Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Procrastination in the library

A while back, "what do think tanks do?" was all over the (conservative) place (see here here here here here here here here here and here). I happened to be avoiding doing work in the library and looked at the August 2003 issue of "Science and Public Policy." It had a review by Dawn House of Do Think Tanks Matter? Assessing the Impact of Public Policy Institutes by Donald Abelson. Based on the review, Abelson argues that you can identify three distinct waves of think tanks:
  1. 1900-1945: The "university without students," where social scientists engaged in long-term academic research. The example is Brookings.
  2. 1945-early 1970s: Government contractors where publicly funded institutes like RAND were charged with conducting long term research responsive to national issues; and
  3. early 1970s till ?: Ideologically oriented and invested as much in repackaging and marketing as in research. The example is Heritage.
Abelson supposedly argues for a fourth possible wave: "legacy" or "vanity" think tanks devoted to advancing the ideas and legacies of key individuals. Example here is the (Richard) Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.

Not that I'm sure this tells us much, you can certainly find exceptions to the categories -- certainly the first two models have not been entirely displaced by the third and think tanks in the third include aspects of the first two -- but still interesting.

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