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

  • Kimberly L. Douglass University of Tennessee
  • Sarah Tanner University of Tennessee
Keywords: Sociology of science, philosophy of science, environmental think tanks, science policy nexus


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.

Author Biographies

Kimberly L. Douglass, University of Tennessee
Dr. Kimberly Douglass is an Assistant Professor with the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee. Douglass? research interests include the interface between science and policy, as well as science information, e-government, and information as a commodity. She has recently written an article and a manuscript that explore the culture of science and an article that examines methodological approaches to teaching information ethics in Africa. Douglass was a post-doctoral research associate for NSF-funded DataONE. She has also worked for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Comptroller?s Office. Douglass earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Tennessee. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences and a Masters of Public Administration from Tennessee State University.
Sarah Tanner, University of Tennessee
Sarah Tanner is a graduate student pursuing a Master?s of Science degree in Information Science at the University of Tennessee. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Tennessee in 2010. She worked as a research assistant in the School of Information Science under Dr. Kimberly Douglass, and currently works as a graduate assistant in Research Services on the Great Smoky Mountain Regional Project at the University of Tennessee. Tanner is also a working as a graduate assistant in the Special Collections at Hodges Library. Her interests include archives, records management, and special collections.
How to Cite
Douglass, K. L., & Tanner, S. (2012). Playing science? Environmentally focused think tanks and the new scientific paradigm. First Monday, 17(10).