A decision by the Brookings Institution to cut loose prominent Japan scholar Edward J. Lincoln has enraged many local Japan-watchers and provoked a strong rebuke in the Japanese media.

In both Tokyo and Washington, the move is being singled out by some critics as another example of how Japan has become marginalized in policy circles. It's also being cited by others as an example of how fundraising concerns have compromised research at local think tanks -- even at venerable Brookings.

"A sea change is happening at Brookings away from policy scholars to policy salesmen," said Mindy Kotler, director of the Japan Information Access Project. "Part of the awfulness is that most of the salesmanship is not for the idea, but for the person. And if you're into being a policy salesman, you have to go where the money is, not where the new ideas are."

She singled out for criticism James B. Steinberg, Brookings' director of foreign policy studies. She said that Steinberg's implementation of aggressive belt-tightening policies means that fundraising needs and not scholarship may be calling the shots at Brookings. The policy has increased the number of projects supported by outside funding.

Those concerns were echoed in Japan by Toshiyuki Yasui of the Japan Center for International Finance in the influential newspaper Nikkei. Under the headline "The Day the Study of Japanese Economy Disappears From the Brookings Institution," Yasui suggested that Steinberg and Brookings President Strobe Talbott forced Lincoln out in order to hire unnamed "friends in [the] Clinton Administration." Talbott and Steinberg served in various senior foreign policy positions under President Bill Clinton.

Brookings administrators flatly deny Yasui's claim. Nor has interest diminished in the Land of the Rising Sun, they say.

"We have a lot of interest in Japan," said Ron Nessen, vice president for communications at Brookings. "We have eight senior scholars who are working on economic security issues important in Japan. Bob Litan [a vice president and director of economic studies] is in Japan right now delivering a paper on economic topics."

As for Kotler and Yasui, he said, "If the implication is that we're cutting back on research on issues important to Japan, that is not true. If the implication is that the focus of our research is dependent on finding outside money to fund it, that also is not true."

The flap began three weeks ago when Steinberg informed Lincoln that there was no money at present to fund his research beyond the current year.

"He basically told me he was still looking for money but didn't see any realistic possibility out there that he would, which was pretty much the same thing as saying that I'm gone, which will bring to zero the number of people working full time on Japan," Lincoln said. "I'm putting my energy into finding other employment rather than finding money to stay here."

Steinberg declined requests to be interviewed.

SING-ALONG, IF YOU DARE: For those thinkers who raise the holiday cup once too often and feel like singing, here's the first verse of something called "The Think Tank Song" by Mike Silverstein, the self-styled Beltway Bard. We aren't sure of the tune. Then again, we aren't sure it matters:

For many long years I felt ineffectual

A misunderstood and ignored intellectual

My theories (though brilliant) were hooted and hissed

By colleagues and others their value dismissed.

But still I did labor to make them more statable

In hopes that one day they'd become undebatable

And those that opposed them for reasons nefarious

Would meet a just fate that was most deleterious.

In the tank, in the tank, in my Beltway think tank

Part campus, part book barn, part nut house, part bank.

PEOPLE: Rebecca Hagelin has been named vice president of communications at the Heritage Foundation, where she will oversee public relations and the Center for Media and Public Policy. Hagelin has run her own PR shop since 1990.

In other Heritage news, Peter Brookes has been tapped to head the tank's Asian Studies Center, replacing Larry M. Wortzel, who was bumped up to vice president for international studies last month. Brookes joined Heritage earlier this year to work on national security issues.

Several switches lately in the field of Middle East studies: The Center for Strategic and International Studies has hired Jon B. Alterman as a senior fellow and full-time director of its Middle East program, replacing part-time director Judith Kipper. Kipper, who remains a senior fellow at CSIS, is also the director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations. Alterman came to CSIS from the State Department, where he worked in policy planning as a CFR international affairs fellow. Replacing Alterman as program officer for the Middle East at the U.S. Institute of Peace is Tamara Cofman Wittes, until recently director of programs at the Middle East Institute.

Veteran fundraiser Noris Weiss Malvey has signed on with the Economic Policy Institute as director for development, overseeing efforts to raise $5 million to $6 million per year. Malvey, who comes from a similar post at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, has also served as development director at People for the American Way and has raised funds for a variety of Democratic candidates.