Where Are the Black Think Tankers? Methodology

This was an entirely open-source investigation.  I relied heavily on the webpages of the top ten think tanks as listed by Linktank in their 2011 report.  I divided my data into three categories: (1) Black; (2) Not Black, and; (3) Not Sure.  When sorting think tankers into one of these three categories, I relied first on photographic evidence.  Most websites offer profile pages for their employees, which usually have a headshot of the individual being featured.  In the event that there was no picture, I tried Google.  If no picture could be found that way, I categorized the person as “Not Sure.”  When there was a picture, I made an educated guess as to whether or not the individual was black.  Most of the time, I could tell rather easily.  If I wasn’t sure, however, I considered a second aspect: the name of the individual.  So, for example, if the person looks racially ambiguous but has the last name “Singh,” or something else equally ethnically obvious, I grouped them into the “Not Black” category.  If, however, the name wasn’t so obvious, then I grouped the person into the “Not Sure” category.

What this means is that I was exclusive—not inclusive—in my research.  Individuals were only counted as “Black” if I was very confident based on their picture.  Note that while the think tank websites didn’t always have profile pictures, I consulted Google for the more important individuals (like trustees and directors).  Again, though, if no image was found, the person is marked as “Not Sure” in this study (regardless of their name).

This brings us to the second layer of my study.  As you can see from my graphs, I investigated two levels of employment: directors and experts.  The first category includes titles such as “Managing Director,” “Officer,” “Trustee,” and “President.”  The second category includes titles such as “Fellow,” “Adjunct Scholar,” and “Research Assistant.”

Admittedly, this is where the study stands on slightly shaky ground.  There are two reasons for this.  First, some organizations list their employees as both Directors and Experts.  A good example of this is Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations.  As you can see from their website, he is listed on both the “Directors and Officers” page and the “Staff” page.  This means that in this study, there is some double-counting.  But I think this is partially justified, because I’m concerned not just with the sheer number of black thinkers in these organizations, but also with what that reveals about their impact within their respective think tanks.  So, if a black man or woman is listed by a think tank as both a Director and a Scholar, then that person is arguably having more impact than a different black man or woman who only serves a think tank in one of those capacities.

Ultimately, the number of instances of this kind of over-lap is relatively small in comparison with the magnitude of this study as a whole, especially for organizations like Brookings and Heritage with such a large number of total employees.

The second reason this study isn’t 100% rock solid has to do with the different information contained across different think tanks’ websites.  Heritage includes in their overall list employees who work in development and communications while the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities only lists their full-time think tankers.  This means that Heritage’s raw numbers for “Black,” “Not Black,” and “Not Sure” includes individuals who, while they are employed by that think tank, don’t truly do the hardcore think tanking.  And because this isn’t consistent across all of the think tanks in this study, the relative numbers and percentages are a bit inflated or deflated, as the case may be.  However in this regard I chose to be inclusive: better to include these black employees working in non-research departments than to ignore them.  After all, I am in no place to judge to what extent they engage with their research colleagues or the extent to which budgetary and fundraising considerations drive research projects.

You’ll also see that one of the graphs in my Findings page shows percentages.  It would be more accurate to label this section as “Ratio of Black employees to Not Black employees.”  When computing these percentages, I ignored the third category, “Not Sure,” because I was only comfortable computing based on the categories that I was confident in.  The think tank most impacted by this aspect of my study is the Center for America Progress — a cursory glance suggests that they employ zero black people.  But that’s not was the chart demonstrates.  After all, there are 30 CAP employees I’m “Not Sure” about.  What the chart demonstrates is that of the 68 employees that I am sure about, I am confident none of them are black.  So that’s a good lesson to keep in mind when reading the percentages chart: the higher the green bar of a given think tank in this chart, the less accurate the “percentages” in this chart.

The last note about Methodology concerns the RAND Corporation.  RAND has 857 employees listed on their website as research staff.  But RAND is a global think tank, so this includes employees from Santa Monica, CA; Washington, DC; Boston, MA; Doha, Qatar; Cambridge, UK; Pittsburgh, PA; New Orleans, LA; and Jackson, MS.  But these offices don’t have individual websites, so for me to isolate just those researchers working in DC or even America broadly would require clicking one-by-one through all 857 research staff profiles.  I decided against that course of action.  I did, however, account for their 20-person Leadership and Management Staff.

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