Rebecca Slayton

Rebecca Slayton, PhD

Research Interests

Cold War; missile defense; nuclear weapons; defense policy; ethics;


Rebecca Slayton is Assistant Professor at Cornell University with a joint appointment in the Science & Technology Studies Department and the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Prior to that, she was a lecturer in Stanford’s Public Policy Program and a junior faculty fellow at CISAC for 2013-2014. Her research examines how different kinds of experts assess the risks of new technology, and how their arguments gain influence in distinctive organizational and political contexts. She is currently studying efforts to manage the diverse risks—economic, environmental, and security—associated with a “smarter” electrical grid.

Slayton’s interest in smart grid security grew out of her recently completed book, Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (Cambridge: 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.

Slayton earned a PhD in physical chemistry at Harvard University in 2002. In 2002 she won a National Science Foundation postdoctoral grant to study scientific advising and public debate about the “Star Wars” missile defense program, and to develop skills in social scientific research methods, in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also won a AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship in 2000, and has worked as a science journalist.

Slayton came to CISAC as a science fellow in 2004-2005, and was a CISAC affiliate from 2005-2011, while she was also a lecturer in the Science, Technology and Society Program at Stanford University. She was a visiting scholar at CISAC for 2012-2013.