Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise

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Similarly, the sociological literature on professions analyses the dynamics and power of expert professions that are embedded across a wide range of government institutions at the national and international level Abbott, ; Fourcade, And work in science and technology studies takes issue with the understanding of science as a neutral and objective enterprise, emphasizing the social embeddedness and political character of science Grundmann, ; Jasanoff, These literatures offer a rich variety of theoretical arguments that can inform the discussion of evidence and policy-making.

The workshop thus seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the politics of evidence use by drawing on knowledge from across disciplines and theoretical perspectives. By bringing together research on evidence use in different settings and polities, conducted from different perspectives and using different research design and methodologies, the workshop seeks to paint a picture of where the scholarship as a whole stands on this matter and where future avenues of research may develop.

Lars Brozus and Hanns W. Maull

Thereby, the workshop aims to stimulate future research collaboration and publication projects on the topic. References Abbott, A. Boswell, C.


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Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise – By Andrew Rich

Tell us if something is incorrect. Add to Cart. For some policy experts, comfort and eloquence on television are prized assets that go hand in hand with good writing ability. As important, if not more important, than actually the words that you use. And of course he does radio well, too. But his energy—he really does TV. On trade or budget [issues], those are the papers that you want to reach for. The New Republic or the Weekly Standard are more niche-oriented weeklies, one being more liberal, one being more conservative, but we have friends in both. If you want to get your article talked about, it had better be in the Post , the Times , or the Journal.

Harpers , I think, has become kind of ridiculous. And the Atlantic Monthly You know, just a bigger audience and you get more time and, again, a thoughtful audience. You know, serious people.

Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise

Who are you looking for? Writing both. Brookings would look for somebody who had written a really good book on something or a series of not-too-academic journal articles. But if there had been some op-eds and things, that would be a plus.

Think Tanks, Politics, and the Casualties in the War of Ideas (James McGann - Acton Institute)

If this was a person who was a good speaker and presenter, that would be a plus. And then you run behind the curtain and run up in the audience and applaud madly. And then you run back up on the stage and you juggle. And then you run back and applaud madly. This is because the goals associated with three of the four idioms—namely, political access, funding, and publicity—are more easily brought into line with one another than any of them can be reconciled with the pursuit of academic consecration.

The goal of scholarly rigor, on the other hand, more often demands a certain insulation from commercial pressures, freedom from political censorship, and relative indifference to publicity. Strip away the job titles and party labels, and you will find two kinds of people in Washington: political hacks and policy wonks.

Hacks come to Washington because anywhere else they'd be bored to death. Wonks come here because nowhere else could we bore so many to death. These divisions extend far beyond the hack havens of political campaigns and consulting firms and the wonk ghettos of think tanks on Dupont Circle.

Some journalists are wonks, but most are hacks. Some columnists are hacks, but most are wonks. All members of Congress pass themselves off as wonks, but many got elected as hacks. Lobbyists are hacks who make money pretending to be wonks. The Washington Monthly, The New Republic , and the entire political blogosphere consist largely of wonks pretending to be hacks.

After two decades in Washington as a wonk working among hacks, I have come to the conclusion that the gap between Republicans and Democrats is as nothing compared to the one between these two tribes. Nevertheless, policy experts try to walk the thin line between the two. For example, some think tanks encourage their fellows to advise politicians and candidates for public office, even while requiring them to separate such consulting from their official organizational duties.

I would say inward looking, incestuous, and not very interesting. I think what had happened [when Heritage began] is that professors had become increasingly more and more arcane in their studies, had turned inward, affected by the various trends which were going on at that time, whether it was Foucault or Derrida and all the rest of those guys. From the perspective of many policy experts, the growth of formal modeling techniques and the discursive turn in the humanities and social sciences are two sides of the same coin of esotericism.

They are mindful, for example, that academic scholars may perceive their work as lacking rigor. In response, many emphasize the special skills they have acquired in the course of their time at the think tank. If you are used to writing journal articles or writing books, there is no discipline that comes to bear in the sense that you have got to limit this to a small space. It takes more internal discipline Many policy experts also emphasize their greater relevance to policymaking, including the fact that temporality of policy research is closer to that of policymaking than to scholarship.

I think the value here is being able to rip things out in a hurry. The staff here is really good at that. So one thing think tanks are aware of is the policy schedule. Another point of difference between scholarly work and policy expertise lies in their separate languages. Given their asymmetrical pattern of commitment to the four professional idioms, and the inner conflict to which it gives rise, why do policy experts not simply discard the academic model altogether?

Why not embrace only the political, entrepreneurial, and media models? The answer, undoubtedly, is that the idiom of academic production provides policy experts with an indispensable font of authority , as well as a means of symbolic separation from lobbyists, activists, and political aides. Without this connection, policy experts would run the risk of looking too much like their K Street or Capitol Hill cousins, whose material resources and political access inevitably overshadow their own.

Across writings both popular and scholarly, the image of the think tank-affiliated policy expert oscillates between two radically different profiles. Finally, in academic discourse, studies carried out in the elite theory tradition inaugurated by C. Wright Mills yield a picture of the policy expert that is quite compatible with the idea of a political mercenary Dye ; Peschek ; Domhoff Because their legitimacy as intellectuals turns on the ability to signal their autonomy, they must continually proclaim their association with academic production, even as they work to downplay it in other aspects of their role.

My analysis is based on 43 formal interviews with representatives from think tanks and proximate institutions, archival records gathered from more than a dozen manuscript collections, and ethnographic fieldwork conducted at various think tank-sponsored events. The interview subjects included think tank founders and upper managers, rank-and-file researchers and staff members, and people who deal routinely with the work of think tanks, such as congressional staff members, newspaper and magazine reporters, and administrators of philanthropic foundations.

The archival records include organizational histories, personal letters and memoirs, mission statements, biographical and autobiographical accounts, and materials related to the founding and decision-making processes of think tanks. In combination, their count showed men The only think tank in the group that had more female than male policy experts was the Institute for Policy Studies 11 to 6.

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The most unbalanced think tank was the Cato Institute 35 men, 1 woman. The Frederick S. See, for example, Brookings Institution They had also gotten into the habit of doing big long studies, fat studies and volumes, and so forth—being a little too, in their writing, perhaps a little too scientific. Says William A. He is the person who creates the venture, who invents the concept of the product and then goes out and markets it. Author interview, Fred Smith, Jr. The flip side of that, though, is the heft. We still put out a journal called Brookings Papers on Economic Activity My emphasis.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist highlights the difference between academic and political temporalities in similar terms:. GN: Timeliness. Legislation moves at certain times. A study of the impact of the French Revolution done at a university is interesting this year. It will be interesting in five years.

A study on why a particular piece of legislation would be good or bad for the economy is only of interest in the context of the fact that the legislation is going to be discussed and voted on.


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