Think Tanks Between Science and Politics: The German Governmental Research Institutes

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 17:00
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Holger BÄHR, Institute for Employment Research, Germany
Peter KUPKA, Institute for Employment Research, Germany
Science is about truth, politics about power. Of course, this comparison is too simple. More elaborately, many studies based on various theoretical approaches highlight the differences between science and politics, and point to difficulties, when scientific knowledge is transposed in order to support political decisions. Think tanks bridge the gap between science on the one hand and politics on the other. They are characterised by the aim at influencing public debates and political decisions by providing knowledge to political actors. There is a myriad of different types of think tanks. A specific type of think tanks is represented by the German governmental research institutes. A governmental research institute is part of a (federal) ministry. It conducts research and gives policy advice. More than other think tanks, governmental research institutes have to balance the tension between science and politics because their policy advice is rooted in scientific research and the issues of their scientific research are oriented towards political use. In his widely recognised book “The Honest Broker”, Roger A. Pielke analyses both the role of science in society and the role of experts in policy and politics. He argues that a linear model of policy advice is not an adequate description of reality. The linear model postulates a flow from basic research to applied research to political consensus and political decisions. Rather, feedback loops and interactions between policy advisors and decision-makers have to be taken into account. By taking Pielke's honest broker as a point of reference, we will show how governmental research institutes tackle the tension between science and politics. The honest broker represents an idealised type of policy advisor who acts ideologically neutral and expands policy alternatives in a way that allows decision-makers to choose from different policy measures on the basis of their own preferences and values.