Professor Rebecca Slayton’s research examines how distinctive kinds of experts assess the promise and risks of new technology, and how their arguments gain influence in distinctive organizational and political contexts. She is author of Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (MIT Press: 2013). Arguments that Count compares how two different ways of framing complex technology—physics and computer science—lead to very different understandings of the risks associated with weapons systems. It also shows how computer scientists established a disciplinary repertoire—quantitative rules, codified knowledge, and other tools for assessment—that enabled them to construct authoritative arguments about complex software, and to make those analyses “stick” in the political process.
Professor Slayton is currently working on three interrelated research projects. The first project examines how efforts to manage the risk of a cyberattack on the U.S. electrical grid are being organized within and across utilities, industry groups, state utility commissions, and federal regulatory agencies. Second, Professor Slayton is researching the history of efforts to quantify computer and network security. A third project focuses on contemporary efforts by strategic thinkers to learn about cybersecurity through analogies to nuclear strategy.