Chain Reaction: Expert Debate and Public Participation in American Commercial Nuclear Power 1945-1975
Chain Reaction is a work of recent American political history. It seeks to explain how and why America came to depend so heavily on its experts after World War II, how those experts translated that authority into political clout, and why that authority and political discretion declined in the 1970s. Brian Balogh's pathbreaking research into the internal memoranda of the Atomic Energy Commission substantiates his argument in impressive historical detail. It was not the ravages of American anti-intellectualism, as so many scholars have argued, that brought the experts back down to earth. Rather, their decline can be traced to the very roots of their success after World War II. The need to overstate anticipated results in order to garner public support, incessant professional and bureaucratic specialization, and the sheer proliferation of expertise pushed arcane and insulated debates between experts into public forums at the same time that a broad cross section of political participants found it easier to gain access to their own expertise. These tendencies ultimately undermined the political clout of all experts.
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