Think Tanks on the Auction Block

I’ve previously expressed some skeptical views about the so-called think tanks that play such a significant role in Beltrway policy debates. (See this post) The New Republic has an interesting story about the increasing dependence of think tanks on big money  Here is the crux:

Nowadays if donors don’t like the results they get, they are increasingly inclined to move their money to more compliant think tanks, or to more expressly political operations. “Think tanks are competing with consulting firms, law firms, Super PACS, lobbyists and advocacy groups,” says James McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “That puts pressure on think tanks to be more responsive to donors.” The new buzz term among private and public donors is “high impact philanthropy,” McCann says.

“Think tanks have become more like PR and lobbying shops than research organizations,” says Steve Clemons, a former executive vice president at the New America Foundation. “That they’re lesser regulated than lobbyists makes them especially attractive to some funders.”

By the way, the story suggests that this is true of think tanks across the political perspective.  The corrupting influence of financial support is often subtle, and I’m sure that think tanks still try to maintain some degree of independence.  But if the TNR article is to be believed, there is less and less space for this independence — the reins are being held more tightly.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that think tank products have become increasingly indistinguishable from political advocacy.

 

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Think Tanks on the Auction Block”

  1. The preoccupation is not if there are « think tanks still try to maintain some degree of independence»…
    The problems are that 1- the ones closer to donnors are also the ones with much bigger means to «market» their «products», especially in mass média. 2- How can most of the readers make the difference between the less and the more, dependant ?
    Benoit
    Montréal

  2. The preoccupation is not if there are « think tanks still try to maintain some degree of independence»…
    The problems are that 1- the ones closer to donnors are also the ones with much bigger means to «market» their «products», especially in mass média. 2- How can most of the readers make the difference between the less and the more, dependant ?
    Benoit
    Montréal

  3. This is exactly why we need more public funding for research. Scientific research can’t be conducted by having a big donor tell you what conclusions you will find or you loose your funding. Science must be directed by the evidence independent of the desires of those funding it. By making it public funded then it removes much of that problem. Also if anybody wants their research taken seriously they need it published in respectable peer reviewed journals not just posted on their website.

    But I doubt research is at all the goal of really any think tank. Nearly every think tank is created with an explicit political purpose which immediately demonstrates their bias. So their purpose is not to create objective scientific research but rather to promote a particular point of view.

  4. This is exactly why we need more public funding for research. Scientific research can’t be conducted by having a big donor tell you what conclusions you will find or you loose your funding. Science must be directed by the evidence independent of the desires of those funding it. By making it public funded then it removes much of that problem. Also if anybody wants their research taken seriously they need it published in respectable peer reviewed journals not just posted on their website.

    But I doubt research is at all the goal of really any think tank. Nearly every think tank is created with an explicit political purpose which immediately demonstrates their bias. So their purpose is not to create objective scientific research but rather to promote a particular point of view.

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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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