On think tank “independence”: who is funding what, and for which purpose?

Thomas Medvetz has written a powerful comment on a recent NYT times article, which reported on how foreign governments use think tanks in Washington for lobby purposes. Medvetz points to other private industry funding for lobbying through think tanks in the United States and to the necessary complicity of journalists in this process. Remains to point to the use of think tanks in European and other countries for U.S. government and private sector lobby purposes (e.g. the financing of climate change scepticism in Europe by Exxon Mobile or the recent offer of T-TIP small grants by the U.S. Embassy).

Who is talking to who? Think-tank networks

Which institutions and people do British think-tanks ‘talk to’ to turn
their policy ideas into influence on domestic policy? Who do they
collaborate with? What form does such communication and collaboration
take? Does it extend to organisations outside the UK at all? Hartwig
Pautz’ article attempts to give answers to these questions by using
data from a survey which he undertook in 2012. The data suggests that
while British think-tanks communicate and co-operate intensively with
some actors within the UK, contacts and cooperation with organisations
outside the UK are rather lacklustre. Particular actors are more
important for advocacy think-tanks than they are for academic
think-tanks; some actors have very little importance for either type.
Pautz cautiously presents his data as another insight into the British
think-tank landscape without claiming that his findings can be
generalised.

Pautz, Hartwig. (2014) British Think-Tanks and Their Collaborative and
Communicative Networks. Politics. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9256.12056

Dieter Plehwe

Think Tank Network Initiative – The Blog

Think Tanks and think tank based experts have gained important roles both in policy networks and in the public at large. It is not always clear if a particular think tank is rooted in the academic world, or must be considered close to a political party, an advocacy or commercial organization. Nor can it be taken for granted that the output of a think tank is subject to quality control. Frequently it is also difficult to determine who paid for a particular piece of expertise no matter where the author(s) are based. At the same time the large quantity of think tanks and the easy distribution of expertise from their quarters raise many questions with regard to the relations between science and society. Scholars of science history have so far tackled the changing interplay of researchers and practical men and women due to commercialization and multiplication of organizations involved in knowledge production mainly in the field of natural sciences or engineering. Social scientific think tank research is presently not well prepared to systematically capture and assess the transformation of policy related research and consulting let alone explaining the think tank phenomenon at large. The Think Tank Network Initiative has been founded to close this gap. To this end a wiki database has been developed together with a visualization instrument, individual research tools and the blog, which we start with this article.
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