A Think Tank defined

We use the term Think Tank in its modern form, derived from the interactions, discussions and exchanges between informal researchers on a variety of subjects. See the bold text in this entry for further details on our version of a Think Tank.

From Wikipedia’s entry on Think Tanks.

A think tank is a research institute, other organization or informal group providing advice and ideas on any aspect of future planning and strategy – for example issues of policy, commerce, and military interest, and are often associated with military laboratories, corporations, academia, or other institutions. Usually this term refers specifically to organizations which support multi-disciplinary theorists and intellectuals who endeavor to produce analysis or policy recommendations.

History of think tanks

Since “think tank” is a term that has only found use since the 1950s, there is still some debate over what constitutes the first think tank. One candidate is the Fabian Society of Britain, founded in 1884 to promote gradual social change. The Brookings Institution, founded in the US in 1916 is another candidate for the first think tank. The term think tank itself, however, was originally used in reference to organizations that offered military advice, most notably the RAND Corporation, formed originally in 1945.

Until around 1970, there were no more than several dozen think tanks, mostly focused on offering non-partisan policy and military advice to the United States government, and generally with large staffs and research budgets. After 1970, the number of think tanks exploded, as many smaller new think tanks were formed to express various partisan, political, and ideological views.

Etymology and usage

Until the 1940s, most think tanks were known only by the name of the institution. During the Second World War, think tanks were referred to as “brain boxes” after the slang term for the skull. The phrase “think tank” in wartime American slang referred to rooms in which strategists discussed war planning. The first recorded use of the phrase to refer to modern think tanks was in 1959, and by the 1960s the term was commonly used to describe RAND and other groups assisting the armed forces. In recent times, the phrase “think tank” has become applied to a wide range of advice-giving institutions, and there are no precise definitions of the term. Marketing or public relations organizations, especially of an international character, sometimes refer to themselves as think tanks, for example.

Types of think tanks

Some think tanks are clearly aligned with conservative or pro-market approaches to the economy, while others, especially those with an emphasis on social welfare, social equity or environmental outcomes, are viewed as more liberal or left-of-center. All think tanks are not purely political, though. For example, The Avalon Table is a left-leaning Hollywood think tank whose goals are to identify popular trends and shape the direction of mainstream and alternative media.

A new trend, resulting from globalisation, is collaboration between think tanks across continents. For instance, the Brookings Institution, Washington DC, collaborates with Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar for an initiative on West-Islam relations. Also, in the area of West-Islam relations, Strategic Foresight Group, a think tank based in India, works closely with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament. The World Economic Forum has created Council of 100 Leaders on West-Islam relations, which brings together heads of major global think tanks ranging from Oxford Islamic Centre at Oxford University to Strategic Foresight Group in India and Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

United States think tanks

Think tanks in the United States play an important role in forming both foreign and domestic policy. Typically, an issue such as national missile defense will be debated within and among think tanks and the result of these debates will influence government policy makers. Think tanks in the United States generally receive funding from private donors, and members of private organization think tanks may feel more free to propose and debate controversial ideas than people within government.

Modern neoconservatism is associated with some of the foreign policy initiatives of think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The Heritage Foundation is a more traditional conservative policy think tank. On the other side of the political spectrum are think tanks such as the Institute for Policy Studies, the Progressive Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. Economic Policy Institute is a prominent progressive think tank whose research emphasizes interests of low-income and middle-income workers. There are also centrist and nonpartisan think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, a well respected center-left organization, the Cato Institute, a libertarian or “free-market liberal” think tank, and the Mises Institute, focusing on economic education. The Roosevelt Institution is pushing the think tank model by attempting to organize university and college student bodies into effective think tanks.

Government think tanks are also important in the United States, particularly in the security and defense field. These include the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Institute for Homeland Security Studies, and the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, at the National Defense University; the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College and the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College.

A new type of think tank is evolving which is based solely on Internet ad hoc social networks. These new types of networks allow people a chance to try out their concepts for discussion without committing to large amounts of time. For some this new think tank format works well and many beginners enjoy such stimulus. Some of these more informal think tanks are privately run. Many of these forums are for anyone to participate, some for practice and accumulation of knowledge and others for entertainment value.


Critics such as Ralph Nader have suggested that because of the private nature of the funding of think tanks their results are biased to a varying degree. Some argue members will be inclined to promote or publish only those results that ensure the continued flow of funds from private donors. This risk of distortion similarly threatens the reputation and integrity of organizations such as universities, once considered to stand wholly within the public sector.

Some critics go further to assert think tanks are little more than propaganda tools for promoting the ideological arguments of whatever group established them. They charge that most think tanks, which are usually headquartered in state or national seats of government, exist merely for large-scale lobbying to form opinion in favor of special private interests. They give examples such as organizations calling themselves think tanks having hosted lunches for politicians to present research that critics claim is merely in the political interest of major global interests such as Microsoft, but that the connections to these interests are never disclosed. They charge, as another example, that the RAND Corporation issues research reports on national missile defense that accelerate investment into the very military products being produced by the military manufacturers who control RAND. Critics assert that the status of most think-tanks as non-profit and tax exempt makes them an even more efficient tool to put special interest money to work.

2 Responses to “A Think Tank defined”

  1. 1 Owen Lystrup July 18, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Viral One,

    Regards and welcome. Of course, no one likes to start out by kicking each other in the balls, but welcome to the blogosphere. By having a company that consults clients in blogging, hopefully this isn’t a new beginning.

    However, as Paull was completely thrown off and questioning your ethical standing and honorable intentions, perhaps it’s time to evaluate your messaging and marketing methods.

    The blogosphere doesn’t take kindly to companies or individuals trying to take advantage of those who are honest.

    But I’m sure you already know that.

    However, you’re off to a good start. Good luck.

  2. 2 ViralOne July 18, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Hello M Owen Lystrup.

    Well, kind regards to you, sir. This is somewhat of a pet project and we will see where it goes. The people behind Viral One have been blogging also for quite some time.

    It is a combination, experimentation on a few different subjects that are quite important to Emarketing. Naturally, the poeple behind the company are involved in other projects as well, from general blogging, to full fledged web 2.0 media start-ups and financial ventures. Sounds a bit exotic, but it isn’t really.

    For the messaging and marketing methods, we think they worked quite well for a beginning. Traffic spurted out of nowhere for a blog made 24 hours ago, that was quite interesting, without any marketing done at all. For the moment, we are more interested in building up a database of interesting research matter than to delve into the nitty gritty.

    The subjects we cover are quite fascinating.

    We do understand that corporations have never been that welcome into the blogosphere, as seen in some of our posts. However, we are not a large company at the moment. PME is what we are, Petite et Moyenne Entreprise, verging more on the Petite than on the Moyenne. We are formed by a few dedicated people, people who love blogging in all its forms, from vlogging to moblogging. And people who have been blogging for quite some time as well.

    We approach all our subjects like a project. We start by defining our variables and work something complicated out of it afterwards.

    Oh, and we like Big Brother Australia as well.

    Cheers mate.

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