Wednesday, October 5, 2016

UPenn Think Tank Rankings Tainted by Brookings Connection

There is one more reason to put a little less faith in the much-anticipated think tank rankings put out by the University of Pennsylvania: The professor who conducts the rankings just had his new book published by the Brookings Institution, the very think tank that he has repeatedly ranked as the world's best think tank.

While there is not necessarily a quid pro quo going on, there is certainly an appearance of one.  After all, are you going to downgrade a think tank or give it unfavorable treatment if that very think tank is publishing your book?

The book, entitled The Fifth Estate: Think Tanks, Public Policy, and Governance, was written by James McGann, the Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr. McGann, a passionate supporter of think tanks, publishes an annual ranking of the world's think tanks.

The latest rankings, released earlier in 2016, list Brookings as the world's #1 think tank.  Brookings touts this fact in its annual report and elsewhere, and UPenn touts this fact, saying that "the Brookings Institution's high quality think tank brand helped secure" the top global think tank ranking.

Earlier in the year, we wrote about how the University of Pennsylvania was paid by the very think tank it ranks for the study.

In August, when questioned on a radio show about his close connections to think tanks, Dr. McGann said it is "absolutely false" to say that his organization is funded or supported by think tanks.

Here is what he went on to say:
My salary is entirely paid by the University of Pennsylvania.  My office is paid by the University of Pennsylvania, and my principal responsibilities are teaching and research.  I have been doing this for 30 years.  Any funds that have been provided by think tanks have not come to me directly, with the exception of a $1,000 contribution [per think tank] from 25 or 30 think tanks for a study designed to focus on...think tanks.  There are funds provided, which I have helped raise for summits of think tanks in Africa and Latin America, but none of that goes to me.  It goes to the institutions to help convene think tanks and talk about these very issues.

In other words, contrary to his initial defense, Dr. McGann admitted that he does indeed receive money from think tanks.

To be fair, while not perfect, Dr. McGann's think tank rankings are by far the most comprehensive global think tank rankings available.  But putting trust in them is a different story...