Picking up where I left off last week, I want to explore what we know about the “objective” process by which an “independent” think tank like the Fraser Institute goes about choosing a topic to write a research paper about. As economists, they will doubtless nod in approval when I give you the basic maxim of that profession: there is no such thing as a free lunch. And in the research profession, there is no such thing as a free paper. So, every time the Fraser Institute publicizes one of their new studies, the question you should ask yourself is: who paid for this study, and should that affect how I read it?
Sometimes the Institute acknowledges its funding sources: for instance, the Institute openly acknowledges that its annual mining industry survey is paid for by a trade group, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. Other times, it is not apparent that any dedicated funding was provided for the project to go forward, even though I am absolutely certain that it was. Unattributed studies are not uncommon, and I caught the C.D. Howe Institute carrying water for the private trash lobby in just this fashion last year.
What you might be interested to learn is who else shares these ideas. Before getting to that, though, I want to back up a little and review what we do know about how the Fraser Institute conducts research. As the Institute proudly declares, it is “independent,” and “non-partisan,” and takes no government money (though it it happy to issue tax receipts to that its donors can collect government money). Its researchers are top-notch, and their work is vetted, when necessary, by a review board. Until I began writing about the board earlier this year, several of its supposed members were actually dead. They’ve since clarified that little problem.Tweet