Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

IN THE TANK....Mark Kleiman would like to see some intellectual rigor from the mainstream media:

Is there any hope of getting the press to distinguish between (1) the original "think tank" the RAND Corporation and comparably respectable universities-without-students (Brookings, the Urban Institute) where real social scientists (and real natural scientists, engineers, mathematicians, historians, and policy analysts) do real research and analysis looking for real answers to real questions and (2) faux "think tanks" (Heritage, Cato, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) set up for the purpose of providing "studies" in support of pre-determined ideological points?

The distinction isn't hard to make. If you have to read the report to know the conclusion, it's a real think tank. If you know the conclusion as soon as you know the topic and where it was written, you're dealing with a phony.

The distinction might be a little harder to make than Mark admits, but his point is still well taken. However, there's no chance of this happening unless someone comes up with a non-derogatory substitute name for the faux think tanks. Any suggestions?

Kevin Drum 4:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (154)

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Is there any hope of getting the press to distinguish between (1) the original "think tank" the RAND Corporation and comparably respectable universities-without-students (Brookings, the Urban Institute) where real social scientists (and real natural scientists, engineers, mathematicians, historians, and policy analysts) do real research and analysis looking for real answers to real questions and (2) faux "think tanks" (Heritage, Cato, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) set up for the purpose of providing "studies" in support of pre-determined ideological points?

Shorter Mark Kleiman:
Is there any hope of getting the press to distinguish between (1) real think tanks, which are exclusively left-wing and (2) shills, which are exclusively right-wing?

Posted by: Al on February 21, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, and the GOP will never get any traction unless they come up with a non-derogatory names for liberal interest groups like the ACLU and Greenpeace...oh, wait.

I think a derogatory substitute name for the faux think tanks fits the bill perfectly. Why not?

Posted by: Gregory on February 21, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Paid right-wing hacks" or "Lying scumbags" is the derogatory name for these outfits. "Faux think tanks" is the polite parlor designation.

Posted by: brucdsb on February 21, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

In The Tanks?

Posted by: Martin on February 21, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Spin tanks

Posted by: Neil' on February 21, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Thought Tanks" is my suggestion because there once was a thought and so they believe there doesn't need to be anymore thinking done there.

Posted by: Will Guthrie on February 21, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

How bout the fake fake think tank.

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on February 21, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Paper Mill

Posted by: clone12 on February 21, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Nope. I can only think of derogatroy ones.

Posted by: Roxanne on February 21, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Partisan Policy Advocates?

Puts them in a class with PPI and CAP.

Posted by: tib on February 21, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Crap no tanks.

Posted by: jamester on February 21, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Strategery Farms

Posted by: Chicago Typewriter on February 21, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

policy think tanks (which study policy) vs.
political think tanks (which study the political framing of policy)

I think it's a matter of policy vs. framing.

Posted by: Henry on February 21, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I could spend all day coming up with snarky, derogatory terms for these propaganda outfits (hey! there's one!), but a few non-derogatory terms also come to mind:

Advocacy Firm
Non-profit public relations outfit
Public lobbying group
Media publicity specialists

Posted by: Constantine on February 21, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Donuts.

(Do nut take what we say seriously.)

Posted by: Super Grover (Norquist) on February 21, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Foregone conclusion collusion.

Posted by: shortstop on February 21, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Thunk" tanks. Past tense as they start at the conclusion and work forewards?

Posted by: jamester on February 21, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Faux think tanks == fink tanks

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting that you call them fake think tanks, but the GOP doesn't think of them that way. In the GOP mind there is no objectivitiy at all, only bias, which as Al notes above, permeates all think tanks, faux or otherwise. Think about that for a moment. To a repug, there is only your truth and my truth and your truth obviously leans to the left no matter what.

Is that a defensive reaction of a bully, or the freightened coping mechanism of a simplton...or something in between.

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on February 21, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Wing tanks.

Posted by: MichaelFB on February 21, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Or even better: No tanks!

It's not easy being this much smarter than everyone else...

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

How about, "Pandering public relations mills deliberately designed to give their contributors' political prejudices a patina of academic legitimacy."

RIP Bill Safire

Posted by: Rusell Aboard M/V Sunshine on February 21, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Dogma mills.

Posted by: S Ra on February 21, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

It's going to be very hard because these places have very consciously worked to develop a think tank facade, putting out papers, hiring "senior fellows," endowing chairs, etc.

Might be better to try and get the media to talk about their support, like "conservative-funded think tank" or "liberal-funded think tank."

Warren Olney does this on "To The Point" on NPR. He always says who the think tank is and where they get their money. Granted, he's a pretty high standard to expect people to emulate, but while we're wishing here...

Posted by: Frankbruno on February 21, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Yep, it's the old "If we like their conclusions they're honest purveyors of information. If we don't, they're despicable, manipulative liars". Why am I not surprised?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on February 21, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem is that the ideology of the right wing think tanks is like the case of the purloined letter: they're hiding their commitments in plan sight. Here's how Cato describes itself:

The Cato Institute seeks to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace.... The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato's work has increasingly come to be called "libertarianism" or "market liberalism." It combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism.
These guys are not trying to hide the fact that they are advancing an ideological point of view. The problem is not labeling, in other words.

Posted by: Nils on February 21, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Dink tanks?

Posted by: Skail on February 21, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Dink Tanks
Septic Tanks
Casas Del Propaganda

Posted by: cleek on February 21, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Group-Think Tanks


Posted by: Ross Best on February 21, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Wank Tanks

Posted by: Tortoise on February 21, 2006 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

I would appreciate it if C-SPAN would learn this distinction Mr. Kleiaman proposes, also.

Posted by: Hostile on February 21, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Meme Farms?

Posted by: klevenstein on February 21, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I don't like "think tank" for legitimate think tanks. "Think tanks" should be "research groups." Faux research groups should be as suggested by another, "advocacy firms."

Posted by: jf on February 21, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ya, only a lib would fail to admit that we all approach research and scholarship based on our politics. Grow up. We all do it.

It's like the way you moonbats are always carping about Bush's supposed hatred of science. There is no difference between falsifying evidence to reach a desired conclusion, and publishing a real scientific study that reaches the same conclusion. It doesn't matter how you get to the conclusion. If you're publish the results, you're biased. God, you libs are dumb.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on February 21, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Think vats?

Posted by: Emma Zahn on February 21, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Wink Tanks?
Wonk Tanks?
Foregone Concluders?

Posted by: Eclectic Floridian on February 21, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

If my memory is correct, the Institute for Policy Studies is leftwing. Brookings is considered leftwing by conservatives, but not by lefties. Kleiman is apparently singling out the centrist think tanks for approval, and condemning those on the left and right. I don't know enough about any of them (beyond what I read in newspapers and blogs) to say which ones sponsor truly objective and scientific studies of various issues, but I'm a little bit skeptical of the notion implicitly accepted by many people that the truth is always found somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum.

Posted by: Donald Johnson on February 21, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Special Interest Research Groups.

They publish papers and engage in advocacy to benefit small segments of the population at the expense of the general public.

Posted by: Andrew on February 21, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK


Shill tanks
Pay-for-play tanks
Turf tanks
Think bank

I like "Spin Tanks" too

Posted by: theo on February 21, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Dang, that was an impressive job by an imposter. Two thumbs up. Tell me, are you going to be staying after it? Because it'd sure free up my valuable time if you can keep doing that.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on February 21, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK
....Mark Kleiman would like to see some intellectual rigor from the mainstream media:

And I'd like to see pigs fly, under their own power.

I'd suggest that my desire is at least as realistic as Kleiman's, given the natural capacities and proclivities of pigs and members of the mainstream media.

The distinction isn't hard to make. If you have to read the report to know the conclusion, it's a real think tank. If you know the conclusion as soon as you know the topic and where it was written, you're dealing with a phony.

This presumes, of course, that members of the media have the intellectual capacity and experience to actually recognize this if they cared, which I think is optimistic.

Though, relevant to this, I once, in college, aced the multiple choice portion of a test and got a respectable score on the essay portion (for which the prompt was along the lines of "Describe the central argument of Values Matter Most and critically respond to it"), when I had only read the jacket and only remembered, from that, the fact that the author, Ben Wattenberg, was associated with AEI, and answered all the questions based on what I would assume someone from AEI would say.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

STINK TANKS

Posted by: reino on February 21, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think there are very poor think tanks on both sides, but Al, the real Al for once, in his first comment, really does correctly summarize Kleinman's complaint.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 21, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

The real Al is dead. Flores, flores para los muertos.

Posted by: shortstop on February 21, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Clearly I'm too late to introduce "spin tank," so I'll simply add my voice/vote for that term.

Posted by: Scott Swank on February 21, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK
I think there are very poor think tanks on both sides, but Al, the real Al for once, in his first comment, really does correctly summarize Kleinman's complaint.

The Al posting there is the same one that usually posts, from all available evidence, (and has very little evidence of anything in common with the "real" Al of ancient PA and Calpundit history), and, on top of that, I don't think anyone with two brain cells could honestly describe RAND as "exclusively left-wing". That makes it unsurprising from "Al", but stupider than usual for you.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Bought thoughts?

Posted by: shortstop on February 21, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Faith tank.

Wish tank.

Dream tank.

Posted by: Tripp on February 21, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

I was going to offer "stink tanks", but I, too, liked "spin tanks". The term shows a similarity to "think tanks" but at the same time, points out the difference. Use as "GOP spin tanks" or "Republican spin tanks" to get the point across.

Spin tanks. Use it liberally, and often!

Posted by: Zandru on February 21, 2006 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Shill mill.

May be derogatory, but it seems fairly accurate.

Posted by: Scott on February 21, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

I guess it may not be the original Al from Calpundit days, I have no real way of knowing, but it clearly isn't any of the fake Als that comment only to mock (in some cases, doing it so brilliantly that many on both sides get fooled)authentically conservative Als, however number of those there are or have been. Anyone with two brain cells probably knew what I meant.

I have seen you fooled by the best of the fake Als on at least one occasion, and I would guess you are not an easy man to fool.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 21, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Non-derogatory:

Advocacy research firms (or advocacy firms, as mentioned above).

Posted by: Kimmitt on February 21, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK
I guess it may not be the original Al from Calpundit days, I have no real way of knowing, but it clearly isn't any of the fake Als that comment only to mock (in some cases, doing it so brilliantly that many on both sides get fooled)authentically conservative Als, however number of those there are or have been.

Its the same kind of facially ridiculous distorted response as the mocking Al. OTOH, you may be demonstrating that the genuine conservatives here are impossible to parody...

I have seen you fooled by the best of the fake Als on at least one occasion, and I would guess you are not an easy man to fool.

You are probably mistaking my habit of responding seriously to arguments (whatever the source) that resemble things I've heard actual conservatives say in person or (e.g.) on talk radio, even when the posts here come from parody trolls or other nonserious posters, for being "fooled".

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Advocacy center
Policy rationalizer
Rhetoric enhancer

Posted by: Thinker on February 21, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Shill mill and bought thought are excellent.

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Returning to the fundamental topic, here, I think what Mark misses is that the media is uninterested in doing any kind of critical analysis. Right-wing "think tanks" exist in large part to exploit the fact that the media is lazy and just wants a go-to source of stories, or quotes on stories arriving elsewhere, so that they don't have to actually try to discern truth and can instead play "he said, she said".

They don't want to do anything more, they aren't trained to do anything more, and they've found there is no benefit in terms of advertising revenue from doing anything more, so that's unlikely to ever change as long as we are relying on a corporate, advertising-supported media.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

I

Posted by: cdj on February 21, 2006 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's like the way you moonbats are always carping about Bush's supposed hatred of science. There is no difference between falsifying evidence to reach a desired conclusion, and publishing a real scientific study that reaches the same conclusion. It doesn't matter how you get to the conclusion. If you're publish the results, you're biased. God, you libs are dumb.
Posted by: conspiracy nut on February 21, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Despite being a fake conspiracy nut, you seem to have about the same limited grasp of the definition of science, and the actual scientific process.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on February 21, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

bought thoughts is beautiful -

wing tank is nice too.

Posted by: christAlmighty on February 21, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Idiocy Harvesting Societies

Posted by: lib on February 21, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

You are probably mistaking my habit of responding seriously to arguments (whatever the source) that resemble things I've heard actual conservatives say in person or (e.g.) on talk radio, even when the posts here come from parody trolls or other nonserious posters, for being "fooled".

I'm not so sure about that.

In any case, isn't the real topic here that the think-tanks of the left (such as Brookings, RAND, etc.) are just as much shills as the think tanks of the right (Cato, Heritage, AEI) or of the extremist left (EPI, PPI, CAP), and thus the premise of Kevin's post is wrong?

Posted by: Al on February 21, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Propaganda Mills.

Posted by: brewmn on February 21, 2006 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Insititutes for Cultivating the Propaganda for the Dear Leader

Posted by: nut on February 21, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin says: Mark Kleiman would like to see some intellectual rigor from the mainstream media

That's a joke, right?


Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 21, 2006 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Answers.com provides an interesting description of German think tanks: "In Germany all of the major parties are loosely associated with research foundations that play some role in shaping policy, but generally from the more disinterested role of providing research to support policymakers than explicitly proposing policy."

"Think tank" itself is an ugly neologism in any case. I think that "advocacy center" or "policy research wing" might reasonably describe what Mark Kleiman describes as faux "think tanks".

But it's fighting a losing battle, when any organization can add "Institute" to its name, hire "fellows" and "chairs", and release white papers on any subject they like--how can this fail to impress the masses?

Posted by: RSA on February 21, 2006 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

This phenomenon is similar to the one in the Software Industry, where "Analyst Firms" like the Gartner Group essentially become paid PR shills for large software companies like Microsoft - creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of success in the marketplace by posting biased "studies" on various competing products.

Gartner's entire reputation is based on the premise that they're an independent, neutral firm, when in fact, they've been shown to be indirectly funded by Microsoft, and are functionally indistinguishible from a PR firm.

Any industry article I read now that cites Gartner as a source, I take with a few grains of salt. I think it's an unspoken assumption among IT managers these days. But it's certainly not universal.

Unfortunately, when Cato, Heritage, etc. are cited as sources for news articles and opinion, there is an unhealthy lack of skepticism among readers. And it's difficult to assert that there *should* be skepticism without being branded as "elitist". This is all due to the FACT of overwhelmingly conservative bias in the mainstream corporate-dominated news media. Such a shame, but until we get a return of sane regulations on ownership rules and fairness doctrine, this is an inconvenient fact of life that Liberals now have to deal with. Coming up with cutesy bumper-sticker-driven names for "think tanks" isn't going to change the overwhelming influence that big money and corporate consolidation has had on framing and defining public debate.

Blogs are somewhat immune to this influence right now. I don't see that persisting for more than 3-5 more years.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on February 21, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Bullshit factories.

Posted by: phleabo on February 21, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Interest groups.

Posted by: Jeremy on February 21, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

How about Advocacy Tanks?

Posted by: Bob on February 21, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

This is all due to the FACT of overwhelmingly conservative bias in the mainstream corporate-dominated news media.

It is not a fact. It is a FACT that liberals like Keith Olberamann, Dana Milbank, David Gregory, Jon Stewart, and David Letterman dominate the media

Posted by: Al on February 21, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps an acronym?

We Hand Over Republican-commissioned Essays.

Posted by: shortstop on February 21, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Extending a few thoughts here, how about

"Policy Advocacy Center"

-- it's appropriately descriptive, it sounds pretty bland, but you get to smuggle in the acronym PAC, which is pretty appropriate.

You could do something similar like policy advocacy group, policy advocacy organization, lying assholes, or whatever you like. But those don't have quite as nice acronyms. (Plus I don't want to be seen as legitimizing poking fun at L.A.)

-Mike

Posted by: mk on February 21, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

The real Al is dead!

Long live the real Al!

Or something like that...

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 21, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

I don't remember the thread involved or what the comment was, but the fake Al made a comment that really was ridiculous, and would not have been made by half-way thoughtful conservative, but you seemed to take comment seriously and responded to it. I suppose it is possible you knew it was the parody troll, but chose to respond anyway, but the far more likely explanation is that you were fooled by the parody. However, you would be in good company if you were.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 21, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

I like "Thunk Tanks" too. Yinz already thunk it.

If we lived in an honest world, we'd call them "Marketing Departments." They do for the political world what marketing departments do for the corporate world.

You'll rarely see raw R&D out of a corporation because the marketing department blocks unsightly conclusions, noble failures, or things that are cool but won't bring home the bacon. You don't have to look any further than Pharma to understand the concept.

The guys who set up these places are coming from the corporate world. They're just doing what comes naturally.

Posted by: daniel on February 21, 2006 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops, policy advoc center was basically exactly what RSA suggested. didn't catch that one. Well anyways, I agree!

-Mike

Posted by: mk on February 21, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

It is not a fact. It is a FACT that liberals like Keith Olberamann, Dana Milbank, David Gregory, Jon Stewart, and David Letterman dominate the media
Posted by: Al on February 21, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's an oldie but a goodie:

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on February 21, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Partisan policy mills

boring but accurate and not inflammatory.

Some of the inflammatory suggestions above are great and have now entered my partisan vocabulary.

Posted by: nine on February 21, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK
I don't remember the thread involved or what the comment was, but the fake Al made a comment that really was ridiculous, and would not have been made by half-way thoughtful conservative

Lots of genuine conservatives in the real world are not halfway thoughtful.

Indeed, IME, the vast majority of genuine conservatives aren't. So?

but you seemed to take comment seriously and responded to it.

I've stated more than once that I sometimes respond seriously to non-serious posts, especially when they express points-of-view I've seen expressed seriously in other media.

The only distinction I even try to make based on the seriousness of posters is that I try to distinguish responses to clear parodies of active genuine posters (e.g., the "helicalrocket" tbrosz parody.)

but the far more likely explanation is that you were fooled by the parody.

Well, more likely if you start with the false assumption that whether or not the post is a parody is something I'm particularly concerned about it, when it comes to responding.

How I interpret it may play a role in whether I chuckle rather than rolling my eyes when reading it, but unless you are hanging around me when I'm reading the thread, that's not a distinction that's going to be visible to you.


Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Think sinks.

Motto: it all goes down the drain.

Posted by: sozzy on February 21, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Al, I fail to see how a think tank (RAND) which produces voluminous studies evaluating military logistics, force structure, weapons effectiveness, recruiting strategies, etc, etc, is a "liberal shill." The Pentagon and the services (in particular the Air Force) are still by far their biggest customer.

But Al has never let a few facts get in the way, has he?

Posted by: modus potus on February 21, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

Think sinks.

That's where most of their minds are anyway.

Posted by: sozzy on February 21, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and one thing I forget; RAND had Donald Rumsfeld on its board for many years. Just the kind of guy you want running a place for liberal shills, no?

Posted by: modus potus on February 21, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

These things persist in getting cited as sources because there is no popular appreciation of what they are.

If there were a few large articles on the covers of Newsweek or Time to flush the whole phenomena into view the public would be a lot less uninformed.

Posted by: cld on February 21, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK
In any case, isn't the real topic here that the think-tanks of the left (such as Brookings, RAND, etc.) are just as much shills as the think tanks of the right (Cato, Heritage, AEI) or of the extremist left (EPI, PPI, CAP), and thus the premise of Kevin's post is wrong?

Well, no.

Starting with the fact that RAND isn't, by any reasonable standard, a "think tank of the left", except insofar as RAND is in touch with reality, something that the American Right has largely abandoned.

And beyond that, while there are ideologically oriented think tanks of the left aside from the extreme left (CBPP and Brookings come to mind), they tend to be very different, and far less "ideology first" in their work than, e.g, Cato or Heritage or AEI; that's not to say there aren't parallel groups to CBPP and Brookings on the Right, just that there is a difference in character between the groups on the Right and those on the Left that the media tends to treat identically. Really, if the media didn't play he said/she said, and actually did some substantive analysis on its own, this wouldn't be much of an issue.

That being said, Kleiman somewhat distorts the issue when he equates Brookings, et al., with RAND.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Late to the show, as usual...'Spin Tanks' is good, better than what I had in mind:

- Policy Institutes of Supporting Sciences (PISS tanks)
- Centers for Creative Interpretation of Fact
- Four Sisters Fund Baby:

Now, after 30 years of effort, this core FSFG has built a comprehensive ideological infrastructure. There are now over 500 organizations, with the Heritage Foundation at the hub, all funded by this core group. David Callahan's 1999 study, $1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, found that just the top 20 of the organizations spent over $1 billion on this ideological effort in the 1990s.

It always gets interesting when you follow the money....

Posted by: grape_crush on February 21, 2006 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

How about:

"Non Peer-Reviewed Advocacy Groups"

Posted by: Melville on February 21, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Republican clubs"

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on February 21, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

organizations advocating with information

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on February 21, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

What about "advocacy institutes"? It applies equally to the left and the right.

P.S.: there is already an Advocacy Institute so maybe this isn't so good.

Posted by: Luke on February 21, 2006 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Brothels

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 21, 2006 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Spin Factories

Posted by: Gerard on February 21, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would be more accurate if things like the Heritage Foundation, or the Competitive Enterprise Institute, or the Club For Growth, or the National Grassroots Coalition of Taxpayers Opposed To Mine Safety Laws were referred to as "lobbying groups".

After all, what is the Heritage Foundation? It's an organization which is known for producing propaganda that supports certain policies, and it receives vast sums of money from people (and other groups) who want to achieve those policies. How does that differ from the American Petroleum Institute or the National Cattlemen's Beef Association?

If some guy (Steve Milloy) who became famous as a Republican talking head gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil to start an organization devoted to furthering ExxonMobil's goals for energy policy, that group (the Advancement of Sound Science Center) should not be called a "think tank". It should be called a "lobbying firm".

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on February 21, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Propaganda mills.

Political foundation.

Posted by: Jimm on February 21, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Whore houses

Although I hate to offend hard working women of the night by lumping them with the windbags.

Posted by: George Mardikes on February 21, 2006 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Truthiness Institutes.

Posted by: ogmb on February 21, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Policy mills, like diploma mills.

Oh, wait. That's derogatory. Accurate, though.

Posted by: William Slattery on February 21, 2006 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of good suggestions.

Somebody may have said this above, don't remember.

Advocacy Farms

I was going to suggest Septic Tanks but someone beat me to it. I have suggested to various friends and family in the past that a think tank for skeptics be started, named...Skeptic Tank.

Or how about Selective Partisan Advocacy Mills (SPAM)?

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on February 21, 2006 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

non-derogatory substitute name for the faux think tanks

Meme House.

Posted by: Walnut Rob on February 21, 2006 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

Think Tank- Brookings
Heritage Foundation- Marching Band

Posted by: Poncho & Lefty on February 21, 2006 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

"Thick Tank", as in both "thick as a brick" and "thick as thieves".

And sorry, "septic" (tank) is taken - it's already rhyming slang for "yank".

Posted by: AlanDownunder on February 21, 2006 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Smoke Generators?

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on February 21, 2006 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

The (put name of GOP policy shill organization here) is as impartial as the Ohio State Marching Band at a Michigan game.

Posted by: Poncho & Lefty on February 21, 2006 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Message mills?" Too derogatory? "Policy reinforcement centers?"

Posted by: Will Stahl on February 21, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Thought Simulators?

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on February 21, 2006 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Brothels .... or "tramp tank". "Tart tank" if it is a Great British organization.

Posted by: Boronx on February 21, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

Advocacy groups or centers or
Propaganda centers

And Al obviously doesn't know anything about, say, RAND. Idiot.

Posted by: David in NY on February 21, 2006 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Employment agencies for partisan hacks?

Posted by: David in NY on February 21, 2006 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ministries of Truth

Posted by: Winston Smith on February 21, 2006 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK


Let's think outside the tank. How about "compost heaps" or "slag piles"?

I suppose those are derogatory.

I guess I'd have to go with "spin tanks" or "policy mills." They're not exactly neutral but they're neutralish. They also have a nice ring.

Posted by: Sean on February 21, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

STINK TANK

Posted by: Stewart Kelly on February 21, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Simple suggestion.

Quit calling their side biased and the our side objective. Stick to the facts.

Posted by: Matt on February 21, 2006 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's quite simple:

Agrees with your own ideas: Legitimate think tank.

Disagrees with them: Partisan hacks.

Pretty much how everyone on both the Left and Right seems to see it.

Oh, and one more tip: Any outfit that prominently labels itself "non-partisan" most certainly is not.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 21, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

These are all fun, for dedicated left-wing media. But for the mainstream media, we're going to have to stick to demanding that they preface "think tank" with the respective institution's ideological bias, and say "non-partisan" when an institution really has no ideological bias. For Heritage, "right-wing think tank". For Cato, "libertarian think tank". (Cato does sometimes oppose Bush Admin policies on libertarian grounds - see for instance their opposition to protectionist "anti-dumping" measures.) I think the only ones that get to go unlabeled should be RAND, CSIS (which leans right), and Brookings (which leans left).

Posted by: brooksfoe on February 21, 2006 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Agrees with your own ideas: Legitimate think tank. Disagrees with them: Partisan hacks.Pretty much how everyone on both the Left and Right seems to see it.

You're projecting. This is how the post-modernist, nihilistic, party-line "Conservative" sees things. It is not how everyone else, be they liberal or moderate or whatever sees them. When was the last time someone from one of the nonpartisan think tanks was fired for apostasy? There is a reason why Grover Norquist has a portrait of Lenin on his office wall and so many former Communists like David Horowitz call themselves Conservatives.

Posted by: Nagual Haven on February 21, 2006 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Agrees with your own ideas: Legitimate think tank. Disagrees with them: Partisan hacks.Pretty much how everyone on both the Left and Right seems to see it.

Yes, how post-modern of you. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to their own facts. In Conservo-world, all facts are really "facts", just more partisan tools.

But here on earth (which is round, by the way), facts are something else.

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Institutes for Truthiness

Posted by: smoof on February 21, 2006 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Smoke Generators is the best, but here goes:

Script Ship
White Paper Farm
Funded Front
Strategy Organ
Agendacrats
Newspeak Tweak-House
B-52 Planners
Winky Wonk Web
Learning Lobby
Policy Push
Meme Candy Factory
Soil Enrichment Task Force
Greenthumb Club

Posted by: Brooklynite on February 21, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

They're turf farms.

Posted by: Lettuce on February 21, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Bullet Belts
Spooniversities
Policy Plantations
Proleptic Paper Mills
Code Relay
Mold Makers
Frame Gamers
Track Layers
Vision Tunnelers
Strat Org
Talk Shop
Mind War Corps

Posted by: Brooklynite on February 21, 2006 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

Result tanks?

Posted by: Stoffel on February 21, 2006 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

So far, I like "faith tanks" best because demands for verifiable evidence are treated as blasphemy.

Posted by: joe on February 22, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Gas Tanks?

Posted by: frankly0 on February 22, 2006 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

truthiness study groups

Posted by: Libby Sosume on February 22, 2006 at 12:11 AM | PERMALINK

I like:
-wonk tanks (the real ones)
-wank tanks (the faux ones)

Posted by: Libby Sosume on February 22, 2006 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK

Propaganda mills.

Sinecures for right-wing propagandists. (An accurate description, but assumes the listener knows what a sinecure is.)

Posted by: nemo on February 22, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

How about: after-we-bomb-Iran-the-internet-is-dead-and-life-as-we-know-it-will-be-forgotten-forever-tanks?
Tee Hee: calling Baudrillard, When will it be Real?

Posted by: Duh on February 22, 2006 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Warren Olney does this on "To The Point" on NPR. He always says who the think tank is and where they get their money. Granted, he's a pretty high standard to expect people to emulate, but while we're wishing here...

This was a complaint of mine against the MacNeill-Lehrer Report as far back as the mid 1980s. They were constantly having on propagandists from right-wing think tanks (basically anything with the word "Institute" in its name). But they never identified these propaganda mills as such, which left the viewer with the impression that these shills must be impartial experts on the subject at hand.

Identifying the funding sources of these "institutes" on a regular basis would have gone a long way toward dispelling the false impression of impartiality, objectivity, and fairness these shills projected. The problem is even worse 20 years later.

Posted by: nemo on February 22, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK
Agrees with your own ideas: Legitimate think tank.

Disagrees with them: Partisan hacks.

Pretty much how everyone on both the Left and Right seems to see it.

You know, don't you ever get tired of the "if you ignore the details, zoom out far enough, and pick out the vague outlines, its all approximately equal" pseudo-argument?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Sandwichman opts for "tells-you-what-to-think tanks".

Posted by: Sandwichman on February 22, 2006 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

poop group

Posted by: CW on February 22, 2006 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

tank shells?

Posted by: aPantomimeHorse on February 22, 2006 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

Think Spanks.

like punishment for having a mind.

Posted by: Joey Giraud on February 22, 2006 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't read through the comments (too many, too late at night), but this is so obvious I'm sure someone has suggested it -

faux think tanks = "Fink Tanks"

Posted by: Gregory on February 22, 2006 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'll vote for spin tanks. catchy, pithy, accurate, and not even derogatory.

Posted by: Common Sense on February 22, 2006 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

"Advocacy Mills"

Posted by: s9 on February 22, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

don't you ever get tired of the "if you ignore the details, zoom out far enough, and pick out the vague outlines, its all approximately equal" pseudo-argument?

No more so than tbrosz gets tired of flinging out straw man pseudo-arguments, it would seem.

BTW, the Gregory at 1:40 am isn't me.

Posted by: Gregory on February 22, 2006 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

This is the critical difference, in Richard Cohen thought bubbles.

1. Real think tanks: "You mean I gotta read the WHOLE thing?"
2. Fake think tanks: "You mean you'll write the WHOLE article for me?"

Posted by: Steve Paradis on February 22, 2006 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Coming from a think tank (the Center for Economic and Policy Research) that has caught many things before the "real think tanks" (e.g. the stock bubble, the housing bubble, the phony Social Security crisis), why don't we just distinguish between those that are right (as in correct) and everyone else.

Posted by: Dean Baker on February 22, 2006 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

'Shill mills' had my vote until this:

Brothels
Posted by: Jeffrey Davis

Egads!

>laughing

Posted by: CFShep on February 22, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

They're turf farms.
Posted by: Lettuce

Ummm... the kind that grow AstroTurf, right?

Posted by: CFShep on February 22, 2006 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Coming from a think tank (the Center for Economic and Policy Research) that has caught many things before the "real think tanks" (e.g. the stock bubble, the housing bubble, the phony Social Security crisis), why don't we just distinguish between those that are right (as in correct) and everyone else.

Posted by: Dean Baker

Those particulars qualify me as a think tank. I nailed those suckers cold.

Where's my funding?

Posted by: CFShep on February 22, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"""The distinction isn't hard to make. If you have to read the report to know the conclusion, it's a real think tank. If you know the conclusion as soon as you know the topic and where it was written, you're dealing with a phony."""

The problem is, (and the reason for the rise of the conservative think tank) is that is much can be said of Americas Universities and Colleges. When, Harvard or Yale, or U of M, issue a study, or law review article or, treatise one is assured of the leaning and conclusion before one reads it.

Posted by: Fitz on February 22, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Kleiman is full of it.

Most of the old line think tanks (Brookings, etc.) are reliably liberal as are the foundations (Ford, etc.) that support them. (An exception is Rand, which was during the 1960s and 70s the preferred Defense Department think tank.) The new think tanks (Manhattan Institute, Cato, Heritage, etc. ) are for the most part more hospitable to conservative thinkers as are their supporters (Olin Foundation, etc.) So what? What possible reason is there to label some of them fake and the others authentic, unless you believe, as Mr. Kleiman apparently does, that liberal analysis is genuine but conservative views are inherently false and corrupt. What nonsense!

Part of the reason there are all these new, conservative think tanks is that conservative intellectuals can't get jobs at universities. That is because most of the tenured faculty and administrators at most major research universities share Mr. Kleiman's prejudices - they believe that conservative views are inherently false and so decline to offer jobs or grant tenure to conservative scholars.

If you have any doubts about the power of the radical left on college campuses, I suggest you consider the spectacle of Larry Summers, a moderate Democrat, being forced to resign as President of Harvard because he dared to challenge two of the left's shibboleths (namely, the views that men and women are the same in all respects and that Israel is a racist, apartheid state).

Of course, the result over the past 25 years for the conservative movement has been good. While liberals sat in their ivory towers publishing research on "transgendered anomalies inherent in unjust colonial outposts in sub-Saharan Africa," or whatever, conservatives intellectuals have come up with all of the new policy ideas in American politics during that period. Perhaps in hindsight it was a mistake for the left summarily to dismiss, rather than respond in a reasoned manner, to the arguments of the new conservatives.

Posted by: DBL on February 22, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I think Max S has a pretty good view on this. He doesn't think it's a big deal, but in the end, he does distinguish between places that actually do research and "op-ed factories." I would add to the last -- "term-paper length op-ed factories." I'm not sure where a bunch like CATO falls -- does it actually do anything besides put out position papers and file amicus briefs in the Supreme Court?

Posted by: David in NY on February 22, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Fink tanks.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on February 22, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Oops...I guess great minds think alike, huh?

Posted by: Nancy Irving on February 22, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

DBL
Spot on Target Brother...
One has to wonder, has Kleimen even been to college?

Posted by: Fitz on February 22, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Kleiman is apparently singling out the centrist think tanks for approval, and condemning those on the left and right."

Yeah, you have a middle ground of ideological but not purely party-line think tanks. I'd rank Cato higher than Heritage or AEI in terms of intellectual honesty, even though Cato is very definitely ideological.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on February 22, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Meme Factories

Posted by: Kenji on February 22, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut and Al have actually hit on something, probably in the same way that blind pigs find truffles.
RAND et al are not explicitly political in their construction; rather, they follow a scientific methodology that they must explain in a section of whatever report they are writing.
Cato, Heritage, and the other right wing policy advocates generally cover up the methodology because they don't care how they got the answers. Like the Underpants Gnomes. Like Calvinball.
Basically, reality is biased against right wing dingbats. Archie Bunker is God.

Posted by: boing!!! on February 22, 2006 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

We should call them Archie Bunkers!

Posted by: Kenji on February 22, 2006 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Dogma kennels :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 23, 2006 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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