Friday, December 18, 2015

Think Tank: You Can't Live in DC on a Think Tank Salary

The liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has developed a Family Budget Calculator that tallies the annual income needed to support a family of four to cover the cost of seven needs: transportation, food, housing, child care, taxes, and "other necessities."

Here is a chart from the Washington Post comparing the 10 largest US metro areas by population (including Washington, DC - the home of hundreds of think tanks) showing the annual cost of living.

The average annual cost for a family of four to live in Washington, DC - the home of 396 think tanks and counting - is $106,493.  The average think tank salary is somewhere between $47,000 and $66,000.

It shows that in Washington, DC, if you work at a think tank and are the sole breadwinner with a family, you basically will not be able to live in Washington (unless you are at the upper echelons).  Happy think tanking!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do Think Tanks Make Americans Skeptical About Climate Change?

Do think tanks contribute to the fact that so many Americans are skeptical about climate change?  Here is more from a new Yale study, as detailed in the Washington Post:

Climate change has long been a highly polarizing topic in the United States, with Americans lining up on opposite sides depending on their politics and worldview. Now a scientific study sheds new light on the role played by corporate money in creating that divide.
The report, a systematic review of 20 years’ worth of data, highlights the connection between corporate funding and messages that raise doubts about the science of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. The analysis suggests that corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.
“The contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust,” said Justin Farrell, a Yale University sociologist and author of the study, released on Monday in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Numerous previous studies have examined how corporate-funded campaigns have helped shape individual views about global warming. But the Yale study takes what Farrell calls the “bird’s-eye view,” using computer analytics to systematically examine vast amounts of printed matter published by 164 groups—including think-tanks and lobbying firms—and more than 4,500 individuals who have been skeptical of mainstream scientific views on climate change.
The study analyzed the articles, policy papers and transcripts produced by these groups over a 20-year period. Then it separated the groups that received corporate funding from those that did not.
The results, Farrell said, revealed an “ecosystem of influence” within the corporate-backed groups. Those that received donations consistently promoted the same contrarian themes—casting doubt, for example, on whether higher levels of man-made carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere were harmful to the planet. There was no evidence of such coordination among the non-funded groups.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on whether new think tanks are needed to address climate change.

President of CAP Wants Half-Female Cabinet for Hillary

Neera Tanden, the President of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) who has close ties to Hillary Clinton, is calling for a large percentage of females to hold Cabinet positions when the new US president takes office in 2017.  Here is more:
If half of the members of Canada’s Cabinet can be female, why couldn’t we get to 50 percent­, too? We’re talking about finding, at minimum, 11 women out of the almost 160 million in this country who could serve in the Cabinet at once...
What would that Cabinet look like? It’s not hard to imagine that, in 2017, a Michèle Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, could become the first female defense secretary, or a Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, could become the first woman as Treasury secretary. For a Republican Cabinet, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez would be more than qualified to lead the Justice Department, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would be a highly capable choice to head the Department of Homeland Security.

CAP is known to have greatly influenced a number of policies in the Obama Administration, and will likely have a massive influence on a Hillary administration should she become president.

Will Snapping be the New Clapping at Think Tanks in 2016?

This from the New York Times:
In a culture ruled by the instant feedback loop of retweets, likes and hearts, the snap (and by “snap” we mean the old-fashioned act of brushing the thumb and middle finger against one another in an effort to make a popping sound) is more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.
 As opposed to a single snap, often affected with the sassy wag of a hand and the utterance, “Oh, snap!” to signify that someone has just been stung by a verbal zinger, snapping repeatedly for a sustained several seconds is a way for audience members and classroom denizens to express approval without completely disrupting a lecture, speech or performance.

Think Tank Watch is happy to report that in the conservative, stuffy, and button-down atmosphere of Washington, snapping is not being used at most think tanks.

But should any snapping take place, please report to Think Tank Watch immediately.

Think Tank Quickies (#202)

  • Justin Sandefur of CGD: "Biggest lesson so far in think tank land: The returns to being opinionated & sounding authoritative are disturbingly high."
  • Creator of new ranking of influential think tanks working to fix flaws in ranking.
  • Libertarian Niskanen Center started new Center for Climate Science to scrutinize deniers' arguments.
  • Wonky holiday gear from Brookings.
  • Book: Think tanks and the Economic Counter-revolution, 1931-83.
  • Tim Carney: Liberals at liberal think tank thinks liberal think tank should only work with other liberal think tanks.
  • Public Accountability Initiative: Oil tanks - oil industry ties behind think tanks' push to repeal the crude oil export ban.
  • Influence of think tanks on the TTIP debate (in Dutch).
  • UK's Independent: Lord Lawson's climate think tank under review after adviser offers to write paper for sham oil company.
  • Can think tanks use Google's best practices for fostering creativity and innovation?
  • New think tank to research freelancing (Centre for Research on Self-Employment, or CRSE).
  • The Economist: Thoughtful centrists have begun urging Democrats to prepare for divided government, notably at a recent meeting at Third Way.
  • Ted Cruz rating near-perfect on Heritage Action scorecard.
  • Washington Post: American academics, particularly those who need access to China to conduct research, have to watch their words, because if China disapproves of their views it will not let them in.
  • Brookings scholar J.M. Berger suggests other think tankers underestimated Islamic State (ISIS), but he did not.
  • Nikkei runs one of Japan's major think tanks, the Japan Center for Economic Research. 
  • In conjunction with the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation, Travis Moore launches new technology fellowship known as "TechCongress." 
  • Several think tankers on the WSJ's CEO Council "participating guest" list for 2015, including Martin Baily (Brookings), Doris Meissner (Migration Policy Institute), Danielle Pletka (AEI), Strobe Talbott (Brookings), Neera Tanden (CAP), and John Podesta (CAP founder).

Monday, December 14, 2015

New List: 50 Most Influential Think Tanks has just released a new list of the 50 most influential think tanks in the United States, compiled using a set of criteria that no other entity has done in the past.

The rankings are based on the popularity of a think tank's website, average yearly revenue of a think tank, average number of printed media references per year by outside organizations, and the number of categories in which a think tank was ranked by the University of Pennsylvania.

Think Tank Watch should point out that the list from includes a number of institutions that are not generally considered think tanks.

Here is a list of the top 25:
  1. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
  2. Earth Institute
  3. Heritage Foundation
  4. Human Rights Watch
  5. Kaiser Family Foundation
  6. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  7. Brookings Institution
  8. Cato Institute
  9. Ludwig von Mises Institute
  10. American Enterprise Institute (AEI) 
  11. RAND Corp.
  12. Center for American Progress (CAP)
  13. Alan Guttmacher Institute
  14. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBBP)
  15. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
  16. Electronic Privacy Information Center
  17. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
  18. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  19. Urban Institute
  20. Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
  21. Aspen Institute
  22. Wilson Center
  23. Hoover Institution
  24. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
  25. Center for Immigration Studies

Here is how the latest University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings have ranked what it considers to be the top think tanks.

Over the years there have been a number of different ways that people and organizations have ranked think tanks, including this one by the Center for Global Development (CGD).

Here is a ranking of think tanks by media citations from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Update: Alejandro Chafuen, President of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, has already found major mistakes in think tank rankings.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Professor Interrogated by Iran About Inner Workings of Think Tank

Haleh Esfandiari, a scholar who spent more than 100 days in solitary confinement in Iran's Evin Prison in 2007, says that she was interrogated by the Iranians about her work at the Washington, DC-based think tank Wilson Center.  Here is more from The Washington Diplomat:
Haleh Esfandiari is perhaps best known for spending 105 days in solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2007, but it was her highly respected work as director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in D.C. that put her behind bars.
Not that the Iran-born professor, author and think tank scholar did anything wrong. Quite the contrary, she had simply spent a lifetime studying, dissecting and challenging Middle Eastern politics, culture and policy. The Iranian government, however, saw her as part of a subversive U.S. plot to overthrow the clerical regime.
Iranian intelligence spent months interrogating Esfandiari on the inner workings of the Wilson Center and her connections to opposition activists inside Iran. Back home, the scholar’s friends and family mobilized a high-profile campaign to get her released.
Esfandiari, a former journalist in Iran who founded the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program in 1997, was eventually released and wrote a book about her experience titled “My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran.” The book was published in 2009 and Esfandiari went back to the Wilson Center to resume her leadership of the Middle East Program.

Here is the Wilson Center biography of Dr. Esfandiari, which notes that she is no longer the Director of the Middle East Program at the think tank.

Head of New AIIB Invites US to Join Bank at Brookings

Jin Liquan, president-designate of the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), formally invited the United States to join the bank during a talk at the Brookings Institution.

Here is how the New York Times framed the invitation:
He [Jin Liquan] is not giving up on the United States, even if his chances are remote.  "We have a standing invitation" for the United States to join the bank, Mr. Jin said, during an appearance at the Brookings Institution.  "Anytime you think you are ready, pick up the phone, give me a ring."

He made the comment at this event at Brookings.

Here is what Brookings scholar David Dollar has written about the AIIB.  Here is what Brookings scholar Jonathan Pollack says about how the US will respond to AIIB's expanding membership.  Here is what Brookings scholar Thomas Wright says about AIIB.  And here is what Brookings fellow Philippe Le Corre says about AIIB.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

CSIS President Has Warned of Cyber Pearl Harbor Since 90's

Dr. John Hamre, President and CEO of the Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is warning of a cyber Pearl Harbor, saying that hostile foreign intelligence and militaries are prepared to wage war now.  Here is more from Dr. Hamre, who reflects on the term he had used for nearly two decades:
In November 1997 I was asked to testify at a Senate hearing concerning the growing worry about cybersecurity. At the time, I was deputy secretary of the Defense Department, and that hearing followed an unexplained electricity blackout in San Francisco that left 125,000 people in the dark for a day. Fears were rising that malicious hackers had somehow taken down the grid. I warned the Senate that America was facing the prospect of an “electronic Pearl Harbor.” 
The phrase became a touchstone in the long national argument over cybersecurity, for better or worse. I was not the author of the phrase. That honor goes to a dear friend of mine, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Tom Marsh, who had just led a national commission looking at cyber vulnerabilities. Tom came to my office to summarize the findings and used the Pearl Harbor metaphor.
I don’t regret using the Pearl Harbor analogy, but in retrospect it was a mistake to use the analogy when I did. We used the vocabulary of war, because that was what we do at the Defense Department. But for most Americans, war is the Pentagon’s business, not theirs.  Ninety-nine percent of American cyberspace is in the private sector, and at the time, the war metaphor didn’t connect. In fact, it backfired: It earned me notoriety as a demon in progressive left, cyber-libertarian circles. But it didn’t mobilize the national awareness of the peril we were in.

The full piece in Politico can be read here.  And here is a piece from 1997 documenting Hamre's comments on an electronic Pearl Harbor when he was at the Department of Defense.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on why reading think tank reports can actually harm your company.  It notes that a number of think tanks have been victims of numerous cyber attacks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#201)

  • Will some of Mark Zuckerberg's billions in donations go to think tanks? 
  • Kevin Allen starts #CloudMinds, a traveling think tank.
  • AEI to participate in January presidential forum.
  • Picture: Is this what all think tanks look like?
  • The sweet gig of being a bureaucrat, by Mac Zimmerman of AFP, quoting Cato & CEI studies.
  • Hillary Clinton does Brookings AGAIN (with Saban Forum 2015).
  • Zaid Jilani: "Only good food" in DC is free food you get at think tank events.
  • Hotel Zed in Victoria, BC launches think tank space.
  • Simon Marks: Virtually all DC think tanks need to address issues with in-house audio systems.
  • What do academic think tanks offer to young researchers?
  • Rohinton Medhora and John Boer: The rise and influence of foreign policy think tanks.
  • Russia Insider: Think tanks heavily influence US decision-making policy.
  • On Think Tanks: How think tanks can attract and retain talent.
  • Brookings experts in Esquire.
  • Think tanks helping get property back?
  • Chatham House: Reduce meat consumption or we will all burn.
  • Trailor for A Very Heavy Agenda: Role of neocon think tanks (video).
  • US Chamber: "In a city full of think tanks we are a 'do' tank."
  • Third Way "exposed."

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Will Wilson Center Have to be Renamed?

As you may have heard by now, Princeton University students are demanding the removal of all references to former US president Woodrow Wilson.

That movement got Think Tank Watch wondering if people are going to start protesting about one of the US's top think tanks - Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars based in Washington, DC.

That think tank, also known as the Wilson Center, is chartered by the US Congress as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States.

If the name is forced to change, will its official office location also have to change?  After all, a part of its official address is "One Woodrow Wilson Plaza."

If the name changes, we were wondering what a good name would be.  Please send thoughts to info (at)  We will plan to publish the best ones.