Playing science? Environmentally focused think tanks and the new scientific paradigm

Kimberly L. Douglass, Sarah Tanner


Although research published by think tanks is generally studied for its contributions to policy discourses, this study finds that think tank–authored studies also affect scientific scholarly communications. Think tanks clearly represent political interests. However, this study shows that their exclusion from scientific rhetoric is not a matter of their failing to meet the community’s standards; it is a matter of ideology, which helps maintain a socially constructed boundary between scientific and political domains. The scientific community’s instinct to construct this boundary remains strong despite the emergence of a more inclusive scientific paradigm. This study takes an empirical view of the dispersion of research products generated by think tanks throughout scientific discourses. It does so through a type of bibliometrics called publication analysis, which looks at the distribution of an author’s or institution’s research products over time. This paper uses the number of articles found in scholarly publications as a proxy for productivity and as a measure of academia’s acceptance of ideas developed in those papers. Additional metrics include impact factor and Eigenfactor scores of journals where think tank–authored papers are published and the journals’ rankings within their respective disciplines.


Sociology of science; philosophy of science; environmental think tanks; science policy nexus

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