Daniel Kahneman explains how cognitive illusions skew our thinking (about think tanks’ influence?)

8 November 2011

I’ve been rather silent lately because I have been travelling and I am now down with a cold.I apologise. I recently read this article by Daniel Kahneman on How cognitive illusions blind us to reason and found myself referencing it in a discussion about the influence of think tanks in policymaking.

The article is about the way in which Wall Street traders create an illusion of power and control when in fact their success is down to pure luck. In a similar way, I think that, depending on their view of policymaking, think tanks tend to award themselves too much credit when it comes to policy change.

Think tank scholars who see them as members of the elites (including the state elite) will award them a more important role in policy influence. However, those who take a more pluralist or statist view of policymaking recognise that think tanks are important but negligible players. They offer an independent voice, they may be called upon to offer credibility to an idea, they may help popularise an idea, etc. but decisions are ultimately made by others (and much more powerful others, by the way).

So when looking for a relation between think tanks’ influencing efforts and policy changes, how sure are we that we are not just ‘assuming’ that there must be a relation in the first place?