What exactly does a think tank do?

Well that is pretty much it - I don’t really get the concept of a think tank and why people would pour millions of dollars into them. I’m aware they influence policy etc. but when some dude says “I work for a think tank” what the heck doe he do all day long. Think?

Please enlighten me.


I used to work at an educational think tank. We published books and videotapes, held conferences, and served as consultants.

I just wanted to chime in and say that this is a question that I always forget to ask. It seems very non-obvious how you could generate money simply producing ideas where the end consumer isn’t even clear.

Where do they get their money from?
Why does the source give it to them?
What is their short-term goal?
Do people literally get paid to think about a problem or is there some common methodology?
What are their end products?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and say think.

Possibly in a tank of some sorts.

My god! They’re Guild Navigators!

The original concept was that educated people, from diverse fields of expertise would be supported in order to encourage them to develop new ways of examining old questions. That brought about new answers that helped develop at least new insights into our social, and technical and even religious thinking.

However, it became a lot more common to gather influential people of similar ideological beliefs, and have them try to find ways of making their own opinions seem more important, and more politically desirable. The money comes from the same sources that drive our entire political system. Legalized bribery is the cornerstone of our system. Think tanks pay for themselves by providing billions of dollars in benefit, and even direct payments to people who are in positions to spend other people’s money.


They don’t do anything, that’s the beauty of them.

To expand on what Triskadecamus has said, think tanks are sometimes simply mouthpieces for whoever is paying them most, and will release reports and studies saying whatever that sponsor wants them to.

The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution recently disgraced itself this way by publishing a book called Samizdat that attacked Open Source Software using wholly unsubstantiated claims of code theft, especially in the development of the Linux kernel. This review comes from one of the people AdTI alleged was stolen from, and he refutes all of their substantive arguments.

So that’s how at least one think tank operates.

They beg for money.

Like them or not don’t underestimate the power of politically oriented “think tanks”. A lot of competing political notions and ideas about the way US society needs to be run had their genesis and incubation in think tanks.

Wikipedia think tanks article covers it pretty well

Here’s something I never knew