It is the title of a Donald Abelson’s book where he asked himself about the utility and relevance of the think tank phenomenon. In the middle of one of the deepest economic crisis the market economy has ever had, I think it is a good point to start. I should say that my focus is very skeptical. It was when think tanks were the main fashionable hobby of richmen and successful entrepreneurs, enjoying in the zenith of irrational exuperance, and it is now, when most of think tanks have demonstrated that they are useless, at least in public policy terms.
Not useless. Think tanks play important roles in all developed societies but like any type of organisation can be used for various other purposes other than promoting evidence based policy. http://onthinktanks.wordpress.com
I am trying to define which ones deserve really the the name think tank. Deep thinking, scientific method and intellectual independence were on the roots of the first think tanks. This principles are not in contradiction with having a specificic ideological focus. I recommend reading The Idea Brokers: Think Tanks And The Rise Of The New Policy Elite, by James A. Smith. He collected the testimonies of the pioneers.