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Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

Thinking about think tanks

Barry (I don't know which Barry) said something over at Ted Barlow's that reminded me I've been meaning to ask a question:

Tim, Jane's projecting. Lott is looking worse and worse as time goes by. He's probably given up even trying to look good. His 'Chicago research methods' don't look so good. Judging from his short bio at AEI, he doesn't seem to have much current connection with academia -- he's not listed as even a 'visiting assistant lecturer wannabe' anywhere.

Barry is referring to Megan McArdle's, aka Jane Galt's, kneejerk rabid Right Wing support of John Lott.

My question: Is working for think thanks a good career path?

I sometimes used 'experts' from think tanks as sources as a reporter. I knew they were selling their employers' political biases, so I was careful to balance them with other sources. But, I never actually thought about people opting to join AEI, Brookings, or some other outfit until I began reading blogs a few months ago. Now, I correspond with several professional pundits. In fact, I've gotten the impression that philosophy majors seek out that kind of position.

But, it seems to me that John Lott, Jr.'s situation suggests that for a middle-aged person, at least, such employment may be a dead end, unless he has an alternative career. His credibility as an academic has gone from not being tenurable to not being hireable. His employment with AEI is probably at will. If it decides to dump him, he will have no recourse. If he were a tenured professor, he would. Furthermore, Lott seems to have become AEI's 'say anything' guy, the person sent forth to support any far Right position, no matter how loony. That means his standing is being further compromised even as he rolls over and jumps through hoops for his employer.

I can understand young college grads putting in a couple years at one or two think tanks, but such employment does not strike me as a good longterm goal. Many think tankers have or had more substantive careers and appear to have taken on their think tank positions later in life as easy money. That seems more feasible.

Is it that I don't understand this field of employment? Let me know.

10:48 AM