“Calling these reports to account brings more discipline to what's become kind of a 'wild west' of scholarly writing," said University of Illinois education professor Christopher Lubienski, one of the participants in what is being called the Think Tank Review Project.
It plans to provide policymakers and the news media with "expert reviews" of major education studies within two weeks of a report's release.
Think Tank Review Project co-director Kevin Welner, who also heads the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said the reports that will be scrutinized are generally generated by private think tanks. While they often gain media attention and influence policymakers, they have very little credibility among academic researchers, he said.
Many think tanks were founded to advance particular political agendas and have become adept at presenting ideological arguments disguised as research, Welner said.
"Reporters and policymakers are not in the position to do their own detailed analysis of the methodology and data when they read these reports, so they're left to just trust the institutions that produce them," Welner told Stateline.org.
"Think tank" usually refers to an organization that claims to be a center of research and analysis of public policy issues, according to Sourcewatch.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. But it said "many think tanks are little more than public relations fronts... generating self-serving scholarship that serves the advocacy goals of their industry sponsors."
There really is too much of this going on. It's fine for think tanks to produce PR materials and to lobby policymakers, but when they pawn their materials off as "science" and "research" they're being disengenuous. They rarely use peer review processes or accepted academic methodologies and so they shouldn't be allowed to claim the mantle of science or scholarship.