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Think Again

The New York Times ran a two part series on Think Tanks and their role in legislative decisions that are often in line with the corporate benefactors who hire them to both testify and lobby on their behalf. There is nothing wrong with that other than the fact that they are not required to disclose this fact and that it can in fact be a conflict of interest and while presenting themselves as an unbiased Expert they are anything but.

When I was in college in the early 80s I heard about think tanks and thought, "hey I want to work at those." My parents, solid working class citizens had no idea what I was talking about and informed me that I needed to eventually find a "real job." They also refused my request to go to the University of Chicago to study Sociology, which at the time was the core school devoted to the subject while also being ground zero for the Reganeconomics that would come to dominate our economic philosophy of the next 3 decades. Maybe they were right after all.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, believes how some think tanks engage in “thinly disguised lobbying” to influence lawmakers. And frankly they are just quasi legislators, as we know that many if not most our current crop of elected officials do not read the bills they "write" let alone even understand the nuances and realities of complex structures and organizations. Many are frankly just dumb and the role of ALEC and other acronym-ed groups have come to show that most of our laws are written by outside experts. And the current crop of those defined as the "Brain Trust" with regards to Trump's economic plans (I prefer Hilary's reference to some moguls and several guys named Steve) is a good reflection of that concept and their role of influence within that same cohort.

I have long said that the role of "experts" are creations, not unlike Dr. Frankenstein, of Lawyers. These are the hired guns that Lawyers hire to push their beliefs, studies and concepts in both criminal and civil cases. As a result many criminal and civil cases demand, by law, expert testimony to ensure that the case is both legitimate and solid. The credentials of said experts are not regulated nor actually substantiated and can include people who self publish and self promote. My favorite still is the Remax Real Estate agent who poses as a school shooting expert and yet has never had a background in law enforcement nor juvenile psychology let alone worked in a school. He got his expertise from 'talking' to kids. Okay then.

Experts should be those who dedicate a life long approach to scholarly research and are willing to look at all sides of an argument, take the time to develop a pro and con list and in turn present the information without bias and without pressure to come to a singular conclusion. The idea is to allow the recipient of said information to make a rational decision with all the information available and do so on their own right or wrong. The idea in law is the concept of "common knowledge:"

common-knowledge exception refers to a legal principle exempting testimony concerning simple medical procedures in a medical mal practice action. Common-knowledge exception is considered a narrow exception. Under the common-knowledge exception, a medical malpractice plaintiff is required to present an expert testimony in order to establish negligence. The common-knowledge exception is also the basis for res ipsa loquitur theory of negligence.

In Fossett v. Bd. of Regents, 258 Neb. 703 (Neb. 2000), it was held that common-knowledge exception is an exception to the requirement of expert testimony. It is invoked in a situation where the evidence and the circumstances are such that t
he recognition of the alleged negligence may be presumed to be within the comprehension of laymen.

Funny no Judge actually believes it exists and hence fewer Jury trials and those that are held are held in ignorance as Juries are not allowed to seek independent knowledge to learn about concepts and thereby make their own decisions. Instead they hear only the "experts" brought to trial and in turn determine which expert has more "truthiness."

Well I did find it interesting in the Times series that one of the experts was of course a Doctor. Whose cross pollination between government work and private industry has earned him a substantial salary and role as "expert."

Dr. McClellan, a former commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration who until January was a senior fellow at Brookings, has been a go-to expert for the federal government as it debates how to cope with surging costs of prescription drugs.

At public events, Dr. McClellan emphasized the extraordinary progress by the pharmaceutical industry in coming up with treatments for diseases like diabetes, H.I.V. and hepatitis C.

“Lots of diseases have been transformed,” Dr. McClellan said at a hearing in November sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services. He ran through a series of slides prominently stamped with Brookings’s name. He also argued that even though these drugs were very expensive, they were worth it given the improvement in a patient’s quality of life.

“They are, over all, a pretty good deal,” Dr. McClellan said, referring to treatments for hepatitis C. One such drug, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, generated $2.3 billion in sales in its first full year, representing about 7 percent of the company’s overall drug sales in 2014. The pills cost $66,000 for a standard 12-week regimen.

There was no mention in a video of the event that Dr. McClellan joined Johnson & Johnson’s board of directors in October 2013, or that he earned nearly $530,000 over the past two years in overall compensation from the company. That is in addition to his salary at Brookings, where he is one of the top-paid scholars, with $353,145 in wages and other compensation from the think tank in 2014, tax records show.

Dr. McClellan, in a statement, disputed any suggestion that he might have had a conflict.

“My entire career in academics, government and public policy has focused on evidence-based ways to improve health and restrain costs for consumers, and my extensive track record speaks for itself,” he said.

He perfectly illustrates the revolving door of public service and in turn the private sector and academia while serving both servant and master to the tune of six figures. Nice work if you can get it. And I wonder when the last time Dr. McClellan ever laid eyes or hand on a patient and talked to them about medical care and costs.

The articles on the role of Think Tanks begins here and also here with a follow up debate and discussion on the site with regards to the role of think tanks with regards to legislation, lobbying and the lack of transparency and disclosure about who is compensating them and the dual roles and jobs by the individuals employed and appointed.

As the Times concludes: Think Tanks Become Vehicles for Corporate Influence They are regarded as research centers independent of moneyed interest, but think tanks have to chase funds, too and, in the process, have pushed the agendas of corporate donors.

Thousands of pages of internal memos and confidential correspondence between the Brookings Institution and its donors, obtained by The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, show that financial support bought assurances of “donation benefits,” which included setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials. The donors included Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders; JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; and the software giant Microsoft.

Similar arrangements exist at other think tanks. Executives reject any suggestion that they are tools of corporate influence campaigns and say they are simply teaming up with donors that have similar goals. But lawyers specializing in nonprofit law said the Brookings agreements raised questions. “Tax deductions are subsidies that are paid for by all taxpayers,” said Miranda Perry Fleischer, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. “And the reason the subsidy is provided is that the charitable organization is supposed to be doing something for the public good, not that specifically benefits the private individual or corporation in the form of providing them goods or services.”

This post first appeared on Green Goddess VV, please read the originial post: here

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