The Intersection

Annapolis Center Does It Again

You may not have ever heard of it, but one of the right’s more interesting think tanks dealing in matters of science is the so-called Annapolis Center, or the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy. The group does the typical global warming and mercury type stuff, but it also does one thing that’s unique: Each year it presents a science award to a politician. And each year, seemingly without fail, the chosen recipient of this award–which recognizes an individual who promotes “rational, science-based thinking and policy-making”–has been a leader when it comes to political attacks on scientific information.

In 2004, Annapolis gave the award to global warming denier James Inhofe. In 2005, it gave it to Joe Barton, the Energy and Commerce Committee chair who (as you may recall) promptly launched an attack on the authors of the famous “hockey stick” study, making an extremely burdensome and chilling demand for all of their data and funding information. Needless to say, awarding either one of these individuals for “rational, science-based thinking and policy-making” is, er, quite creative….And now, Annapolis has announced the recipient of the award for 2006: Rep. Richard Pombo, chair of the the House Committee on Resources and, yes, yet another political science abuser.

I am just finishing up updates to my book chapter on the Endangered Species Act, which Pombo for years has been trying to gut. One of the little games here (detailed in The Republican War on Science) has been to try to change the scientific language of the act in order to tie the hands of wildlife experts who have to rely on very imperfect information in order to make decisions about what will pose jeopardy to a species and what will not. By upping the scientific burden of proof that these officials must meet before taking action, you can gum up the entire works. Pombo has been leading this charge–and the reforms he’s suggesting have been opposed by literally thousands of wildlife experts.

So, it looks like the Annapolis Center has done it again. I cringe to think who they will award in 2007….

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    April 17, 2006

    No Behe yet?

  2. #2 coturnix
    April 17, 2006

    oh, BTW, has anyone yet tried to connect global warming to the record levels of Danube in Europe this week?

  3. #3 Sylvia
    April 17, 2006

    re: the Danube – with all of the alterations that have been made in the Danube basin, that link would be very difficult to prove. But I just wrote a bulletin about an ambitious effort to restore the wetlands and floodplains of the lower Danube, and the watersheds of its tributaries in the Carpathian mountains (http://www.flowsonline.net/data/Flows19.pdf)

  4. #4 Joseph Romm
    April 17, 2006

    I’m guessing the 2007 award winner will be none other than the President himself.

  5. #5 Jim Lippard
    April 17, 2006
  6. #6 Laurie Mann
    April 17, 2006

    “Interesting” isn’t good name for these people. They’re just more fruitcakes. Unfortunately, with the lunatics in charge of the asylum, we have to pay attention to them.

  7. #7 SkookumPlanet
    April 18, 2006

    Pombo may have been rewarded, I mean, awarded because he’s vulnerable this year. It’s my backyard, and there’s a serious, virtuous Republican primary opponent, former congressman Pete McCloskey. The Dems are mounting a good candidate also, but I’ve forgotten details, with rumors of national money behind him. “Rancher” Pombo’s rural roots are being converted to suburbs bringing new types of voters. He’s nasty as they come and surely will get national money and outspend all opposition combined.

  8. #8 laurence jewett
    April 18, 2006

    There would be very little (if anything) lost if our country simply “pulled the proverbial plug” on EVERY last “think tank” (right or left).

    In some cases they are more partisan than others, but in ALL cases, they are basically “lobbyists in academics’ clothing” – and they should be required to register as such.

  9. #9 Harris Contos
    April 19, 2006

    There might be a half-dozen worth keeping around, but as for the hundreds, if not thousands, out there, overall I agree with the above sentiment. It no doubt comes as no great revelation to those following this site that some of the more disturbing aspects of many of these so-called “think tanks” are that they attempt to disguise advocacy, advertising, and ideology as being intellectually and academically legitimized (so-and-so being a “resident scholar”), and the “thinking” that takes place at these “think tanks” has next to nothing to do with expanding human knowledge and just about everything to do with public relations and setting and controlling the agenda throughout the media for political advantage.

    A worthwhile book to get from the library is “The Idea Brokers: Think Tanks and the Rise of the New Policy Elite” by James Allen Smith. To me it’s another piece of evidence that democracy in this country is an ever more remote concept.

  10. #10 laurence jewett
    April 20, 2006

    Thanks for the suggested reading, Harris.

    You may be right that there are a handful of think tanks that actually provide something of value in the way of legitimate analysis.

    But it is virtually impossible to separate out those few that may provide something of value. It’s a little like trying to locate one particular fish from all the world’s oceans. And who decides which fish to look for, at any rate?

    Best just to make ALL of them register as lobbyists AND (this is critical) revoke their non-profit status as well.

    There is no good reason why think tanks should not have to play by the rules that govern ALL other lobbyists.

    Many news outlets just broadcast the think tank view that best expresses the particular ideology they are trying to get across.

    But even the fairly non-partisan news outlets (a rapidly shrinking pond) seem to be more concerned with “balance” than they are with legitimacy when it comes to consulting with think tanks for “news analysis”. These seem to think that as long as they balance a “think tank view from the left” with a “think tank view from the right”, they have done their journalistic duty.

    What we (the public) end up with, of course, is either a completely slanted view of “the news” which has nothing whatsoever to do with reality OR the daily news equivalent of a showdown at the OK corral: “dueling think tanks”.

    The think tank OPINION that gets presented as “news analysis” is often so tainted by ideology (and sometimes idiocy, since the “expert” label is bestowed on virtually anyone and everyone employed at a think tank) that it is basically next to worthless.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with think tanks is the way that they corrupt the political process — as all good lobbyists do.

    Many (if not most) think tanks are funded by large corporations and other special interests. Not only that, many of the people who are employed at think tanks are effectively “unelected government officials” who have gone directly from jobs in government to their think tank position.

    In some cases, they exert FAR more influence on government policy while they are at the think tank than they ever did while in government!

  11. #11 Jon Winsor
    April 21, 2006

    Coincidentally, I’m reading “The Idea Brokers” right now. I would second it as suggested reading. It’s surprisingly rich in intellectual and historical context, and very relevant to some of the discussions we’ve had on this blog…

  12. #12 Harris Contos
    April 21, 2006

    Laurence, I think you’ve hit upon just about all the right points, especially with regard to the media and think tanks (kind of a symbiotic relationship there). I’d add this inflection- it fundamentally comes down to a matter of pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes, a sleight of hand which is then consummated by government through the legislation it enacts. I wonder if there was ever even a pretense toward “public interest” in this society (aside from some of the Great Society programs), or it’s all been some iteration on the drive to gain monopoly power, be it political or economic, by subverting government. Well, Will Rogers said it some 70 years ago, we’ve got the best Congress money can buy.

    Jon, what a coincidence. I share your assessment. I think the game has gotten only more sophisticated, though, since the publication of the book, which does not augur well for an ostensibly democratically functioning government.

  13. #13 SkookumPlanet
    April 22, 2006

    I want to point out some items of interest regarding think tanks.

    1) These tanks were set up to exert the influence being discussed. Many powerful conservative tanks come out of Justice Powell’s Memo of 1971.

    2) Journalists are discussing among themselves the problems with the “balance” approach. I’m not optomistic. Resources are drying up, likely becoming a limiting factor in pursuit of stories. A single phone call gets a think tank source while digging into complex issues, like science, can take days. Also, the far right uses many, more subtle process manipulations to influence what and how the media reports.

    3) I agree with the analysis, but think practicality prevents tanks disappearance or becoming lobbyists. First, there are definitional problems — defining a tank, defining research as lobbying [how to differentiate a carbon-lobby tank minion writing “GW is a fraud” and an academic writing from campus “GW is a disaster”], and defining what constitutes “thinking”, “writing”, etc. designed to influence Congress [much is setting long-term agendas in the public’s mind, essentially a never-ending political campaign].

    Then making it an issue to the public. It’s hard to believe, but few voters see this nefarious influence. An attempt to revoke their non-profit status will have them, and Repubs, going after the same status of every insitution that produces anything influencing government decision making. Finally, Congess has the oversight here, but the tanks wield great influence there. I can’t see the pressure on Congress to act exceeding the pressure on it to not act. I’m afraid that’s the “good reason why think tanks should not have to play by the rules that govern ALL other lobbyists.”

    4) Perhaps there’s another approach to dealing with the problem, but I have no ideas.

    5) Democracy has been hacked.

  14. #14 Harris Contos
    April 22, 2006

    All very good points above, especially #2. The observation on “process manipulations” is most chilling, but that’s where it’s happenin’.

  15. #15 Laurence jewett
    April 23, 2006

    I think this is a good example of the current role of “think tanks” in the political process — basically as a “cherry picked” affirmation for a policy initiative that has already been decided upon:

    “Bush Meets Privately With Think Tank Promoting Military Strike On Iran”

    http://thinkprogress.org/2006/04/22/bush-hoover-iran/

    “Bush traveled Friday night to Stanford University, where he met privately with members of the libertarian Hoover Institution to discuss the war. He concluded the day with a private dinner held by George P. Shultz, a Hoover fellow and former secretary of state.”

    “Why is this significant? The Hoover Institution is a think tank that has been aggressively promoting the viability of a preemptive military strike in Iran.”

    Source for above: thinkprogress.org

    /////

    My comment:
    I can only guess what some at Hoover Institution might think of the Bush contingency plan to use nukes on Iran to destroy underground sites, but I do know what some of our top physicists think of THAT plan:

    “Thirteen of the nation’s most prominent physicists have written a letter to President Bush, calling U.S. plans to reportedly use nuclear weapons against Iran “gravely irresponsible” and warning that such action would have “disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world.”
    http://www.physorg.com/news64505715.html

  16. #16 laurence jewett
    April 23, 2006

    Harris:

    You bring up some very good points about the practicality of labeling think tanks as lobbyists and/or revoking their non-profit status.

    However, there are ALREADY laws on the books that deal with those very definitional issues and it MIGHT be worthwhile to take a closer look at some of these laws and
    1) see if some think tanks do not ALREADY (or ALMOST) fall within the purview of these laws
    2) see how the laws might be changed so that they do.

    Recently, the IRS has been going after some organizations (eg, some churches) for violating their non-profit status, so it is not hard to imagine that this might also be used in the case of “think tanks” (eg, those who are publishing material which overwhelming supports one candidate’s viewpoints — or in some cases, where such “viewpoints” [talking points] may actually be originating. )

    Given the influence that they exert on Congress, I can appreciate that this is not going to be an easy sell, even if the legal definitions could be worked out.

    The BEST solution to the problem, of course, would be for the press to somehow get its collective act together and start being much more discriminating about who it gets its “facts” and analysis from — but I think THIS may be even less likely (a nonstarter even) than the proposal to label think tanks as lobbyists and/or revoke nonprofit status.

  17. #17 SkookumPlanet
    April 23, 2006

    laurence
    I see no reason not to try the tank-as-lobbyist approach. I only meant to suggest they’re slippery enough to survive.

    I think that perhaps their larger influence is on “setting long-term agendas in the public’s mind, essentially a never-ending political campaign”, mentioned parenthetically. This is much more difficult to go after, as “lobbying”, or in any manner. Much of it’s done pre-issue, meaning designed to influence the emergence of issues or of issues turning into Congressional debate, or to prevent such emergence and development. An example might be the Discovery Institute.

    The only solution my mind dreams up to counteract such perpetual campaigning is counter-campaigning, which probably leads to some equivalant of T-tanks to do that.

    The best sources I know of, currently, on details about the far rights success and their use of thinktanks is this Commonweal report, Responding to the Attack on Public Education and Teacher Unions.

    The specific subject matter can be ignored. There’s a wealth of info about how the right does it, with scores of linked footnotes as reference. Section 2 describes the right’s twin successful strategies of creating a network of advocacy organizations and focus on ideology. Section 3 describes specific strategies and tactics, including marketing and a bit on media.

    This Section 3 definition example might qualify as a process manipulation to influence media that Harris found chilling, “… using talk radio as a way of evaluating public response to specific messages is a tactic used to advance the strategy of changing public attitudes.”

    Can anybody suggest books that cover the nuts and bolts of the rise of the right, or does The Idea Brokers cover that well.

  18. #18 gerald spezio
    April 24, 2006

    Skookum, a very readable and scientific discussion of the rise of elites from a materialist perspective is CANNIBALS AND KINGS by Marvin Harris.

  19. #19 Harris Contos
    April 26, 2006

    “The BEST solution to the problem, of course, would be for the press to somehow get its collective act together and start being much more discriminating about who[m] it gets its ‘facts’ and analysis from — but I think THIS may be even less likely (a nonstarter even) than the proposal to label think tanks as lobbyists and/or revoke nonprofit status.”

    Does that ever say it…

    Always nice to pick up informative references, as mentioned in the above postings. With regard to books on the nuts and bolts of the rise of the right, permit me three recommendations: 1) “The Powell Manifesto: How A Prominent Lawyer’s Attack Memo Changed America” at http://www.mediatransparency.org/story.php?storyID=21 ; 2)”The right nation: Conservative Power in America” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge; 3) “Suburban Warriors: the Origins of the New American Right” by Lisa McGirr.

    As the saying goes, read ’em and weep…

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