Appraising Climate Change Information Reported to Congress
16 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2011
Date Written: October 24, 2009
To analyze the sources and qualities of information on climate change commissioned by the U.S. Congress from its affiliated research bodies.
Cited material in reports commissioned by Congress from three legislative research bodies were categorized and tallied for the years 1990-2005. Qualities of cited material, such as indicators of primary-level data analysis and references to peer-reviewed academic scholarship were considered.
Of the three agencies, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) makes reference to peer-reviewed academic scholarship most often. Nevertheless, only around a quarter of all cited material in CBO reports are from academic journals and comparatively few cites are to articles in top-tier journals. The Congressional Research Service cites its own past publications more often than it cites peer-reviewed scholarship.
Refereed academic journals are not the only source of rigorous scientific information in the reference materials used by the three legislative research bodies. Primary-level data are found in governmental gray literature, and these data are analyzed by the legislative research bodies in their reports to Congress. The research bodies also make use of peer-reviewed research by private research organizations, though these latter materials may not be published in academic journals. Further research is needed to determine whether and to what extent the legislative research bodies’ reports are consequential in shaping lawmakers’ deliberations versus other sources of information and persuasion, e.g., reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, news reportage, constituent perspectives, witness testimony in hearings, campaign contributions, etc.
Legislative research organizations are official conveyors of policy-relevant information to Congress. It is reasonable to expect these organizations to provide competent analyses derived from peer-reviewed science. The present study suggests that commissioned reports by these organizations vary in terms of the range of source materials relied on, but reference materials are seldom derived from top-tier academic journals. At least one research body, the Congressional Research Service, frequently refers to its own reports as a major source for information on climate change. Two out of three of the legislative support bodies make greater use of governmental gray literature versus academic scholarship.
References to purported shortcomings in the legislative research bodies’ technical/analytical capacities exist in the public affairs literature, but are anecdotal. The present study offers an empirical exploration of this concern, focusing on the most important environmental problem of our time.
Keywords: U.S. Congress, global climate change, science and policy, legislative research organizations
JEL Classification: Q28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation