In a recent op-ed in the Washington Examiner, Tim Worstall writes that high speed rail will be rendered useless by self driving cars. The primary target of the article is the California High Speed Rail project. The article, titled Autonomous vehicles are going to kill high-speed rail, is vague and completely omits discussion of the possibility that self driving cars will actually facilitate high speed rail by making the “last mile” (the distance between the train station and the ultimate destination) easier and cheaper.
The op-ed is largely vague. More interestingly is the identity of Tim Worstall. The mini-bio at the bottom of the piece notes that he is a Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute. Who is the Adam Smith Institute? Wikipedia notes that it is has been rated as one of the four least transparent (most opaque) “think tanks” in the U.K. Guardian writer George Monbiot summarizes it’s history of collaboration with conservative politicians and corporations in a piece titled A rightwing insurrection is usurping our democracy. He notes that these so called “think tanks” are really right wing PR agencies. Streetsblog writer Angie Schmitt also has written about the fossil fuel industry’s use of conservative think tanks and political financial backing to attack transit. In The Koch Brothers’ War on Transit, she writes
The Kochs fund a wide-ranging network of “think tanks,” non-profits, and political organizations. . .
Among other activities, the group does plenty to manufacture Agenda 21 paranoia, which has cable subscribers around the country convinced that smart growth is a United Nations conspiracy that will lead to one-world government.
The Kochs also have plenty of ties to widely quoted, transit-bashing pundits like Randall O’Toole, Wendell Cox, and Stanley Kurtz — people employed by organizations that receive Koch funding, like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, and who spout the same talking points against walkability and smart growth.
Fake experts like O’Toole and Cox have been making the rounds for ages, but the Nashville BRT story raised new questions. How many local transit projects are drawing fire from the Koch political network? And what impact is it having?
Schmitt goes on to list specific transit issues across the country in which the Koch Bros, their surrogates, or other the fossil fuel industry barons have sought to fight mass transit projects. These op-eds from “think tank” organizations are not nearly as scholarly or objective as they pretend to be or as news outlets dress them up. Perhaps these op-eds should come with disclosure labels.