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The Heritage Foundation, a former think tank, is now all about messaging rather than research

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The Heritage Foundation, a once respectable conservative think tank, seems to have wandered badly off-course since former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (above) took the helm.

Just last month, Heritage was roundly criticized — even by other conservatives — for publishing a faulty analysis of the potential effects of immigration reform. To make matters worse, Heritage had to fire the co-author of the study when his racist leanings came to light. (See HERE.)

And now there’s another embarrassment. Selim Furth, an economist at Heritage, offered testimony at a Senate hearing the other day in which he misrepresented statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Steve Benen picks up the story HERE:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) pointed out during the hearing that Furth’s claims about OECD numbers are largely the opposite of the figures from the OECD itself.

“I am concerned that your testimony to this committee has been meretricious,” Whitehouse told Furth. “I am contesting whether you have given us fair and accurate information.”

For a Senate Budget Committee hearing, that’s pretty tough language. Indeed, the senator was effectively accusing an economist from the nation’s preeminent conservative think tank of presenting deliberately misleading information on an important issue.

And this, in turn, renews fears about what’s become of the Heritage Foundation…[T]he once-notable think tank appears to be reaching a point of no return.

(Snip)

Matt Yglesias recently said, “[E]ven ideological movement-oriented think tanks do their movements a disservice when they do bad work…. You actually want to have a team of people ‘on your side’ who you can trust to do good work.”

That’s true. If there are any Republican policymakers left who care about quality scholarship and reliable data, they’d no doubt like to rely on an institution like the Heritage Foundation as a go-to source for credible research. But as Heritage transitions from its traditional role as think tank to its new role as an activist group, and the intellectual infrastructure on the right deteriorates, GOP lawmakers no longer have such a resource.

Heritage hiring Jim DeMint away from the Senate was clearly a turning point…[W]hen policy organizations conduct “research,” they’re supposed to rely on experts, scholars, and all-around wonks to look at a problem from different angles, relying on rigorous academic study to better understand the nature of a problem and how best to solve it.

DeMint believes research is about, in his words, “good marketing.” The Heritage Foundation doesn’t intend to focus on policy; it intends to focus on “messaging” and “communicating.”

The goal isn’t to publish scholarship, it’s to provide talking points that have been carefully tested for their persuasive efficacy. DeMint doesn’t intend to lead a think tank; he intends to use his think tank to become a message strategist for like-minded politicians.

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3 Comments

  1. Craig Knauss

    Research? Heritage did research? Actually all they ever did was dig through printed material to collect those bits that reflected their agenda. Anything that ran counter to their agenda was totally ignored. It sounds like now they are not even doing that much. If they can’t find some text to support their position, they just create some.

  2. Robert

    Opposition research is big business. You go into politics you better be clean as a whistle or admit to your faults upfront. When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish, is usually a good repent. It worked for GWB.

  3. Steverino

    What’s strange is that research from the HF on affordable health care was a blueprint for RomneyObamacare.

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