Saturday, June 07, 2008

Think Tank Effectiveness

I hadn't read Tim Lambert's blog for a while, and I really should. It's always a good read, especially if you get a hankerin' for a good old fashioned rhetorical beatdown, especially on climate change.

But one particular piece really grabbed me. It's on global warming deniers and conservative think tanks. Here, check it out:

Matt Nisbet reports:

A new study by a team of political scientists and sociologists at the journal Environmental Politics concludes that 9 out of 10 books published since 1972 that have disputed the seriousness of environmental problems and mainstream science can be linked to a conservative think tank (CTT). Following on earlier work by co-author Riley Dunlap and colleagues, the study examines the ability of conservative think tanks to use the media and other communication strategies to successfully challenge mainstream expert agreement on environmental problems.

(Clarification: A couple of readers thought Nisbet was saying that one particular CTT was linked to 90% of the books. Nisbet means that 90% of books can be linked to CTTs.)

It wasn't the finding itself that really interested me per se, but what it implied.

See, what it implied is that conservative think tanks are really, really effective. There's a gigantic gulf between the scientific consensus on global warming and the public's perception that there's a problem, but there's an even bigger gulf between the public's perception of the problem (the public largely agrees that it's an issue and that it's anthropogenic) and Washington's debate over the problem, which still has a LOT of out-and-out deniers holding sway. Logically the flood of science in favor of anthropogenic climate change should have washed away this nonsense long ago, yet here we are, with a "debate" that still manages to go on, somehow.

Yes, they're really that good at this!

You wouldn't think so. You'd think that it'd be transparent that they have an agenda and would be distrusted for it. They're absolutely OPEN about having an agenda, and almost as open about being part of the conservative movement. Yet they still have a massive effect.

And, if you think about it, it's a greater effect than you might suppose. Climate change is pretty cut-and-dried. If they manage to make a "debate" still happen on that, just imagine how much they've perverted the discussion of issues that aren't as clear! Sure, we're used to them having a big effect on, say, social and foreign policy. But that's just it! You have to wonder just how screwed up the Washington consensus on these other issues is because of these guys?

No grand conclusion, and this is hardly a novel insight. Just food for thought, especially about what progressive/liberal think tanks might be able to accomplish, given proper latitude and funding.

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