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The Hidden Persuaders : Government Scientists and Defence in Post-war Britain

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Title: The Hidden Persuaders : Government Scientists and Defence in Post-war Britain
Author(s): Oikonomou, Alexandros-Panagiotis
Item Type: Thesis or dissertation
Abstract: This thesis is the first systematic treatment of the role of scientists in the highest levels of decision and policy making in the British government. Its focus is on the crucial defence sector during the period from the end of the Second World War and up to the 1960s. It shows the strong influence of a number of career government scientists in the formulation of Britain's post-war defence policy and their crucial role in the making of two particular decisions, focusing on nuclear delivery systems. The thesis offers a number of correctives to the standard image which is prevalent in the bulk of the literature and offers a set of arguments that extend and re-enforce recent trends in the historiography, both of 20th century Britain and the history of science. It argues that the key scientists in relation to government were not external to the system, expert academics who enter government to offer their, usually critical, point of view (as in the case of the famous Sir Solly Zuckerman), but career scientific civil servants, nursed in the workings of Whitehall and the machinations of government and with broad experience in running large R&D projects. It analyses in detail the careers of the two most important among them, namely Sir Frederick Brundrett and Sir William Cook, placing them in the wider context of government science. It also argues, contrary to the view that post-war defence policy was driven mainly by inter-service rivalries, that the Defence Research Policy Committee of the Ministry of Defence became an important new element in the bureaucratic game in the 1950s. On the one hand, it shows that its chairman and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Minister, Sir Frederick Brundrett, was much more influential than has been recognised in the 1957 Defence White Paper and its focus on R&D, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. On the other hand, Sir William Cook, the 'father of the British H-bomb', was able to exert significant and at times decisive influence in the decisions to acquire the Polaris nuclear delivery system from the United States and to jump start its indigenous improvement programme, the Chevaline.
Publication Date: Jan-2011
Date Awarded: Jul-2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/6998
Advisor: Edgerton, David
Author: Oikonomou, Alexandros-Panagiotis
Department: Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
Publisher: Imperial College London
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Qualification Name: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Appears in Collections:School of Professional Development PhD theses



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