One of my all-time favorite - and unfortunately wholly unquotable - comments about Heritage goes as follows:
The PONI article begins with:
| "Two recent editorial from Heritage fellows have criticized the Obama administration for abandoning Eastern European allies."
Ah yes: the missile defense cheerleaders at Heritage. This should be enough to disqualify everything that follows, but in these days, one never knows.
For those who don't know, I became somewhat infamous Russia year for running "abolish European missile defense." Researching this case kind of killed my respect for Heritage as a policy analysis organization. It's just that the whitewashed pro-MD impression you get from Heritage is so completely
disconnected from the impression you get reading the actual political-science literature (and listening to actual military commanders); they're not even talking about the same issues. Articles by established MD experts mince and backtrack for pages about industry funding bias and the precise failings of real-world countermeasure tests. Heritage articles just say "BLAH BLAH BLAH MISSILE DEFENSE HAS A GOOD TEST RECORD END OF STORY MORE FUNDING PLEASE" and then throw in a stock scare-line or two. (And sometimes, they didn't even get basic facts right: I recall a number of times when Heritage articles just simply mixed up different delivery systems, or didn't bother to look up what Obama's 2009 phased-adaptive approach actually did and how it was different from existing midcourse defense systems.)
This sort of disconnect between Heritage and the academic literature can be striking. I recall spending a day reading nuanced journal articles about Russia's motives vis a vis
Eastern European power projection and the American nuclear arsenal, with detailed policy predictions based on the power struggle between the Russian Supreme High Command and the State Duma. Then, just for kicks, I pulled up a Heritage article on the same topic. The thesis, as best as I can recall, was basically "We need to have a large nuclear arsenal because it will intimidate Russia." (Well, that's
not overly simplified at all...
On the whole, I find a good deal of Heritage analysis to be shockingly shallow, consisting mainly of talking points and random one-sided facts strung together to produce an apparently pre-ordained conclusion. The smell of confirmation bias and quote-mining can get overpowering. On the other hand, however, many of Heritage's experts have been around the block a few times, and their experience leads to some very insightful pieces. Heritage really is trying to provide useful analysis, and they often succeed. But much of their work is just too shallow and biased to be of much use.
I still quote Heritage, especially if the author has independently-notable credentials - just because, sometimes, they write really good debate evidence.
But if I were President, trying to decide if I should (say) invade Iran, I don't think I'd solicit their advice.
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