on independence

29 June 2010

Let me start by doing something think tanks are supposed to do quite well; copy-paste. Here is an article by John Blundell, former chief of the IEA, published in The Times last year. An exerpt:

The secret of success in the think tank world is independence. Being your own man is crucial, especially with think tanks playing an increasingly central role in policy making. On that front they have taken over from the universities.

Here are the rules I’ve tried to stick to:

  • No corporate money tied to projects either explicitly or implicitly
  • No taxpayer funds
  • No FTSE 100 company to give more than 2% of budget
  • No corporate sector (eg oil, banking, pharmaceuticals) to give more than 5%.

And another one:

Perhaps the most painful lesson in corporate influence came in March 2001, when we published a paper by Roger Scruton criticising the World Health Organisation’s Tobacco Free Initiative. Even though we had a policy of revealing interests, he failed to tell us that he was receiving a large consulting fee from a tobacco company. Now we ask authors to declare their interests rather than trusting them to volunteer the information.

All this is why IEA funding has moved to private companies, foundations and individuals. They take a long-term view and want change, not access.

The full article is here.