National security is a useful angle for presenting science, art and culture issues to disengaged or skeptical audiences.
Like any hook, such as sports or popular culture, military and national security themes broaden an audience for outreach. There are over 3.6M military personnel in the U.S., 1.9M spouses & kids of active duty members, and over 22M veterans, who also have families. (Stats on personnel & families, and veterans.)
There are several initiatives which are bridging the military world with the sciences and culture…
A winnable battle
Most Americans like science & art. A 2009 Pew study found that overwhelming majorities of Americans feel that science has had a positive effect on society and that research has made life easier for most people. Americans also like arts and culture. They are keen on music and visual arts, and many like culture and dance. (See our blog post about involvement in arts & culture.)
Despite this broad seed of interest, there are ideological differences, particularly when it comes to money. Among the general public, Democrats are more interested in funding the arts and sciences, and Republicans are more interested in military. (According to Jan 2011 Gallup poll; Pew stats on science funding from 2009 are similar.) Here’s the Gallup data:
Bridging the waters
Last year, amidst ongoing ideological debates about climate change and government funding of the arts, two unexpected voices testified before Congress.
In support of the sciences, Rear Admiral Titley testified on 27-July-2010 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explaining that the Navy is closely watching effects of changing climate on sea ice in the Arctic, saying that “the changing Arctic has national security implications for the Navy.” (See also PDF)
In support of the arts, retired Army Brigadier General Nolen Bivens testified on 13-April-2010 to the a House appropriations subcommittee, to raise the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Bivens testified that “support for the arts and culture can improve our [country's] national security needs.”
These military voices command the respect and attention of the military-oriented public, and carry authority because the military is considered a neutral voice.
The opposition bluffs
There are ideological differences, but politicians can make the differences look larger than then are. For example, in the sciences, House Republicans cut Obama’s budget recommendations in science and art (see graph at Nature). And in the arts, in January 2011, a group of 165 House Republicans, proposed to cut federal funding for arts, eliminating funds for NEA and NEH, and public broadcasting, as well a other liberal policies like public transportation.
When looking at budget discussions, it’s important to maintain some perspective: In terms of the Federal budget, the funds assigned to defense are colossal. The Federal budget for defense ($691B in FY2010) is five-times the sciences’ ($137B in 2010) and dwarfs the National Endowments for the Arts’ (NEA) and and the National Endowments for Humanities’ (NEH) ($0.34B in 2010).
Moreover, politicians bring a lot of bluster into the budget debate. According to Stanley Katz, director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton, ”despite the rhetoric of the cultural wars [of the 1990's], not much actually happened to influence public opinion against the arts.” He continues that the current debates are “more ideological window dressing than anything else.”
When it comes to controversial science topics like climate change, ideology does play a larger role. Regarding climate change, one in five Americans are doubtful or actively dismissive about global warming — and nearly all of the people with extreme views on the validity of climate change science are conservative Republicans. (See “Six Americas” PDF). This is where Rear Admiral Titley’s testimony and outreach is so vital.
Science & art outreach
In the sciences, there is a popular blog (290 posts, 600k visitors in 2010), Armed with Science, run by DoD which often features blog posts by scientists and various military departments. For climate change in particular, Rear Admiral Titley directs the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, TFCC (see their charter, PDF). TFCC maintains a Facebook page liked by 605 people, and Titley gives a variety of public speeches which raise attention in the press and among bloggers.
In the arts, General Bivens feels there is a lot of untapped potential. He emphasizes that the vast majority of people in the military respect the arts and culture, and appreciate the importance of cultural diplomacy to America’s long term security. He suggests arts outreach projects focused on cultural diplomacy in foreign countries, trainings for military personnel, and services to veterans and military families. For families, one example is the Blue Star Museums project (joint between NEA and Blue Star Families, a support organization for military families), which gives free museum admission to military families in the summer. NEA chairman Rocco Landesman wrote in Feb 2011, that a quarter of a million military families visited one of the 920 Blue Star Museums over summer 2010.
Upcoming blog posts will look at these programs in more detail. If you know about more projects, please list them in the comments.