Expertise in economics, demographics, statistics, sociology, and other social sciences is assumed to be necessary for modern governance. In the mid-nineteenth century, the attempt to establish "social science" in the United States as a method of scholarly inquiry and social improvement intertwined with efforts to use social research and politics together. The "expert" was pressed into public service through knowledge-based governmental institutions such as commissions, executive staffs, and governmental research agencies. This essay examines institutions that grew up alongside but separate from the formal machinery of governmentindependent policy research organizations -- at the turn of the century. During this period, the prototypes of the privately funded, nonprofit research groups that later came to be called "think tanks" began to take a role in the formation of public policy and public opinion.
These groups grew out of the increasingly professionalized and bureaucratized project of modernity, 1 which sought to apply scientific research to technically master both nature and society. As a subset of the Modern project, Progressive reform politics deferred to science as a depoliticized source of judgment. The rhetoric supporting the cultivation of expertise in public administration stressed efficient, businesslike, nonpartisan approaches to government.