Energy & Environment

Who took the “think” out of think tanks?

Dan Farber

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.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

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Comments to "Who took the “think” out of think tanks?":
    • HCG

      Tom Shillock and “George Bush” are exactly right.

      My own experience with these folks started in 1990 when I led a team that oversaw a benefit-cost analysis of transport options for our region. It found that light rail was the highest ranked option, but shortly after the findings were published, the libertarians showed up to argue dishonestly against them.

      Even William Niskanen of the Cato Institute came to town. What a waste of education: BA Harvard, Ph.D. Economics Chicago. But not one to let his education interfere with what he wanted to believe, he made unfounded and ignorant public statements against light rail. When he was challenged, as I did, you could see that he quickly shifted to real thought as opposed to cant and ideology, but that was clearly the exception.

      The short of it: there is no “think” in these tanks. Just intellectually dishonest ideological beliefs and disinformation. If you haven’t already, read Chris Mooney’s “Republican Brain” for a quick introduction to the neuroscience and psychology behind these ideological positions.

      These folks need to be called out as charlatans and prevaricators.

      [Report abuse]

    • Andrew

      Uhh, Dan, maybe based on their initial research, they don’t think it’s such an “important issue.” Or basically they discovered it was hypothesis in search of some data, any data that would actually prove it. Per Meme mine’s comments – it’s a religion.

      [Report abuse]

    • Tom Shillock

      Or maybe the “conservative” “think tanks” need only do enough research to spread confusion in order to retard responsibly addressing scientific and social issues? Frank Luntz, their clever semantic consultant, has stated that all they need do is spread confusion and uncertainty about such issues to block regulation and legislation. They do not need to conduct much research to satisfy their ‘base’ and financial supporters like the Koch brothers.

      Luntz has demonstrated that language matters. That is sufficient reason to cease calling plutocrats and oligarchs and their publicists ‘conservatives’. The only things they are trying to conserve are their financial and political power.

      [Report abuse]

    • George Bush

      You don’t get it. These are hack organizations, part of the right wing megaphone, funded by wealthy people to justify policies the wealthy people want implemented. There is no ‘think’ in these organizations, they are just in the ‘tank’.

      [Report abuse]

    • meme mine

      Climate scientists have done to science what abusive priests did for religion.

      Thousands of scientists say in thousands of different ways that climate change is real so how is that consensus of anything, let alone an impending cataclysmic end for Humanity from Human CO2? Science gave us their pesticides that they denied for decades as being dangerous and if climate change was truly a threat to our children, wouldn’t the millions in the global scientific community be marching with the dozens of climate change protesters?

      [Report abuse]

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