In the second half of the twentieth century consensus became the language through which scientists and other experts spoke truth to power and provided expert advice for policy making. Historical scholarship on science policy has acknowledged this trend but has not explained how consensus came to play such a large role in the relationship between experts and policy makers. This paper examines two historical case studies from the mid-twentieth century in which consensus was introduced—the failed consensus report experiments of the American Economic Association and the successful establishment of the National Research Council’s consensus studies. These examples demonstrate that consensus was not a natural or obvious choice. Rather, the choice was driven by the growth and definition of the postwar scientific community and its negotiated relationship to the Cold War national security state. In this context, consensus became associated with depersonalized and objective knowledge. As it reinforces the notion of a divide between science and politics, consensus has remained an instrumental part of the relationship between the NRC and its patrons.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.