Climate Progress’s Joe Romm is upset with John Tierney. John Tierney pans Obama Science Advisor John Holdren for being on the opposite side from a range of high-profile climate change deniers, delayers, and equivalents. Romm responds (in part):

Tierney is easily the worst science writer at any major media outlet in the country. Pretty much every energy or climate piece he writes is riddled with errors and far-right ideology, including this one.

Amazingly, Tierney quotes CEI attacking Holdren. Now CEI is itself probably one of the top five anti-scientific think tanks in the country. It has taken $2 million of ExxonMobil money in the past decade to run an anti-science disinformation campaign with ads that claim the ice sheets are gaining mass when they are losing it and ending with the absurdist and suicidal tag line, ?CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!? And those are only some of their ads aimed at destroying the climate for centuries.

That comment about the “top five anti-scientific think tanks” got me thinking. Clearly the Discovery Institute deserves a place on the list (and in private email, Romm agrees). But who else should be on the list, and what criteria should we use to decide which think tank is the very most anti-scientific?

Other likely selections include Heritage, George Marshall, Heartland, Cato, and AEI. The Annapolis Center for Science-based Public Policy never quite took off in a big public way, but has been working away behind the scenes for a while to promote “sound” science. The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness has worked behind the scenes for years to undermine effective regulation of pollutants, including second-hand smoke and carbon dioxide. Several of these are well-documented in The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney.

I’ve emailed Chris for his nominations, but this is your chance to make a nomination for the top five, and to make your case for the top anti-science think tank of 2008.


  1. #1 James F
    December 22, 2008

    Is Cato really an across-the-board anti-science think tank? I mean, Timothy Sandefur is a member. Not trying to start anything, I just honestly need more info. It’s hard to top the DI, of course.

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    December 22, 2008

    Cato is a mixed bag, because the libertarian camp is a mixed bag. I’ve tangled with one of Cato’s education people several times over his anti-evolution advocacy (which comes up in the context of their attempts to replace public education with vouchers and private schools). And Cato’s libertarianism leads them to oppose any government regulation that would avert climate change, and that then leads them down the path of climate change denial. For instance, see:

    I suspect that there are worse groups out there.

  3. #3 TheEngima32
    December 23, 2008

    The Discovery Institute. They hurt a core science that everyone should at least be familiar with – biology. Evolution is a corner stone in biology. Without that, biology becomes little more than taxonomy. Promoting Religion couched as a “Science” dressed in a clown suit to a public that is about as scientifically stupid as you can get should earn them a spot without question.

  4. #4 Martin
    December 23, 2008

    Assuming that you actually mean “Top 5” and not just “Top 5 in America”, then I would like to nominate the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” – the Vatican’s think-tank.

    Your local groups simply can’t compete with them. They influence public opinion across Europe, Africa and North America. They have helped the spread of AIDS, put up roadblocks to stem-cell research, attacked gender science, and going back through the 450 years that they’ve been around they’ve used fire and torture to destroy European scientists.

  5. #5 llewelly
    December 23, 2008

    I don’t think the Cato Institute quite makes the cut. The other delusion tanks you list are filled to overflowing with people who are complete fucking bonkers on every conceivable topic. Cato is mostly stocked with people who are almost sane on one or two topics, and complete fucking bonkers on every other topic. They’re a strong performer in the august field of institutional crankery, but not top 5.

  6. #6 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    December 23, 2008

    I’ll second the nomination for the Discovery Institute. They’re not just trying to influence lawmakers. They’re trying to pervert the science taught in public schools, to undermine critical thinking by replacing it with “if we can’t explain it now then we’ll never be able to understand it so God did it.” One of their shills admitted at Dover that ID needs its own affirmative action program in the public schools so that it can begin to be recognized as science. Their Wedge Document lays their agenda bare: to overturn contemporary science in favor of Design.

    They’re actively going after our kids in the public schools, which is why I regard the DI as more sleazy than the others.

  7. #7 Zig
    December 23, 2008

    Recently I run into this website:
    anyone know who are these idiots? Thanks.

  8. #8 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 23, 2008

    Cato is sometimes on the side of science but at a deep level it is anti-science. That’s because like many so-called think-tanks they promote certain views that fit a specific ideology. Sometimes those views fit with the evidence and sometimes not so.

  9. #9 MarkH
    December 24, 2008

    Well, as something of an expert in this field I have to say it’s a tough one.

    If you’re talking global warming? I’d say Heartland, AEI, CEI should certainly be in your top three (Cato at least fires the likes of Milloy to their credit). If you’re talking condoms cause AIDS and homosexuality is a choice, I’d say Focus on the family, IWF. If you’re talking creationism, right to die, culture of death nonsense then DI leads the pack.

    It depends on the crankery.

  10. #10 chat
    December 24, 2008

    In addition to many of the examples given above, there are phrases where the writer has forgotten the origin. For instance, “toe the line” is often miswritten as “tow the line”.

    I also have a pet peeve about people using place names which are neither English nor in

  11. #11 Bek
    December 24, 2008

    Heartland Institute and SEPP have got to be high up there.

    Both funding antiscience spokespeople on behalf of Industry.

  12. #12 John J. McKay
    December 24, 2008

    The Discovery Institute is so far ahead that it’s almost unfair to make the others compete with them. It might be more fair to induct them into the anti-science hall of fame and name the contest the Discovery Awards. For my own nomination, I think Answers in Genesis deserves consideration. While they might not exactly qualify as a think tank, they are a powerful player as publicists for anti-science. Their young earth creationism is not only anti-biology, it’s anti-geology, anti-astronomy, anti-physics, and anti-history.

    Just as a point of grammar, shouldn’t “think” be in scare quotes when referring to these groups?

  13. #13 John Mashey
    December 24, 2008

    As far as I know, SEPP == Fred Singer (& wife), which I’m not really sure qualifies as a thinktank.

    See reasons for anti-science, mostly geared for anti-climate science, so I left religion off. The more general form should probably include religion under ideology, and I think there are a few more PSYCH reasons.

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    December 24, 2008

    Discovery Institute, definitely, in the top five.

    What about CEI? Their anti-science propaganda against DDT is the textbook example of anti-science propaganda.

    We might also sadly nominate the Congress on Racial Equality, which has sponsored some serious anti-science pieces in recent years about malaria and DDT.

    And how about the Institute for Creation Research? They whipped California’s higher education establishment for decades, and now they’ve moved to Texas, bringing their sourpuss attitude and promotion of ignorance with them.

    Too bad the Tobacco Institute is gone. That would give us a standard against which to compare things.

  15. #15 Eli Rabett
    December 24, 2008

    What you have to be careful to differentiate is the shark organizations and the remora that suck on them. For example, Heartland is currently one of the sharks, and SEPP feeds off them, providing product that the shark can market.

    With the passing of Seitz and Jastrow, Marshall may be a spent force. I don’t think Happer (a very good physicist in his time) carries nearly as much weight)

  16. #16 Ed Darrell
    December 24, 2008

    Oh, and how did I forget our own National Center for Policy Analysis here in Dallas. They don’t do much on science, but they’re into quackery when they do — as they are on economics, health policy, pollution control, the BCS championship series, the designated hitter rule, and nearly every other thing they deal with.

    Good news: They’re closed for the holidays!

  17. #17 grace pettigrew
    December 25, 2008

    The American Enterprise Institute deserves a place in the top five, surely. The AEI spent 2 years training Tom Switzer in the dark arts of neocon agitprop, then sent him back to Australia, perhaps on Rupert Murdoch’s private jet, to run the op/ed section of The Australian newspaper during the Howard hegemony, to ignite the flames of the “culture wars”, not least through attacking the science of global warming, and on the way, transforming our only national newspaper into the sad, addled rag we see today. The AIE deserves recognition for successfully distorting and undermining Australia’s national science policy for around a decade, a lost decade…

  18. #18 Oldfart
    January 5, 2009

    How can you have an anti-science think tank? lol.

    How about NCCAM? Not exactly a think tank but the potential for damage in American medical schools is vast. And then there are the various AIDS/HIV denier groups and the anti-vaxers.

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