Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Think tanks should think, not act as fundraisers

David Blankenhorn, Deseret News, 9/26/2014
To me, two changes are needed. The first is more disclosure. If you're a think tank engaging with U.S. policymakers, and you've accepted money from a foreign government with a vested interest in the matter, you should be required prominently to disclose that relationship – even if you and your boss are convinced that the money isn't influencing your work! This is a simple, obvious reform that's already being discussed in Congress. The second change is harder. Put simply, the mission of a think tank should drive funding, not the other way around. But like many universities, think tanks increasingly act as if their mission is to increase their funding and size. As a result they've become, first and foremost, giant fundraising machines for which the prime imperative is constant expansion. If you run a think tank or university today, it's likely that your main activity is raising money and that your main goal is getting bigger. Asked about the Brookings Institution's heavy focus on foreign donations, one scholar said: "Brookings keeps growing and it has to support itself." That's the idea.
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