By Richard Vedder
As I have said countless times before, a large percent of the very good research in some areas of human endeavor is done outside of universities. Think tanks have become an important source of information and scholarship, and I am proud of my affiliation with an absolutely first-rate research organization, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
A British newspaper (the Guardian) attacked AEI recently for some work it had published on climate change, arguing two things: first, AEI takes money from nefarious energy companies like Exxon Mobil, and, second, that it paid researchers to publish their views, some of them opposed to the alleged scientific consensus that members of the environmental left argue cannot be questioned on any scientific basis.
All of this is outrageous on many grounds. As AEI's Chris DeMuth is quoted as saying in an excellent Wall Street Journal editorial on the topic, "What the Guardian essentially characterizes as a bribe is the conventional practice of AEI -- and Brookings, Harvard, and the University of Manchaster--to pay individuals" for commissioned studies. Indeed, CCAP has recently requested money from a foundation for a book on entrepreneurship in universities that uses precisely the same model AEI uses, and I have written many commissioned pieces myself on a wide variety of subjects.
The attacks on AEI (not the first this year: I was tangentially involved a few months ago in an earlier similar smear for AEI work I have done regarding Wal-Mart) are invalid on many grounds (the researchers were not told what to say, some said things against the Exxon-Mobil view,Exxon-Mobil's contributions are small in AEI's budget, researchers did not know who was paying for the studies, etc. etc.). But to me it is striking how we do not hear similar attacks going something like this "Professor X of Harvard has done a study strongly supporting Congressional criticism of Y, although this works needs to be questioned because Harvard benefits heavily from Congressional research appropriations." Why is money from ExxonMobil "bad" but from the Government "good"? Why does one source of money allegedly corrupt researchers, while others do not?
I do not deny that it is human nature to try to please the people that sustain you, but the attacks on AEI are outrageous, since AEI goes the extra mile to separate fund raising from scholarly work, more so, I think, than is often the case within universities. Why is it that hardly any University researcher other than myself is questioning the conventional untested wisdom that public funding of universities prompts economic growth? Could it be that researchers don't want to bite the hand that feeds them? Why aren't the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post talking about that? This asymmetric smear on AEI is absolutely despicable.