View Full Version : Think Tanks ... what are they exactly ? How much politics ?

Rashak Mani
01-06-2004, 08:39 AM
Reading articles its very common to see a "Think Tank" mentioned. They seem especially quoted in political and strategic matters. Many seem associated with particular universities or political leanings.

I don't remember other countries having anything similar... and my guess is that American prosperity would allow for creating specific oriented groups with academic style.

What exactly does the expression "think tank" cover ?
Is it a catch all phrase for academics of certain institutions as well ?
Who finances "think tanks" ?
Are they necessarily biased politically ?
How strong are they ? Why so much media attention ?

I know some NGOs are financed in order to create noise and give some legitimacy to otherwise nasty standpoints... are think tanks similar in this aspect ?

I ask this because I figure they have some important part to play in US politics... or are just "storage areas" for intelectuals that don't have empoloyment once their political party is out of power.

Jonathan Chance
01-06-2004, 08:45 AM
'Think Tanks' of the Washington DC sort tend to be non-profits organized to promote a specific cause or policy. The 'International Women's Forum' for example. Or the 'National Immigration Forum'.

Ostensibly they're out there to provide insight into whatever they're focused on and to promote their point of view. Sort of a lobbying group with PhDs.

It's true that not all are this way. But inside the beltway when you here the phrase 'think tank' you should start looking for the slant.

Think tanks tend to be financed either by endowments or donations from fellow travellers or by contract work. Someone wants a study on the feasibility of concrete mushroom farming and the CMF think tank gets a contract to study it.

There are certainly think tanks at large academic institutions. And it's probably likely that those are closer to non-partisan but I wouldn't say that with any certainty.

Evil Captor
01-06-2004, 08:56 AM
Think tanks are extremely partisan. Frex, some conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation were created deliberately with the concept of helping conservatives regain power in Washington, and to a large extent have succeeded. Older outfits like the American Enterprise Institute were "upgraded" in the 70s to handle this role.

Even when you don't see them directly quoted, they do a lot to influence the media by providing slanted coverage of current issues and events to the media in the form of press releases and background papers. There's nothing wrong with this, but as a general rule, when you see the words "think tank" you should be asking "what's their agenda"?

Because almost all of them have one.

Rashak Mani
01-06-2004, 10:01 AM
Who finances them usually ?
Are they mostly crewed by academics, politicians or just plain lobbyists ?

Jonathan Chance
01-06-2004, 10:34 AM
Grants, donations, a little contracting research.

01-06-2004, 11:20 AM
Originally posted by Evil Captor
Think tanks are extremely partisan. Hogwash. There are think tanks with axes to grind and there are those that do not. That blanket statement is equivalent to saying that "all corporations are Enron."

For example, the RAND Corporation may well be considered the granddaddy of all think tanks. It does a great number of studies funded by the government, but does others by virtue of its endowment.

The Brookings Institution, another quality think tank, is funded primarily through its endowment, but also by donations from philanthropic individuals and organizations.

Crappy think tanks -- of which there are a good number -- are generally partisan mouthpieces rather than ivory towers for intellectual thought. Some of the more disreputable of these rely on senseless scaremongering direct mail campaigns to pry loose donations from the John Q Public types.

Think tanks are actually pretty important to policy makers, because they often contain intellectuals who can focus on policies more than politics. In many democracies, the only real expertise on technical issues may reside within the bureaucracy -- making government servants very powerful. Think thanks combat a strong bureaucratic government by giving smart people a place to work to serve as a resource to opposition parties, for example, who may not be able to rely on a bureaucracy for accurate analysis of current issues.

To provide a more concrete example, imagine if Democrats had no other source of information on environmental issues than the Bush Administration's EPA. The level of debate on environmental issues would probably be quite poor. Fortunately, think tanks can provide information that make national debate more informed (although not necessarily less acrimonious).

Evil Captor
01-06-2004, 11:34 AM
There may be some nonpartisan think tanks, but they are not as common as the other kind, by a long shot.

The Brookings Institution is not all that partisan, but right wing think tanks have consistently characterized it as liberal -- here's a link:


As for the RAND Corporation, you've got to be kidding --


Sorry, these are partisan times. The RAND Corporation may have done some non-partisan stuff in the past, but times are changing...

01-06-2004, 02:38 PM
Yes, and the Trilateral Commission secretly rules the world.

I invite you to look through RAND's publications and point out the ones that have the outrageous, right-wing bias that you seem to imply.

They're a bunch of technocrats that come from all over the political spectrum - note that Robert Hunter, a senior advisor at RAND, was former Ambassador to NATO during the Clinton Administration, and he wrote a piece calling for restraint before invading Iraq. Link. (http://www.rand.org/commentary/031703DN.html)

RAND is more about intellectuals writing articles that only 100 people will ever read, and that only 10 people will care about. I suggest focusing conspiracy theories on other institutions that are actually shrouded in mystery, not in boredom.