Saturday, October 24, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#388)

  • RAND Corp. chief: Think tanks in the era of truth decay.
  • RAND finds credible evidence of interference in the 2020 election on Twitter. 
  • Julian Castro joins board of directors at Center for American Progress (CAP).
  • Beware of COVID-19 punditry.
  • Vladimir Putin warns think tankers about climate change.
  • New free-market think tank launched in Montana: Frontier Institute.
  • Full-page ad to think tankers in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) laying off staff.
  • Nate Silver: Once someone gets a PhD, it becomes 10x harder to convince them they're wrong.
  • Conservative think tank AEI says Biden plan would cut taxes for most in 2021.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

New Chinese Video Warning of Foreign Think Tanks

The Chinese Consulate in Sydney has tweeted out a 40-second video on "how think tanks, the media, and politicians work together in driving anti-China sentiment worldwide":

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on Chinese think tank scholars turning aggressive against the US, and here is a recent post about a Chinese company harvesting data on foreign think tankers.

Here is a new piece from China's CGTN entitled "Understanding ASPI - the Anti-China 'Think Tank.'"

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chinese Think Tank Scholars Turn Aggressive Against US

Here is more from the New York Times:

Chinese propaganda is rarely subtle or particularly persuasive, but the torrent of bombast online and in state media in recent weeks is striking and potentially ominous.

The targets are China’s main adversaries: the United States and Taiwan, which are moving closer and closer together.

A harsher tone has spread not only in state media, but also among Chinese academics and analysts with government-linked think tanks who influence policy debates.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on a Chinese company harvesting data on overseas think tankers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Will a Hoover Inst. Scholar Cost Trump the Election?

Here is more from the Washington Post:

As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.

Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.

Scott Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, and his biography can be found here.  He is also a Member of the think tank's Working Group on Health Care Policy.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Think Tank Quickies (#387)

  • Brookings forcing all employees back to DC-area by Dec. 31? 
  • Condi Rice takes the reigns at Hoover Institution.
  • Diversity in think tanks: what needs to change?
  • Literary figures join Extinction Rebellion campaign against think tanks.
  • How philanthropy benefits the super rich (and think tanks).
  • Think tank quote of the month: "Silence is the think tank of the soul."
  • Australian think tank ASPI finds 380 detention camps in Xinjiang.
  • Jarrett Carter Sr.: Now is the time for HBCU think tanks.
  • A reading list of think tank credibility.
  • There exists a Center for International Policy and a Center for Global Policy.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Top 50 Think Tanks Raked in $1+ Billion From Defense Contractors & US Government the Past 5 Years

It is no secret that the US government gives a ton of money to US think tanks, which also receive a ton of money from defense contractors.

Now, a new report from the Center for International Policy's (CIP) Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) tells us how much money the top 50 US think tanks have brought in the past five years from those entities: $1+ billion.

It should be noted, however, that most of that money - $1,209,100,000 to be more precise - was actually given to one think tank: RAND Corporation.  The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was the 2nd largest recipient over the past five years, bringing in $8,946,000 (i.e., 1/135, or 0.7% of what RAND took in).  The third largest recipient was Atlantic Council, which brought in $8,697,000.

The amounts are likely much higher due to the fact that think tanks often report funding levels for a particular entity within a range of figures, and FITI used the minimum amount from those ranges.  Moreover, many think tanks grossly underreport or simply do not disclose funding information.

According to the report, the top 5 defense contractor donors to US think tanks are:

  1. Northrop Grumman: $4,551,252
  2. Raytheon: $2,830,000
  3. Boeing: $2,746,075
  4. Lockheed Martin: $2,670,000
  5. Airbus: $2,140,000

And the top 5 US government donors to think tanks are:

  1. Office of the Secretary of Defense (and other national security agencies): $391,720,000
  2. US Air Force: $281,400,000
  3. US Army: $246,321,000
  4. Department of Homeland Security: $111,192,255
  5. Department of State: $9,090,478

The full report, which contains a handful of errors and questionable details, can be found here.   

Here is some more commentary from FITI's Holly Zhang and here is some from FITI's Cassandra Stimpson. 

Here is more about the report from The American Conservative.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Private Briefings at Think Tank Fueled Market Sell-Off

Let's face it, most think tank meetings are soporific affairs of questionable importance that are rarely newsworthy or noteworthy.  But on rare occasions, an event can really create waves, including ones that can roil global markets.

Here is an example from the New York Times.

On the afternoon of Feb. 24, President Trump declared on Twitter that the coronavirus was “very much under control” in the United States, one of numerous rosy statements that he and his advisers made at the time about the worsening epidemic. He even added an observation for investors: “Stock market starting to look very good to me!”

But hours earlier, senior members of the president’s economic team, privately addressing board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, were less confident. Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. To some in the group, the implication was that an outbreak could prove worse than Mr. Philipson and other Trump administration advisers were signaling in public at the time.

The next day, board members — many of them Republican donors — got another taste of government uncertainty from Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council.

The document, written by a hedge fund consultant who attended the three-day gathering of Hoover’s board, was stark. “What struck me,” the consultant wrote, was that nearly every official he heard from raised the virus “as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.”


The memo that the NYT referenced was written by William Callanan, a Hoover board member and hedge fund consultant.

NYT also notes that Hoover has close relations with the Trump Administration, and the White House has "pulled from its ranks" to fill top positions.

"Joshua D. Rauh, one of the White House economists addressing the Hoover crowd on Feb. 24, has returned to the institution, where he worked previously. Kevin Hassett, who moderated the panel and has served as the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is now a Hoover Institution fellow.  Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a Hoover fellow and Stanford professor known for his unorthodox positions on encouraging 'herd immunity,' was named to Mr. Trump’s coronavirus task force in August," says the newspaper.

Here is a piece from Institutional Investor entitled "Who is William Callanan, the Hedge Fund 'Outsourced Strategy Officer' at the Center of an Explosive NYT Report?"

Update: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has asked two US financial market regulators to investigate whether the private Hudson meeting with Trump officials spurred insider trading.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trump Admin. Demands Foreign Donor Disclosure From Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico:

The Trump administration is demanding that U.S. think tanks and academic institutions publicly disclose what funding they receive from foreign governments or otherwise risk losing access to State Department officials.

The move, unveiled in a statement Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, comes amid growing bipartisan concern about the role outside governments, ranging from China to the United Arab Emirates, play in shaping academic and policy debates in the United States.

“To protect the integrity of civil society institutions, the [State] Department requests henceforth that think tanks and other foreign policy organizations that wish to engage with the department disclose prominently on their websites funding they receive from foreign governments, including state-owned or state-operated subsidiary entities,” Pompeo said in the statement.

“Disclosure is not a requirement for engaging with such entities,” he added. “Department staff will, however, be mindful of whether disclosure has been made and of specific funding sources that are disclosed when determining whether and how to engage.”


Politico says that it is not immediately clear what prompted the demand for the disclosure, while noting that critics have long raised concerns about foreign funding of think tanks and universities.

Another Politico story says that the move has no legal force behind it.

Here is what the Washington Free Beacon had to say about the move.

Here is the statement from the US State Department.  Here is a tweet from State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus about the measure, and one from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Here is what the White House's Peter Navarro had to say.

Here is what the Atlantic Council had to say about State's announcement.

The Heritage Foundation praised the measure.

Ben Freeman, Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI), says that the State Department's announcement is "exactly" what FITI's Jan. 2020 report on foreign funding of US think tanks recommended.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

First-Ever Ranking of Think Tanks via Artificial Intelligence

A new ranking of think tanks uses artificial intelligence to determine the world's most influential policy shops.

Here is more:

Founded in October 2016, with funding assistance from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Influence Networks created proprietary machine learning technology—the Influence Engine—to measure true influence. Using this technology, examines billions of open-source, crowd-edited data points, mapping lines of influence through continuously updated data repositories, including Wikipedia and Crossref. These databases result in analysis that resists being gamed or undermined by single-source editorial bias. now opens access to these user-customizable search capabilities so that students, researchers, and inquirers can discover the most influential people and institutions, providing the answers users seek with the objectivity they need.

Based on its machine learning algorithm, Academic Influence lists the top 10 think tanks as:

  1. Brookings Institution
  2. Heritage Foundation
  3. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  4. Cato Institute
  5. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  6. American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  7. RAND Corporation
  8. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  9. Atlantic Council
  10. Hoover Institution

Here is a full list of the 50 most influential think tanks in the world, as well as more information on how the ranking was determined.  Think Tank Watch expects that there will be a robust debate about the positives and negatives of this particular ranking.

The top-ranked non-US think tank is the Berlin-headquartered European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), which comes in at #16 on the list.  ECFR is followed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which is #17 on the list.

Academic Influence recently ranked the 50 most influential universities in the world, with Harvard University at #1, University of London at #2, and Stanford University at #3.

It has also ranked the most influential political scientists (here), as well as the most influential historians (here).  And here is its list of the most influential people from 1800 - 2020.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Sleuth Finds Flaw in RAND Corp.'s "A Million Random Digits"

Here is an excerpt from The Wall Street Journal:

For 65 years, Rand Corp.’s reference book “A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates” has enjoyed a reputation as the go-to source for random numbers.

Until, on a random whim, Gary Briggs came along and ruined it all.

Mr. Briggs, a Rand software engineer, spent his spring rifling through the million digits and discovered that while the numbers inside are indeed quite random, the venerated book is not quite right.

RAND was founded in 1948 and is headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Khashoggi's Think Tank Launches

Here is more from Foreign Lobby Report:

The brainchild of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi became a reality today, joining a growing chorus of human rights groups advocating for a rethink of US ties to Arab autocracies.

Friends and former colleagues of the late Washington Post columnist formally launched Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) almost two years to the day since his Oct. 2 killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The group’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, described the nonprofit as a “hybrid organization” combining human rights research and advocacy, think tank analysis and a publishing platform for exiled voices from the region during a livestreamed launch event.

The organization is funded by friends of Khashoggi and “foundations,” Whitson said, and does not take government money.

Here is a Washington Post piece on the launch of DAWN.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Chinese Company Harvesting Data on Think Tankers

 Here is more from the Washington Post:

Biographies and service records of aircraft carrier captains and up-and-coming officers in the U.S. Navy. Real-time tweets originating from overseas U.S. military installations. Profiles and family maps of foreign leaders, including their relatives and children. Records of social media chatter among China watchers in Washington.

Those digital crumbs, along with millions of other scraps of social media and online data, have been systematically collected since 2017 by a small Chinese company called Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology for the stated purpose of providing intelligence to Chinese military, government and commercial clients, according to a copy of the database that was left unsecured on the Internet and retrieved by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy.

Aside from military figures, the database seemed to scoop up tweets from influential China watchers in Washington. Tweets from Scott Kennedy, a China trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, frequently surface in the database, as do missives from Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism newsletter, and Lyle Morris, who studies the PLA at the Rand Corp.


On Sept. 29, Microsoft said it has seen a major spike in foreign efforts to target US think tanks. 

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on hackers targeting think tanks in an attempt to gather 2020 US election information.