Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where to find good information

When you try to find information about the economy or policy and you search on the Internet you'll need to be cautious about your sources.

Interest groups keep a strong presence on the internet. Interest groups usually have a strong bias, and they are good sources for one side of an argument or one particular view of an issue. One way to demonstrate the degree of bias in interest groups is to look at how candidates are rated by them on particular issues. In class this week we looked up Illinois Senator Dick Durbin in the non-partisan Project Vote Smart web page, and when we examined the interest group ratings we found that on some issues all the interest groups either give Durbin a 100% or a 0% rating. In family and children issues, for example, the Children's Defense Fund and the American Family Voices interest group recently gave him 100% ratings while the Family Research Council and the American Family Association gave him 0% ratings. Both sets of interest groups claim to be interested in children and families, but they have different ideologies, and this influences how they rate Durbin.

When it comes to "think-tanks" and scholarly institutes the bias isn't always so obvious as it can be with interest groups. In the 1980s and 1990s some wealthy conservatives decided they would support the creation of several think-tanks and scholarly institutes to give intellectual validity to various positions favored by the donors (e.g., that government should be small, taxes low, military spending with lucrative contracts for private industry should be high, Evangelical Christian understandings of the Bible should inform government policy, etc.) There are also think-tanks that have an openly liberal bias (favoring regulation of the economy, programs to transfer wealth from the wealthiest to the poorest, and so forth). Then there are think-tanks that try to be fairly neutral, and hire scholars of all ideological positions. It so happens that among scholars and technocrats there may be more of a tendency toward so-called "liberal" thinking (liberals may think this is because rational people who are well-informed and intelligent will converge with similar opinions that happen to be moderate-to-liberal), and so conservatives and conservative intellectuals point out liberal biase in the "neutral" think tanks. Radical intellectuals also attack the neutral think-tanks. So, even the think-tanks and scholarly institutes that try to reduce bias and provide information that is simply technically accurate still trigger dissatisfaction and complaint.

Here are some of the liberal think-tanks and interest groups:
The Economic Policy Institute.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Center for Law and Social Policy.
The Century Foundation.
The Open Society Institute.

Here are some of the moderate or neutral think tanks and interest groups:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The Rand Corporation.
The Brookings Institution.
The Pew Charitable Trusts ("the power of knowledge to solve today's most challening problems").
The Woodrow Wilson Center and its program and project publications.
The Center for International Policy.
The Council on Foreign Relations.
The World Policy Institute.

Here are some of the conservative and libertarian think tanks and interest groups:
The Hoover Institution (this could also be considered non-partisan)
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (more moderate)
The Cato Institute.
The Heritage Foundation.
Atlas Economic Research Foundation.
The Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.
The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change.

No comments: