Think Tanks

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Q: When is a think tank not a lobby group?

Think Tanks

  • Nov.30.2015: The Rise and Influence of the Foreign Policy Think Tank. Think tanks have been accused of “influence peddling” by major media outlets. It is important to scrutinize the funding, motivations, and work of think tanks just as we must for all public institutions. What is important here are transparency and the protocols that govern the fundraising activities of think tanks. In instances where funders are not identified, the greater public good that comes with full disclosure trumps all other excuses. Centre for Policy Research, United Nations University.
  • Sept.06.2014: Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks. Prominent Washington research groups have received $tens of millions from foreign govts while pushing USA govt officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities. The money is increasingly transforming them into a muscular arm of foreign govts’ lobbying in Washington. The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign govts. Policy makers are often unaware of the role of foreign govts in funding the research. Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, Nicholas Confessore, The New York Times.
  • Sept.12.2011: Secretive thinktanks are crushing our democracy. Free-market thinktanks may hide their funders' identities, but they reveal influence-peddling is rife in British politics. Nadine Dorries MP, Lord Lawson, Michael Gove - all refuse to answer "where does the funding come from". Free-market think tanks have a similar agenda: opposition of laws which protect us from banks and corporations; demanding privatisation of state assets; arguing that the rich should pay less tax; and pour scorn on global warming. The harder you stare at them, the more they look like lobby groups working for big business without disclosing their interests. These are not think tanks - they are public relations lobbying agencies. George Monbiot, The Guardian.
  • Jul.05.2010: Rethinking the role of thinktanks. As politics becomes less tribal, ideas become more important. For the left, thinktanks may provide crucial new direction. Ben Rogers, The Guardian.
  • Aug.20.2008: Will the internet kill thinktanks? They're still relied on to generate new ideas. But maintaining that privileged position in a web 2.0 world will require imagination. Richard Reeves, '.
  • Feb.03.2004: Poverty needs currency, claim thinktanks. The govt must confront the need to redistribute wealth if it is to eradicate poverty and deprivation in the UK, the Institute for Public Policy Research and the Social Market Foundation said today. David Batty, The Guardian.

Political Orientation of UK Think Tanks

  • Aug.2013: Follow that tank! Political orientation of UK think tanks (and newspapers), via Twitter. Andrew Whitby,

Impact of Funding

  • Mar.16.2018: Google spends tens of millions on think tanks that back its policies. Think tanks studied by the Campaign for Accountability included the Research Alliance for a Digital Economy, which is run by a former govt quango. The CfA found that "virtually every report Readie publishes appears favourable to Google in some way". One recent opinion piece claimed that platforms such as Google created "immense value". Readie is run by Nesta; Readie's core funding comes from Nesta and Google 50:50. The CfA's report also looked at Germany's Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, an "independent research institute" that Google helped to set up with funding of ~€9mn. It said that many papers published by the institute's journal were supportive of Google's policy interests while few disclosed its financial support. Other institutions featured in the report include the Centre for European Policy Studies, which was founded without Google’s involvement in 1983. Google has been a corporate member since 2015, and has sponsored a number of its "Ideas Lab" events. In 2015, Andrea Renda, the CEPS head of regulation, published several papers criticising the investigation into Google's alleged abuse of market dominance. CEPS said: "We receive from [Google] annual membership fees of €12,000, accounting for less than 1% of our corporate membership income". The CfA reported last year that Google funded 329 academic papers on policy areas of interest to it from 2005 to 2017, mostly from US researchers. In 66% of cases the authors did not disclose Google's funding. Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta, said: "Nesta is not beholden to any govt, company or foundation". Mark Bridge, The Times.