Who Took the “Think” Out of Think Tanks?

The American Enterprise Institute is an interesting organization, often shrilly ideological but also scholarly from time to time.  I was curious to find out what kind of research they were doing on climate change. I did find some interesting policy papers on their webpage on the topic of climate policy. But here’s the surprising part: the latest paper on the subject is dated June 23, 2010.  Of course, AEI has continued to produce a stream of op-eds on the subject, but no actual research.

The AEI is not alone in its lapsed research. There also seems to be no recent research on the subject by the Cato Institute.  The Heartland Institute’s webpage is more difficult to navigate, but I couldn’t find any recent research papers there either.

The failure of the leading conservative think tanks to maintain their research on such an important issue is disturbing.  There are several possible reasons, all of them negative in terms of their implications for conservatism.  Maybe researchers can’t work on climate issues any more, even to advocate conservative positions, because that would require taking the science seriously, which is verboten on the Right.  Or perhaps the think tanks’ agendas are reactive, designed to attack liberal proposals but not to generate conservative policy responses on important issues. Or maybe the research agenda is driven by headlines rather than long-term social problems. None of these possible explanations bodes well for the capacity of the conservative movement to contribute to sound public policy.

When I went to these websites, I was hoping to  find some serious research from a conservative perspective on climate change — serious in the sense of being driven by models, data, and science; conservative in the sense of minimizing reliance on government regulation.  But I came up empty-handed.

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Who Took the “Think” Out of Think Tanks?”

  1. Generally, CATO seems to limit itself to:

    1) Publishing books, such as:
    a) Patrick J. Michaels, Meltdown, 2004
    b) Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C./ Balling, Jr, Climate of Extremes, 2009
    c) Patrick J. Micahels, Ed, Climate Coup – Global warming’s invasion of our government and our lives, 2011

    2) Occasional campaigns, like the 2009 advertisement run in some newspapers:
    http://www.cato.org/special/climatechange/alternate_version.html
    signed by a cast of the usuals plus a few names new to me at the time.

    It will be interesting to see how the Koch/Crane fight works out, especially of Koch takes over.

  2. Generally, CATO seems to limit itself to:

    1) Publishing books, such as:
    a) Patrick J. Michaels, Meltdown, 2004
    b) Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C./ Balling, Jr, Climate of Extremes, 2009
    c) Patrick J. Micahels, Ed, Climate Coup – Global warming’s invasion of our government and our lives, 2011

    2) Occasional campaigns, like the 2009 advertisement run in some newspapers:
    http://www.cato.org/special/climatechange/alternate_version.html
    signed by a cast of the usuals plus a few names new to me at the time.

    It will be interesting to see how the Koch/Crane fight works out, especially of Koch takes over.

  3. I’m not sure these guys ever did much legitimate “research”. I know they don’t submit to peer reviewed publications, and they never reveal methodology in such a way that you could actually evaluate the research yourself. Many of these organization actually came into existence to they by-pass peer review by self publishing “reports”. Besides, any evidence based approach would seriously undermine their ideology since most of the evidence tends to tilt against their positions from climate change to education.

  4. I’m not sure these guys ever did much legitimate “research”. I know they don’t submit to peer reviewed publications, and they never reveal methodology in such a way that you could actually evaluate the research yourself. Many of these organization actually came into existence to they by-pass peer review by self publishing “reports”. Besides, any evidence based approach would seriously undermine their ideology since most of the evidence tends to tilt against their positions from climate change to education.

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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