The Top ​Think Tanks Aren't Thinking About Science

Illustration for article titled The Top ​Think Tanks Arent Thinking About Science

It's been 150 years since the U.S. was this politically polarized. We can see the consequences, manifested in government gridlock and media outlets catering to ideological audiences. But this hyper-politicization has also taken its toll on creative thinking within the policy community, particularly on science.


David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy magazine, argues this current political climate is encouraging the dumbing down of ideas in Washington, D.C., where "originality is not only frowned upon, but it is actually institutionally quashed." Why should policy analysts take the chance of offending someone in Congress, who might not vote to confirm them in top jobs if they ever wanted them? It's far safer, Rothkopf says, to produce bland studies and articles that regurgitate the latest headlines:

In researching my book National Insecurity, I looked at 10 of the most prominent think tanks in Washington over a period of a decade. These organizations produced almost 12,000 events, papers, and research reports over that time. Of these, the vast majority concentrated on just a few topics— such as the Middle East, the war on terror, and China— linked closely to whatever was in the headlines at the time. Other areas, deserving of focus but outside the "buzz zone," got much less attention. The areas that got by far the least coverage? Science and technology— never mind that they are responsible for most of the changes redefining life on the planet and many of the emerging threats with which humanity is grappling.

In short, the city most in need of big, new ideas may be home to the most dumbed-down smart people of all. Combine a lack of creative thinking, organized stupidity like the war on science, and political paralysis, and you get today's Washington, sleepwalking into America's future.

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So, bascially they're too busy thinking about tanks.