A think tank is an organization, institute, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy for many different things. For example, social policy, economic issues, science or technology issues, or military advice are some of the common areas addressed by a variety of think tanks (1). There are many different opinions about the value of think tanks that range from the National Institute for Research Advancement’s option that think tanks are “one of the main policy actors in democratic societies” to Ralph Nader’s criticism that the private nature of think tanks biases their results to some degree. Other organizations more boldly state that “A think tank is an organization that claims to serve as a center for research and/or analysis of important public issues and in reality is little more than a public relations front that serves the advocacy goals of their industry sponsors” (2).
As I researched this, I found a number of useful resources. Columbia University’s website has a list of resources including books and websites that address the topic of think tanks (3). There are also a number of books that debate the value of think tanks and compare them to interest groups.
If an organization is aligned with the values of the think tank, their work may provide some interesting insight into the policy changes that are being proposed. However, one should be careful to understand the bias of the think tank organization that they are working with. It should also be noted that often the think tank participants may be recruited leaders in a particular field which does not infer that all participants are trained academics. If the research being conducted can benefit from the direction being advocated as far as policy, then think tanks may offer a perspective that should be considered.
1 The American Heritage Dictionary. "Think Tank." 2000. and Merriam Webster's Dictionary. "Think Tank."
2 “Think Tanks,” http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Think_tanks Accessed August 26, 2008.
3 “Think Tanks and Policy Centers,” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/lehman/guides/ttanks.html Accessed August 26, 2008.