As the crypto industry faces growing scrutiny from politicians and the media, Coinbase is trying a new tactic to shape the debate: a "global crypto-native think tank."
The Coinbase Institute, which was announced on Tuesday, will "cut across many disciplines and provide expert analysis and insights about what’s happening in the global crypto economy."
In an interview with Decrypt, Director Hermine Wong—a former SEC and State Department staffer—said a key priority for the institute will be the dissemination of empirical and peer-reviewed research. This will include an academic partnership with the University of Michigan to measure household adoption and attitudes toward cryptocurrency.
Meanwhile, the Coinbase Institute has already issued its first report, titled "Crypto and the Climate," which makes the case that the industry's high energy use is often justified, and claims that it contributes to new forms of energy efficiency and longterm sustainability.
According to Wong, the institute is not modeled on nonprofit think tanks like the Brookings Institute or the The Atlantic Council, but instead on the research arms of companies like Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase. She declined to disclose the budget of the institute, which is entirely virtual.
Coinbase's launch of a "think tank" is consistent with the mentality of CEO Brian Armstrong, who has often expressed frustration with media accounts of the crypto industry he views as wrong or uninformed.
One year ago, Armstrong announced the launch of a service called Coinbase Fact Check, which he said would see the company publish "the truth" in response to malicious or inaccurate media reports—an initiative that won plaudits from some in the industry, but led skeptics to question how it was any different from other companies' in-house media arms.
Meanwhile, Coinbase also broke off from the crypto industry's main lobbying body, Blockchain Association, to back a new group called the Crypto Council for Innovation along with Block (formerly Square), Fidelity, and the venture fund Paradigm. Despite an ample budget, the new group has had little impact on policy debates, though executives there say its influence will ramp up in coming months.
According to Wong, Coinbase Institute will complement these other initiatives as the company seeks to promulgate a crypto-native view of the world.
The institute's advisory board includes professors from prominent universities, including MIT, Harvard, Duke, and Johns Hopkins. Such an effort to create alliances with academics has proved fruitful for companies in the past, notably Google, which is known for leveraging them into political influence.