Joy Rohde's "Pax Technologica: Computers, international affairs, and human reason in the Cold War" was published in Isis in December.
From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, a team of U.S. political scientists and computer specialists designed an automated, computerized information system that could ostensibly forecast conflict earlier and more accurately than human analysts. Named the Crisis Early Warning and Monitoring System (EWAMS), it sought to bring international relations scholarship and U.S. national security policy—traditionally qualitative and interpretive domains—under the jurisdiction of a man–machine system. Drawing together the histories of social science, computing, and foreign policy, this essay argues that deep epistemic insecurities led social scientists to apply information technology to the production of policy knowledge. Computers, they hoped, could overcome the innate cognitive limitations that imperiled human decision making. By showing how social scientists’ computational zeal overshadowed their commitment to human agency, this essay also demonstrates that the history of science has an important role to play in contemporary debates about the implications of big data projects for knowledge and policy.