Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Think Tank Awards & Rankings: A Futile Exercise?

To borrow some words from W.C. Fields, Think Tank Watch is free of all prejudices, it hates all think tank awards, rankings, and ratings equally.

Actually, we respect those who try to put them together and think of useful metrics to measure think tanks against each other.  Rankings/awards get lots of attention and Think Tank Watch loves to write about them.

That said, all awards and rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, and Think Tank Watch and others have found numerous faults with every think tank ranking around.

With that in mind, you may want to check out Jeff Knezovich's new piece on the Prospect Think Tank Awards, in which he argues for the positive aspects of Prospect Magazine's awards.  To be sure, he also points out some of its faults, such as the fact that think tanks actually have to enter to "win" and how EU-centric it is.  [By the way, Think Tank Watch does not actually think that the awards are rigged.]

Of course, the same could be said about the well-known University of Pennsylvania's think tank rankings which have been widely criticized, have lots of flaws, and appear to be US-centric.

I largely agree with Enrique Mendizabal of On Think Tanks who said that "think tanks are political actors and are only relevant in relation to their political context."  I would add, however, that many think tanks go beyond the political realm to influence non-political society.  To measure all of this is a very tricky task.