowledge. With this new team, we hope to change that.” The head of the new center struck an even more ambitious note: “This may be the social science equivalent of the Manhattan Project.”
Okay, I’m smiling at that one. But I take my hat off to these guys. While the Middle East academics are busy applauding a radical speech by MESA’s president, who would have them burn the bridges over the Potomac, other academics are busy filling out grant forms and bagging millions of dollars. At the end of the day, they’ll have made respectable what the snots in MESA call “terrorology.” After all, how hard can it be to match the choppy record of the social sciences as applied to the Middle East? It’s intellectual poaching in the best tradition, and if leaders of the field don’t wake up, the best chance in fifty years to expand their domain will be stolen from under their noses.