Monday, January 16, 2023

New Study Shows How Nuclear Industry Influences Think Tank Reports

A new study entitled "No Such Thing as a Free Donation? Research Funding and Conflicts of Interest in Nuclear Weapons Policy Analysis" found that the nuclear industry often influences the outcome of the reports they commission through donations to think tanks.

Here is more from the abstract:

Numerous scholars have in recent years concluded that the field of nuclear weapons policy analysis is plagued by widespread self-censorship, conformism, and enduring disconnects between accepted knowledge and available evidence. It has been hypothesized that this tendency is fostered in part by many analysts’ reliance on funding from donors with interests in the perpetuation of the existing nuclear order. In this article, we probe this hypothesis by investigating the financial links between foreign policy think tanks, on the one hand, and nuclear defence contractors and governments that espouse nuclear deterrence strategies, on the other. Relying on semi-structured interviews and a survey of the funding sources of 45 of the world’s top think tanks, we find, first, that effectively all think tanks in the sample accepted funding from nuclear vested interests and, second, that such ‘stakeholder funding’ has real effects on intellectual freedom. Given the widely-held view that democracy relies on intellectual independence, this finding calls for a serious debate about conflicts of interest in foreign policy analysis generally and nuclear policy analysis specifically.


The report was written by Kjølv Egeland and Benoît Pelopidas of the Center for International Studies (CERI) in Paris, and received funding through a grant from the European Research Council.

The study looked at 45 think tanks (US and non-US), including the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Hudson Institute, RAND Corporation, Stimson Center, and Wilson Center.

Here are more thoughts from Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who notes that the authors offer a practical takeaway based on their research:  “Responsible scholars, journalists, and other members of the public should stop treating think tanks and university programs that accept large donations from vested interests as research entities and instead think of them as communications or public relations operations.”