Friday, August 27, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#425)

  • Sarah Ladislaw, managing director at RMI, a clean energy-focused think tank formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, denies that her testimony when she worked at CSIS was influenced by Exxon’s financial support for CSIS.
  • Chatham House "goes woke" as it awards Greta Thunberg and BLM.
  • Think tank diplomacy with Melissa Conley Tyler.
  • How the Atlantic Council's "domestic extremism" lays the foundations for shadow governance.
  • CGD: India's COVID-19 death toll may be millions higher than the official tally.
  • Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project: More than 15 million people in 6.5 million US households are behind on rental payments.
  • Think tanks weigh in to federal bank regulators about potential pitfalls in the use of AI and machine learning in making loan decisions. 
  • To one expert, the Trump Administration's approach to government benefits was to ask, "'Who does the policy in this space?' and they went straight for the most radical think tanks."
  • Matt Duss: "By 2025, 50% of all foreign policy writing will be things from the Quincy Institute or comically tendentious misrepresentations of things from the Quincy Institute."
  • Pic: Son of AEI president Robert Doar gets married.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Think Tank Chief Lobbying for the US to Engage with North Korea

 Here is more from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post:

Kim Ki-jung, former Moon adviser who is now president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a government-funded think tank, told me in an interview that [President Joe] Biden must recognize there is an opening and act boldly [on negotiations with North Korea].

 

The Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS) was founded in 1977, and has more than a dozen North Korean defectors as well as around 50 experts as in-house researchers.  Reports indicate that INSS is an affiliate of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Kim Ki-jung was chosen as new president of the think tank in 2020, raising eyebrows due to his close relationship to President Moon Jae-in and the fact that he was embroiled in misconduct allegations in the past.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

CAP Warning Dems Over Biden Agenda

Here is more from Politico:

One of the most powerful Democratic-allied groups in D.C. is warning party members that they risk leaving women voters behind if they don’t back President Joe Biden’s social spending package.

The Center for American Progress is pressing Democratic lawmakers to keep the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package as close to its original blueprint as possible, arguing that it’s vital for helping women workers hit hard by the pandemic. Simply passing an infrastructure bill, the group warns, would create a massive divergence in the economic recovery along gender lines.

Here is the Center for American Progress (CAP) memo that Politico is basing its reporting on.  The think tank has stocked the Biden Administration with dozens of policy wonks.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Think Tanker Leading Conservative Effort to Prepare for US-China War

Here is an excerpt more from a new New Yorker piece:

Elbridge Colby, a fortysomething graduate of Yale Law School, was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development in the Trump Administration. Amid many people saying roughly the same thing about the now-ending generational conflict over Islamic extremism, Colby is distinguished by a vision of the generational conflict to come. In his view, idealism and Afghanistan are both sideshows to the real military, economic, and diplomatic action—all of which concerns China.

Elbridge Colby goes by Bridge. To his patrician name, add a patrician face (long nose, side-parted sandy hair) and a patrician legacy: his grandfather, William Colby, was Nixon’s C.I.A. director, and his father, Jonathan Colby, is a senior adviser in the Carlyle Group, the defense-friendly private-equity giant. Bridge nearly overlapped at Harvard College with Tom Cotton, and at Yale Law School with Josh Hawley. He was considered for a role as a foreign-policy adviser to Jeb Bush in 2015; according to the Wall Street Journal, campaign operatives torpedoed his chance to be Bush’s foreign-policy director by raising concerns that he was insufficiently hawkish about Iran. Colby arrived at Trump’s Pentagon as an aide to the President’s first Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis.


Colby is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, which calls itself a think tank.  He has held several positions at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), most recently as Director of the Defense Program, where he led the think tank's work on defense issues.

He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

Friday, August 20, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#424)

  • National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) launches Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI). 
  • FP event: Can local think tanks save democracy?
  • Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, joins Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) as a distinguished fellow.
  • Atlantic Council has a new Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Tracker.
  • After bucking Canadian government and Chinese pressure and giving award to Taiwan's president, Halifax International Security Form (HFX) to host major event in Taiwan.
  • ASPI: It's time for an independent think tank on Pacific security and foreign policy.
  • PPI's "Investment Heroes 2021" shows Amazon with largest capital expenditure in US.
  • CSIS tracks new Chinese aircraft carrier via satellite.
  • InfluenceMap: "A London-based think tank that tracks corporate climate lobbying."
  • At 93, civic leader Malin Burnham launches a "think-and-do tank" in San Diego, California.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Think Tanks?

While it appears that most of the think tank community is safe for now, artificial intelligence (AI) is getting so good that it may one day be able to replace think tanks altogether.

As Axios recently pointed out, the startup Primer is offering natural language processing (NLP) models for businesses that can rapidly read and analyze written text of all kinds.  It also notes that businesses are creating digital workers out of software bots.  Here are a few other things AI can now do:

  • AI has the ability to display human-like qualities such as reasoning, learning, planning, and creativity.  It can also see, hear, speak, smell, touch, move, and understand.
  • AI can read text, write it, and even convert it into computer code (check out AI21 Labs' Jurassic-1 Jumbo and OpenAI's Codex).  Here is some of the best AI writing-assistant software.
  • The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, and Reuters have used AI for years to generate content via natural language generation (NLG).
  • AI can successfully debate humans in complex subjects (see IBM's Project Debater).
  • Neural networks are providing automated feedback.
  • Software like Synthesia allows one to create AI-generated videos from text in 40+ languages; it also allows you to create your own think tanker avatar.

But all this new technology doesn't necessarily mean that think tanking will be dead soon.  Here is an excerpt from a recent piece by National University of Singapore professor Atreyi Kankanhalli:

In my view, almost all...research tasks are currently not replaceable by AI. While AI can support search of references for literature review and discovery of patterns from data, it fails considerably in research problem identification and theory building, since these activities require semantic understanding that AI is currently not capable of. While AI could assist in data analysis, understanding the contributions of the work requires human interpretation. Similarly, for the writing process, AI mainly provides tools for preparing an initial publication draft – helpful in some science fields, which are more structured than humanities fields. Further, in the near future AI tools may not be able to replace our research activities because they lack semantic understanding, where little progress has been made so far.

 

The immediate impact of AI, for those who embrace it, will likely mean researchers can enhance their analysis with powerful tools to sift through enormous amounts of data and speed up a number of tasks.

In the coming months, Think Tank Watch will be establishing what is believed to be the first AI-run think tank to see if it can legitimately replace certain traditional think tanks.  One major benefit is that the new think tank will not be biased by outside funders, a problem with nearly every major think tank to date.

As reported last year, there is even a new ranking of think tanks that uses AI to make its determination.  There are also a number of think tanks that study AI.  Georgetown University recently created the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), which has a big AI focus.  CSET received a $55 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, a nonprofit research and grant-making group.

Here is a piece by Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) Research Director Kunihiko Miyake entitled "In the age of AI, think tanks must evolve."

Here is a piece from Bruegel Director Guntram Wolff entitled "Artificial Intelligence: An Opporunity and a Challenge for Think Tanks."

And for any think tankers thinking about a new job, you can always check the site Will Robots Take My Job? to find out how susceptible your new job would be to computerization.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Think Tank Beats Harassment Claims

Here is more from Bloomberg:

The former finance and administration director with the Middle East Forum failed to show her boss sexually harassed her, a federal jury in Philadelphia found.

Marnie O’Brien alleged in a December 2019 lawsuit that Middle East Forum Director Gregg Roman told her that “he likes older woman” and that “non-Jewish women were made for sex.” Roman also inquired into her dating life and discussed his marital problems and sex life, according to O’Brien.

But a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania decided Aug. 6 after a seven-day trial that O’Brien didn’t present enough evidence.

 

The Middle East Forum (MEF) is a Philadelphia-based think tank founded in 1994 by Daniel Pipes.  Georgetown University has called it a "right-wing anti-Islam think tank that spreads misinformation and advocates hawkish foreign policy."

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has called it a "controversial far-right think tank that is known for its anti-Islam views and hawkish foreign policy recommendations."

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#423)

  • Business Insider: At least 99 former Trump officials have establishment ties with prominent lobbying shops, law firms, think tanks, or big business. 
  • PIIE's Gagnon & Sarsenbayev: Nobody forecasts inflation well. [Jason Furman of PIIE: "higher inflation is reasonably likely through at least next year."]
  • South Korea's atomic energy think tank exposed to presumed North Korean hacking.
  • DC Circuit rejects Cato Institute lawsuit over SEC "gag" rule.
  • Longtime C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully to depart for bipartisan think tank. 
  • Trump alum Matthew Pottinger is now chair of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' China Program.
  • Cecilia Malmstrom joins PIIE.
  • The Bulwark: What the hell happened to the Claremont Institute?
  • Taiwan, Czech think tanks ink MOU on defense research cooperation.
  • No one wants to be friends with a professor.  What about a think tanker?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Chinese Think Tanks Slam US COVID Response

Three Chinese think tanks have just published a hard-hitting new report bashing the US for its COVID-19 response and calling the US a "failed country."

The report, entitled "America Ranked First?! The Truth About America's Fight Against COVID-19," was jointly released by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of the Renmin University of China (RDCY), the Taihe Institute, and the Intellisia Institute.

Here is more from the Global Times:

A 23,000-word report has been released in Chinese, English, Spanish and French, and is also the first to comprehensively show the truth about the US anti-epidemic fight, based on rigorous studies, objective and factual data from US research institutes, media outlets and politicians, Wang Wen, executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY), told a press conference on Monday.

[The report] indicates that the US deserves to be the world's No.1 anti-pandemic failure, apart from being the No.1 political blaming country, No.1 pandemic spreader country, No.1 political division country, No.1 currency abuse country, No.1 pandemic period turmoil country, No.1 disinformation country and No.1 origins-tracing terrorism country.

 

The three think tanks held an event along with the release of the 70-page report.  Keynote speakers included former Senior Fellow at Cambridge University Martin Jacques, and Washington Bureau Chief for the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR) William Jones.

Newsweek notes that the paper featured multiple spelling errors and a disjointed structure, and offered "no evidence to back up several damning claims."

Monday, August 9, 2021

Hungary Sponsoring English-Language Think Tanks to Promote Orban

Here is more from The Atlantic:

Just as Hungary now sponsors English-language think tanks designed to promote [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s illiberal ideas, so did the Soviet Union once create phony “institutes for peace” designed to promote Soviet Communism. The idea in both cases was and is the same: Lure in foreigners who are bored, disgruntled, or underpaid at home; offer meals, attention, and sometimes more.

 

Here is what Vox had to say last year: "The Hungarian government has actively cultivated support from...international conservatives. John O’Sullivan, an Anglo-American contributor to National Review, is currently based at the Danube Institute — a think tank in Budapest that O’Sullivan admits receives funding from the Hungarian government."

Vox also noted that Chris DeMuth, the former head of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), interviewed Orbán onstage at a conference, praising the prime minister in opening remarks as “not only a political but an intellectual leader.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported on a think tank called Veritas, whose "main mission is to provide revisionist interpretations of 20th-century Hungarian history."  It has also reported on an "ecosystem" of Hungarian foundations and government-affiliated think tanks which have received $3.5 billion in public money in the past year.

After Orban’s return to power, a government-funded think-tank called the Center for Fundamental Rights was created in 2013, according to FT. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Think Tanks' Impact on Policy in Turbulent Times

FP Analytics (FPA), the independent research division of Foreign Policy magazine, has published a new report entitled "Navigating Through Turbulence," which explores think tanks' impact on policy in a rapidly changing world.

Here is more on the report from FPA:

The last few years have seen rises in authoritarianism, economic protectionism, poverty, and threats to human rights and civil liberties, trends that were all further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to combat such trends take many forms, but this report is particularly concerned with the role and impact of think tanks given their capacity to understand, explain, and shape these trends. Such organizations have proliferated globally since the 1990s, but there has been limited research and a lack of consensus regarding how successful they are in counteracting these negative trends. To explore this topic, FP Analytics conducted an in-depth survey and semi-structured interviews with think tank personnel to highlight the experiences and viewpoints of the think tank staff working on the ground to advance democracy, economic openness, human rights, and poverty reduction in their home countries.

 

For the research, FPA interviewed 51 senior think tank leaders from around the world and surveyed another 322 from 80 different countries.

Think Tank Watch should note that the study appears somewhat biased because it relied heavily on the Atlas Network, an umbrella for libertarian and free-market groups, for its think tank outreach.  FPA notes that around 12% of of final sample of 322 respondents consists of responses from staff at think tanks outside of those from the Atlas Network.  In other words, people from the Atlas Network make up 88% of responses.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Kleptocracies Using Think Tanks for Reputation Laundering

A new paper by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) says that kleptocracies are using universities and think tanks for reputation laundering.

Here is an excerpt:

Universities and think tanks in open settings are prime targets for reputation laundering. The rapid internationalization of the higher education sector, as well as the swelling demand worldwide for Western education makes academic institutions particularly vulnerable to this form of transnational kleptocratic activity. Indeed, over recent years, there has been a major surge of foreign funding to U.S. and U.K. universities. The composition of fundraising has also changed. Major gifts comprise a growing share of donations, and a relatively small number of wealthy individuals contribute nearly 80 percent of gift-giving to universities.

A recent Foreign Policy article draws upon a new database of philanthropic donations and finds that in recent decades, seven post-Soviet oligarchs have together donated between $372 million and $435 million to U.S.-based not-for-profit institutions, including universities, museums, cultural centers, and think tanks.

 

NED cites the Foreign Policy article as a forthcoming piece written by Casey Michel and David Szakonyi entitled "Oligarchs and Philanthropy."  The figures, however, have already been published elsewhere, and come from the Anti-Corruption Data Collective (ACDC).  Michel is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute's Kleptocracy Initiative, and Szakonyi is an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University.

Michel recently wrote a piece entitled "Illicit Temptation: "Funding of Universities and Think Tanks During COVID-19," which says that think tanks have been reliant on "questionable funding, including donations from oligarchs and other figures from kleptocratic settings, without any required due diligence mechanisms in place."

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#422)

  • Daily Caller: Jeffrey Epstein friend, client (Leslie Wexner) still a trustee of Aspen Institute.
  • Oregon think tank threatens to sue over state capitol workers union vote. 
  • UK's Policy Foundation: Everything you wanted to know about think tanks but were afraid to ask.
  • Carnegie Europe and Thomas de Waal under critique.
  • NBC: Fox failed to fully disclose the professional conservative ties of 11 guests featured in segments about critical race theory, among them lobbyists and staff of conservative think tanks.
  • CAP press team gathered for the first time together in 15 months. 
  • Institute of the Black World (IBW): "Think tank of the Black freedom struggle."
  • Think tanks with the most followers post 5-10 times per day.
  • Pic: CFR President Richard Haass gets 10/10 on Room Rater.
  • Think tanks rebrand themselves to sound more warm and bubbly: "Ideas bath."

Monday, August 2, 2021

Brookings & CSIS to Receive Congressional Scrutiny for Exxon Ties

After reports surfaced that ExxonMobil's two most important allies in think tank land are the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), US lawmakers are vowing to look into the energy giant's ties to these think tanks and others.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, is planning to look into Exxon's ties to think tanks during a broader probe into fossil fuel industry misinformation efforts, according to E&E News, which notes that Exxon used a Brookings paper to help defeat the only major climate legislation that has ever passed the US House.

Exxon's financial support for Brookings "opened doors at the agenda-setting think tank," E&E says, while noting that Exxon is one of four oil and gas companies that have donated at least $100,000 to Brookings in each of the last three years.  The others are Royal Dutch Shell PLC, France’s TotalEnergies SE, and Equinor ASA of Norway.

Here is more from E&E:

That level of giving has secured Exxon a place on Brookings’ Corporate Council. The think tank’s website doesn’t explain what the council is, and [Brookings spokeswoman Andrea Risotto] didn’t respond to questions about the membership, structure and purposes of the group.

But a 2016 menu of “Corporate Council Donor Privileges” promised companies that give Brookings $100,000 or more would receive “a customized program of benefits designed in collaboration with the Senior Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations.”

Brookings deleted the document from its website after E&E News asked about it.

Other perks include “a private meeting” with the think tank’s president, “opportunities to request briefings with Brookings scholars” and invitations to a series of exclusive Brookings receptions, an archived version of the menu says.

 

E&E News reports that Exxon has donated $600,000 to Brookings since 2018, and nearly $2.1 million to CSIS during the same time period.

It also notes that the Center for Global Development (CGD) is among the think tanks that has received significant funding from Exxon.

Other think tanks that Exxon donates to include: American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  It also donates to dozens of colleges and universities.

In response to the recent reporting on Exxon's deep ties to think tanks, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tweeted: "The Swamp in action. Read it and gag."