Thinking About Think Tanks

Juan Cole's website has an interesting commentary by William O. Beeman, titled "The Journalism/Think Tank Merry-Go-Round and the Dilemma of the Academic Public Intellectual." Beeman laments the fact that "think tanks, where no one ever has to go through peer review before publishing the most questionable material, are in the ascendancy. Real scholars are derided as the academy is openly attacked by these quasi-intellectual bodies." So who's to blame?

Lazy, news-cycle driven and subject to the pressure of ideology and publicity flackers, it is so much easier to just call the think tank down the street, or a PR firm like Benador Associates where someone is on call and already in suit and tie, or skirted suit to get to the studio within the next 20 minutes, than to spend the extra half-hour trying to locate an ISDN feed in . . . Minneapolis or Austin to get the best possible expertise on a subject at hand. ...

Sadly, the academy has reacted badly to this state of affairs--not by encouraging its members to shine the light on the slime and mold generated by these propaganda machines, but by fomenting retreat into its own dark little corner where it can be safe and "uncontroversial."

Beeman contrasts this state of affairs with "the situation in Japan, France, Brazil--in fact, anywhere else in the world--where academics are welcomed and respected in the field of public discourse, and move readily in and out of positions of public responsibility." He says that American scholars "have a special responsibility--a sacred duty--to speak out at every turn to defend free inquiry, and solid knowledge. We are privileged to be able to have careers in research, writing and teaching, and are in debt to society for this."