Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Navigating Think Tanks in the News

Think Tank Watch has recently read the book Navigating the News by Michael Baranowski, and we have highlighted the interesting points raised about think tanks.

  • "Many people assume that if a person has a Ph.D. after their name or is affiliated with a prestigious university or institute [such as a think tank], this person must be an expert.  But that's not necessarily so.  People with advanced degrees in political science almost always specialize in one very small part of their field and won't necessarily know anything more than an educated layperson when it come to the vast spectrum of politics that lies outside their area of expertise."
  • "Data from federal and state government sources is almost always reliable...Data collected by researchers from academic institutions is also pretty solid because much of their work is subject to peer review.  When it comes to public opinion data, major media outlets, as well as top tier polling organizations like Gallup, Roper, and the Pew Research Center, do a very respectable job of data gathering.  View any other sources - including political parties, think tanks (which usually have an ideological agenda), and candidates - with caution."
  • "Another useful fact-checking shortcut is to learn a few basic things about the organization that created the information.  Much of the evidence behind political arguments comes from government agencies or major national polling organizations, which are typically trustworthy.  But you're also likely to find a lot of evidence and arguments coming from political think tanks, which are private organizations that research and analyze politics, typically in order to advance a certain agenda."
  • "Sometimes, the media will indicate whether a think tank is ideologically biased, but that's not always the case, even in the same newspaper.  For example, in an article on April 9, 2012, the New York Times refers to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) as 'a left-leaning research organization,' but in an article the Times published only a few months later, EPI is identified as 'a research group in Washington that studies the labor market.'  Both of these descriptions are accurate, but only the first tells you that the group might be consistently presenting the interpreting evidence that favors liberal interests."

Think Tank Watch should point out that the author, Michael Baranowski, is an associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University (NKU).