The internet can feel like a jungle when it comes to sources: there are a lot of plants, but you aren’t always sure which ones you can eat. I certainly have been in this kind of situation before, such as at the beginning of a season when I am trying to identify potential cases and thus don’t even know what specifically I’m looking for. However, I have learned a few tricks and made some tools to help with the process. One of those aids is the focus of this article: a list of various think tanks. Specifically, this article will share a simplified version of that list and discuss how to use think tanks in research. Although definitely not a cure-all, focusing on relevant think tanks in your research can help, especially when you hit a wall with other methods.
This is a list of various think tanks to help you in your research.
You can view and copy the list here.
I should note that the bias tags and popularity/significance ratings are not intended to be rigorous, but rather are simply meant to convey the general idea. I would recommend downloading the list (or copy/pasting it) and creating a copy for yourself and/or your club to work on. This way, you can include additional think tanks, adjust my tags and ratings, or add more notes. My old version of the list, for example, had numerous organizations that focused on niche topics (e.g. US policy towards Japan). I had designed it for my club, and thus also had some ratings on how relevant the organizations were for the resolution, as well as some of the organizations’ focus areas.
Using think tanks in research
There are a lot of ways that using think tanks in your research can help, although of
Finding potential cases
As mentioned previously, including the names of think tanks in your google searches (or directly searching/exploring an organization’s site) can help you find specific policy proposals under the topic. For example: “US trade policy reforms “Cato
Focusing on specific cases
Many times, relevant articles from the big-name think tanks like Heritage and Brookings will pop up on the first page or two of search results. However, there are plenty of times where relevant publications from lesser-known think tanks will get buried a few pages deep under eye-catching articles from journalists. This especially is the case when most journalists are focusing on one specific/recent news event, burying articles about different/broader aspects of the issue. Thus, it can help to include some of the relevant think tanks when you do a google search for a case you are researching. Alternatively, you may want to go to those think tanks’ sites and search for publications there (in part because of the next method).
Finding generics and related information
While searching through scholarly publications for a specific case, you may come across semi-related publications that provide ideas for generic arguments or other things to search for (e.g. specific search terms, links to other publications, and high-quality authors).
Credibility and source indictments
It can be helpful to keep notes (perhaps on your own version of the spreadsheet) on which organizations have credibility problems and why. This can help if you suddenly run up against a case that is heavily based on the research from such a source. For example, in my last year I kept a hefty source indictment against the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) for problems such as conflicts of interests (e.g. it is partially chaired by labor union presidents and receives sizable donations from labor unions) as well as arguable academic dishonesty/negligence by misrepresenting what the US International Trade Commission once predicted. Of course, you can’t always depend on source indictments, but they can be a good set of generics to keep in your back pocket.
If you know that some think tank has a specific focus on an issue (e.g. the Washington Institute and Middle Eastern policy) which is relevant to the resolution or your case, you may consider subscribing to their newsletters/updates, so as to receive any new articles about the topic. For example, not too long ago I happened to get an alert for an article from the Hudson Institute which discusses various aspects of US foreign aid policy in relation to Chinese expansion, and even recommends restructuring USAID. In general, I have found that many newsletters are not excessive. Still, even if skimming through the publications doesn’t always directly give you want you want, not only is it generally interesting/educational to stay informed, some of the publications may indirectly help you by sparking your thoughts about things to research.
Having a good understanding of the major think tanks (e.g. Cato, Brookings, Heritage, AEI) can be helpful when you have a limited amount of time to research a policy question such as the minimum wage or Net Neutrality, in part because they can sound a lot more credible than some journalist on Forbes, but also because they occasionally have short primers (such as this one by Cato). I wouldn’t recommend this as your main parli prep strategy, but it is a tool to keep in mind.
The internet can be a jungle, but thankfully there are a lot of tips and tricks available to help you find what you are looking for—as well as things that you may not have even thought of looking for. Keeping in mind think tanks and other research organizations such as those in the attached list is just one of the ways to make your research more effective and efficient. Additionally, it is helpful to remember which organizations are heavily biased or otherwise not very credible, so someone can’t easily pull a fast one by saying, “the EPI is very well respected by economists,” or, “the Heartland Institute is far more credible than Brookings.” Ultimately, I would recommend copying the list and making your own version, trying some of the search tactics when you hit a wall, and talking about this topic with your club.