Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Think Tankers Propose S&P-Like Ratings Agency for Think Tanks

Citing an increasing lack of trust of think tanks due to their waning intellectual independence as think tanks scurry to please donors through advocacy and de facto lobbying, two think tankers scholars are proposing the creation of a think tank ratings agency akin to Standard and Poor's or Moody's.

In a Foreign Policy piece entitled "Why Everyone Hates Think Tanks," Matthew Rojansky of the Wilson Center and Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), say that the new entity would be distinct from rankings like the deeply flawed and increasingly error-filled University of Pennsylvania's "Global Go To Think Tank Index," which is more akin to US News & World Report's rankings of colleges and universities.

Here is more about what they want to see in the "ratings" agency:

The point is not to rank think tanks relative to one another but to provide a good housekeeping seal of approval that would assess their capacity and willingness to follow good research practice and to provide truly independent policy recommendations. A condition of receiving ratings, at least for U.S.-based institutions, should be strict disclosure requirements, FARA registration when legally appropriate, and audited compliance with other best practices for tax-exempt public charities. Just as investors are discouraged from investing in low-rated bonds, potential think tank donors would find the ratings to be a useful shorthand for steering clear of funding organizations that don’t embrace best practices.


Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about the widely-cited UPenn think tank rankings.

Update: Dr. Dan Drezner, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings and a professor at Tufts University, has a new piece entitled "Does Everyone Hate Think Tanks?" which says that even the best think tank reforms are unlikely to change public perceptions.

Politico has also chimed in, saying that not everyone hates think tanks and saying there is a problem with the authors quasi-regulatory solution to the alleged problem.  Here are some additional reactions that Politico has documented.

PR firm Edelman has launched a new Trust Institute that will be a "global center for the study and cultivation of trust across business, government, media, and civil society."  Would they develop a ratings agency?