10/4/2017 — Pegasus Institute’s Jordan Harris & Pat Smith

Note: These show notes don’t really represent the discussion that we had. They were just the notes going into the discussion.

Today’s podcast is a discussion with two guests who are very different people. Jordan Harris is the founder of the right-leaning “millenial-led, state-based think tank” the Pegasus Institute. He is a contributing columnist for the Courier Journal and has been featured on several policy based programs across Kentucky including Kentucky Tonight. Pat Smith is a community researcher who works with the City Collaborative and the Civic Data Alliance. Since the Pegasus Institute arrived on the scene last year, they have faced criticism about their legitimacy from left-leaning researchers, and Pat has been one of the most outspoken critics. Today will be a discussion about the definition, purpose, and role of think tanks generally, and of the Pegasus Institute specifically.

Before we get started, out of fairness to the listeners and to Jordan, I want to make known that I am not exactly an impartial moderator in this discussion. I have been very critical of the Pegasus Institute, but I hope this discussion will provide some clarity about their purpose and how Jordan views their work. There is an old saying about heat and light — I don’t think there will be any avoiding heat during this discussion, but I hope we have some light as well. Jordan and Pat, welcome to My Old Kentucky Podcast!

  1. You’ve billed the Pegasus Institute as a “millenial-led, state-based think-tank”. There are a lot of words to unpack in that name.

Why is it important to emphasize the fact that you are “millenial-led”. Does the Pegasus Institute think that the Strauss-Howe generational theory is real?

The word “think-tank” means many different things to many different people nowadays. How do you define that term?

  1. In May, you released a study about gangs and murders in Louisville, which made the claim that 84% of murders in Louisville were gang related. It seemed to many, including us, that the only way you came to that number was via unnamed sources inside the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Honestly, I’ve never seen unnamed individuals used as a data source in a research paper. The criticism of your work that rings most true to me is the practice of using an anonymously sourced data point. I’ve seen you called out for it on several occasions, but I’ve never heard your defense of the practice. Do you mind to tell us why you thought using unnamed sources is appropriate for a research paper?

  1. About a month ago, there was a story about the New America Foundation a different think tank, which fired one of their researchers because of his statements and criticisms of Google, one of their chief funders. This story is an example of what a lot of people see as an issue with think-tank research: they are basically just mouthpieces for their funders. Your organization doesn’t list your funders on your website, but many charges have been levied against your organization about potential funding by the Koch family and other very conservative organizations.

Do you think there is an innate problem with the structure of private companies funding research?

Does the Pegasus Institute put any specific safeguards in place to protect against outsized influence by funders?

Why don’t you list your funders on the website? You’ve faced a lot of criticism over who your funders are, and it seems that listing them might solve some problems.

  1. On your most recent blog post, you posited a connection between wealth migration along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. I think your initial idea that taxes were to blame for this has a good chance of being correct, but you made no attempt to draw any causal link between the wealth migration FROM Kentucky and the wealth migration TO Tennessee, just pointed out that those two phenomenons were occurring at the same time.

Is this a preview to a bigger, more rigorous study?

What’s the role of blogging in a think-tank? Sharing research that’s already been conducted, previewing research that still needs to be done, or something else?