Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Think Tank Watch Exclusive: UPenn Paid by the Think Tanks it Ranks

Here is another reason to take the University of Pennsylvania annual think tank rankings a little less seriously: The think tank program that conducts the study is taking money from the think tanks it ranks.

Think Tank Watch has learned that the University of Pennsylvania's Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP), which conducts and produces the much-anticipated annual think tank rankings, has taken money from a number of think tanks that it ranks in its annual rankings.  Furthermore, TTCSP does not disclose this fact anywhere in its annual report.

We find it quite ironic that TTCSP is now launching the "Assuring Quality, Integrity, and Independence (QII) Project" when it appears that TTCSP has none of that.

According to an email sent to Think Tank Watch, think tanks that have given money to TTCSP include Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, Bruegel, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Hudson Institute, Urban Institute, and the Wilson Center.

While it is unclear if there is any type of "pay to play" going on, we would note that all of those think tanks get extremely high rankings in numerous categories in UPenn's think rank rankings.  Manipulation of data, favoritism, and pay to play schemes are quite prevalent across the globe.

TTCSP has suggested to Think Tank Watch that no funny business is going on, noting that donations to the QII project were capped at $1,000 "to ensure that no one think tank could be advantaged."  TTCSP also noted that donation requests were made to 7,000 think tanks, and thus, nearly all the world's think tanks had a chance to give TTCSP money.  We should add that TTCSP has not responded to questions about other potential funding it has taken from think tanks.

In the past, Think Tank Watch has written about a number of flaws with UPenn's think tank rankings.  Nevertheless, it is still considered the world's most comprehensive ranking of think tanks, and it is sometimes touted as the "think tank Oscars."  Oh, and Think Tank Watch finds them quite useful, even with all of its deep flaws.

Update: The best tweet summarizing what UPenn's think tank program is saying comes from Joe Miller, who had this to say: