Naked Science Forum

General Science => General Science => Topic started by: coberst on 14/04/2009 18:48:51

Title: Are "think tanks" a good idea?
Post by: coberst on 14/04/2009 18:48:51
Scholars in the Tank
Few top ranked scholars are going into government or academic professions; many are going into Think Tanks, which are supported by private interests that are guided often by ideological self-interest.

“More than 1,200 think tanks in the United States provide not only ideas but also experts ready to comment or consult at a moment's notice. Some of these new transmission belts serve as translators and additional outlets for academic ideas, but many add a bias provided by their founders and funders.”

A recent TRIP (Teaching, Research and International Policy) poll noted that few top rated scholars held policy positions in government.  The blame for this rests with the fact that not only are the think tanks absorbing all of the talent but that the talent that goes to academia are often supported in research through funding by industry directly or by the think tanks controlled by industry.

One might expect that as citizens, academics would show a bias toward improving public policy when they can.  Also one might expect them to be concentrating on preparing young people into becoming well informed Critical Thinking citizens with the sophistication required to make valid judgments in our very high tech culture.

“As former undersecretary of state David Newsom argued a decade ago, "the growing withdrawal of university scholars behind curtains of theory and modeling would not have wider significance if this trend did not raise questions regarding the preparation of new generations and the future influence of the academic community on public and official perceptions of international issues and events. Teachers plant seeds that shape the thinking of each new generation; this is probably the academic world's most lasting contribution." Yet too often scholars teach theory and methods that are relevant to other academics but not to the majority of the students sitting in the classroom before them.”

Our culture has tended to channel intellectuals, or perhaps more properly those who function as intellectuals, into academic professions. Gramsci makes the accurate distinction that all men and women “are intellectuals…but all do not have the function of intellectuals in society”.

The subordination to power is not just at the individual level but also at the institutional level. Government funds are made available to universities and colleges not for use as they deem fit but for specific government needs. Private industry plays even a larger role in providing funds for educational institutions to perform management and business study. Private industry is not inclined ‘to waste’ money on activities that do not contribute to the bottom line. ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’

Each intellectual is spouting a different ideology, how does the individual choose what ideology? Trotsky once said “only a participant can be a profound spectator”. Is detachment then a virtue? To suggest that intellectuals rise above ideology is impractical. Explicit commitment is preferable to bogus neutrality. But truth is an indispensable touchstone.

I think that the proper role for the intellectual is commitment plus detachment. Do you think many of our present day intellectuals qualify as committed and detached?

Scholars on the Sidelines By Joseph S. Nye Jr
Title: Are "think tanks" a good idea?
Post by: graham.d on 17/04/2009 10:24:00
If some government is to prosecute a particular process then it is well that such a process and its implications is well thought through. However the way that many think tanks work in practice is that all the thought goes in how to pursue an idealogical path, by people with a committed position. More effort goes into a defence of actions, despite negative outcomes, than in viewing situations from an independent position. As has been widely claimed, you can blame the Iraq war on the American Enterprise Institute, the heart of the so-called neocon influence on G W Bush. In this particular case a whole national and international policy was reasoned (much of it incorrectly but without intellectual challenge) and presented over a period of years by well funded promotion. Another think tank that advises Israel gave fascinating advice to Netanyahu when he was last in power, well before the 9/11. This famously forges the policy of re-shaping the middle east that most of GWB's advisers, the same people who wrote this paper, got to enact as a result of 9/11.

Though this paper was in the public domain, I wonder how many congressmen would have been in support of the attack on Iraq had they known fully about the agenda of Richard Perle and co.

Think tanks have a role in thinking through policies and the implications of implementing them but there needs to be a change in the way some of these operate in then pursuing and promoting their ideas, sometimes with a Machiavellian zeal. There needs to be more open discussions, rather than clever media manipulation, that permit challenges from opposing views, but I don't think that our current methods of confrontational politics encourages this.
Title: Are "think tanks" a good idea?
Post by: Don_1 on 17/04/2009 11:16:10
'Think Tanks', 'quangos' and more often than not 'inquiries' are a means by which politicians can hand over huge wads of the tax payers dosh to their chums. The people who sit on these processes are often company directors or well chosen academics who will come up with the prerequisite report which will be cackled about for a while before being shelved and forgoton about until the next time such a report is required.

These people, who already have more money than they know what to do with, are then indebted to the politician who gave them the position. Thus when the politician retires from public life, or gets the 'Grand Order of the Boot' from the electorate, they have a good number of chums to turn to for a well paid, cushy job. It's a way of redistributing wealth. Take from the poor and add it to the bulging coffers of the stinking rich.

Who me? Cynical? Whatever gives you that idea?
Title: Are "think tanks" a good idea?
Post by: cedar_tree on 18/04/2009 02:11:11
to find and tell the truth, or we all die over politics and propaganda. humans need many choices to choose from or they fight over belief!

was that you, colbert report?
Title: Re: Are "think tanks" a good idea?
Post by: scientist@work on 03/03/2021 18:38:27
It's a good question.
In general think Tanks are a good way to spred ideas.
On the other hand it depends on the leader of it, what kind of topics they proceed, ;D