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Elite Beliefs, Epistemic Communities and the Atlantic Divide: Scientists' Nuclear Policy Preferences in the United States and European Union

  • NEIL J. MITCHELL (a1), KERRY G. HERRON (a2), HANK C. JENKINS-SMITH (a2) and GUY D. WHITTEN (a3)

Extract

Do elites with scientific expertise hold similar policy preferences in technical policy areas irrespective of their ideological and national background? It is expected that elite beliefs will exhibit a higher level of ideological constraint than mass beliefs do, yet we do not know much about the role of ideology and national context in shaping more specific policy preferences. In this research note, we report the findings of an analysis of the influence of ideology and national context on the policy beliefs of scientific elites in the member countries of the European Union and in the United States.

Recent research on epistemic communities, or ‘networks of knowledge-based experts’, suggests that scientific elites will achieve transnational convergence on policy positions, particularly over complex and technical policy questions: ‘to the extent that epistemic communities make some of the world's problems more amenable to human reason and intervention, they can curb some of the international system's anarchic tendencies, temper some of the excesses of a purely state-centric order, and perhaps even help bring about a better international order’. Nuclear security issues and environmental issues are policy areas identified as amenable to an epistemic communities approach. Earlier research is divided over the degree to which ideology influences scientists' policy beliefs. But there have been no systematic cross-national analyses of the influence of scientific training in suppressing ‘state-centric’ and ideological concerns in the determination of policy preferences.

With a substantive focus on scientific elites' beliefs and preferences on security and energy policy issues, our aim is to extend this research to a comparative setting and provide a preliminary understanding of the extent to which knowledge and scientific training provide insulation from ideology, patriotism and ‘state-centric’ concerns.

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