Think Tank Second Thoughts

C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics questions the presentation of FP's Think Tank Index.

Your "Think Tank Index" (January/February 2009) ignored the key finding of its underlying survey, which was that the Brookings Institution and our Peterson Institute for International Economics tied for "top think tank in the world." This was apparently the capstone conclusion of its analysis of 5,465 think tanks around the globe, but it was not featured in the published version of the index. We took particular pride in this outcome because our budget, as indicated in the tabulation included in your article, is one sixth that of Brookings’.

We were also surprised that you didn’t include us in the cited groups of top "policymaker" and "scholar" institutions, despite our ranking second in the underlying survey for "outstanding policy-oriented public policy research program" and "best use of the media to communicate programs and research." In addition, we found it a bit inconsistent that we tied for "best in the world" but ranked only 12th among think tanks in the United States.

In any event, we were delighted that you and the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, which conducted the survey, have compiled this first comprehensive ranking of the world’s top think tanks. Such institutions have clearly become of considerable importance to policymaking and public understanding in the 21st century.

–C. Fred Bergsten
Peterson Institute for International Economics
Washington, D.C.

The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program replies:

I am sure C. Fred Bergsten appreciates the challenges we faced in conducting, analyzing, and reporting the results of a global study of the 5,465 think tanks in 170 countries around the world. There were many compelling and important trends and findings contained in the 85-page 2008 "Global ‘Go-To Think Tanks’" report that had to be summarized in the three-page article I prepared for Foreign Policy. Despite these space limitations, the Peterson Institute for International Economics not only did well in the ranking but was cited repeatedly in the article.

Bergsten rightly points out that the Peterson Institute was not cited in the "Think Tank Field Guide" as a "policymaker" or "scholar"; the guide is intended to be an illustrative guide, not an exhaustive one. Given that the Peterson Institute received extensive coverage, I wanted to provide some examples of the other leading think tanks in the world. On the issue of what appears to be an inconsistency between his institution’s tied rank with Brookings as the "top think tank in the world" and its rank of 12th in the United States, it is important to note that these are two separate categories: The former is think tanks of the year; the latter is the top think tanks in the United States. FP decided not to include the first ranking because the findings were inconclusive.

The FP article and our report are simply efforts to highlight some of the leading think tanks around the world, including the excellent work conducted by the Peterson Institute.

–James McGann
Assistant Director
International Relations Program
Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pa.

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