In few places did Truman's bold new program generate as much excitement as in American universities, and by the end of the 1950s an enormous body of homegrown theory was poised to replace Point Four's ad hoc strategy. For social scientists in the 1950s, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith remembers, "no economic subject more quickly captured the attention of so many as the rescue of the people of the poor countries from their poverty." The federal government's growing defense and intelligence establishments opened a new sphere of activity for researchers skilled in statistical and comparative methods. As prominent practitioners rotated between federal appointments, foundation boards, and faculty positions, professional codes adapted. Government collaboration, and even direction, aroused few concerns about objectivity. Faculties adopted the Area Studies organizational scheme devised by the wartime Office of Strategic Studies and took on an agenda of applied research useful to government. Much of this work focused on the "Third World," a term coined to describe a new academic division of labor that segregated work on industrialized democracies (First World), problems of communism (Second), and the underdeveloped (Third) world.
Political as well as professional motives drew academics to the Point Four mission. The social sciences came under particularly heavy attack from McCarthyite inquisitions, as did their institutional sponsors, such as the newly capitalized Ford Foundation. A 1954 congressional investigation accused the Ford Foundation of financing "the promotion of Socialism and collective ideas" in the United States. Development provided a safe outlet for social engineers whose New Dealism had become suspect. Sanctioned by development's anticommunist agenda, economists, planners, and researchers could apply abroad practices they were afraid to advance at home. The United States, in effect, exported its liberalism in the form of the energy and ideas of its best social thinkers and the funds of its largest philanthropies.
Within the national security establishment social scientists enjoyed prestige of a kind accorded in a later era only to software designers. Military and intelligence officials expected modeling techniques to be able to forecast the intentions and capabilities of foreign actors with increasing reliability. Psychology offered a particularly useful set of conceptual tools for engineering bloodless revolutions. Nuclear deadlock guaranteed that the Cold War would be fought largely in the Third World through techniques of subversion, propaganda, and attraction. In this atmosphere of expectancy and risk, government agencies and private foundations enlisted researchers to learn the secrets of modernization.
Foundations, government agencies, and universities jointly created institutional arrangements for generating theories of modernization. In 1953, with Ford Foundation assistance, the Social Science Research Council created a Committee on Comparative Politics among whose members Gabriel Almond, Lucian Pye, and George Kahin would make significant contributions to the modernization canon through the publication of the "Studies in Political Development" series. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a State Department–sponsored research program on psychological warfare, Project Troy, evolved into the Center for International Studies (CENIS) in 1951. Its founder was Max Millikan, an economist in the new field of national incomes accounting who had just returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after a year as assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Millikan recruited an interdisciplinary team that featured Paul Rosenstein-Rodan and Walt W. Rostow (economics), Edward Shils (sociology), Daniel Lerner (communications), Clifford Geertz (anthropology), and Lucian Pye and Ithiel Pool (political science). Millikan also designed a budget formula that channeled State Department money funneled through the CIA into studies on the Second World, while research on the Third World was financed by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations.
CENIS mimicked the institutional style and "problem-oriented" work habits of the Manhattan Project in its development of the atomic bomb, breaking into teams to devise specific solutions that would then be subject to general discussion and criticism by the whole group. Millikan put an emphasis on finding answers to the practical problems of policymakers, and CENIS's work product typically appeared first as classified memoranda distributed to federal agencies and later as book-length monographs. Benjamin Higgins described it as "a community of scholars arriving at the same broad analytical framework." Its principal achievements were the creation of a rationale for an enlarged foreign aid effort, along with a set of concepts—"technology transfer," "takeoff," the "expectation gap," "self-help"—that informed aid policy and scholarship for the next two decades.