A Debate Worth Having: Anonymity & Remaining Opacity

As think tanks, especially in the United States, have been putting more information online, their disclosure has invited scrutiny and public debate. In the last days there were several items, see Greg Sargent for the Washington Post and Dan Berman in the National Journal

We welcome the debate and attention to think tank funding. Greg Sargent quotes our statement on this debate in detail, and we are reposting it here once more: 

Transparify strongly welcomes the Center for American Progress' recent shift towards greater transparency. While we have not formally assessed and rated CAP's new disclosure level yet, it is clear that it represents a substantial improvement over CAP's previous level of disclosure. CAP's move reflects a broad and significant shift by the American think tank community as a whole towards greater transparency over the past year. 

Some commentators have highlighted the fact that CAP, like some other think tanks, has not disclosed the names of some of its donors. Transparify obviously encourages full disclosure, but at the same time realizes that large institutions in particular may need to take one step towards transparency at a time. CAP is definitely moving into the right direction. 

Should there be anonymous donors at all? As Transparify has documented, there are various sides to the debate. Some donors do not want to be named. While we prefer as much transparency as possible, our ratings at this point make allowance for up to 15% of donations being anonymous. The rationale is that sensible organizations typically will not risk their reputations for a small portion of their funding. This rule-of-thumb is not meant to settle the discussion on anonymous funding. It is intended to make it possible to have a constructive debate on such funding, in the first place.

Meanwhile, a small (and rapidly shrinking) minority of American think tanks continue to dig their heels in and refuse to open their books. It's understandable and legitimate that the public is focusing on the funding makeup of institutions who are opening their books.  However, in terms of research integrity, what is far more worrying is what is completely unknown -- the funding makeup of opaque think tanks. 

It's important to ask who is funding 3% of a more transparent think tank's operations. But it's even more important to ask opaque think tanks who do not disclose who their main donors are why they continue to keep their books closed while their peers are progressively disclosing more data.

[one typo amended from original statement]

We will soon be releasing our transparency rating of 150+ think tanks from around the world. To be notified, follow us on Facebook, sign up to our mailing list or follow us on Twitter