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Critical Thinking Resources for Immigration
American Enterprise Institute

The AEI describes itself as dedicated to “limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability and open debate.”

The AEI does not disclose donors but says that in 2003 it received 36 percent of its funding from individuals, 35 percent from foundations and 23 percent from corporations.

The link on the website to short publications leads to the organization’s briefer research reports and findings; visitors can also find resources classified by research area.

Comments: Its standards for factual accuracy are high, though its reports have a distinctly partisan tilt.

Political Leanings: Pro-business

American Immigration Lawyers Association

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is a professional organization of more than 10,000 immigration attorneys and legal professors. Its members represent a variety of immigrants, including asylum seekers, entertainment personalities, families that wish to bring relatives to the United States and companies wanting to sponsor foreign workers’ entry to the United States.

Founded in 1946, the AILA is an “affiliated organization” of the American Bar Association. But while both organizations say they are nonpartisan, the AILA does advocate in favor of immigrant rights. The group was specifically established “to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members,” its website says, and it clearly sees its goals as being most aligned with those of liberal Democrats. In its 2009 action plan, AILA said: “A bi-partisan coalition will still be needed to pass major immigration reform – the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate will require 6-10 Republican votes, and the House majority will not enact immigration reform without the political ‘cover’ of at least 30-60 Republican votes.”

However, the AILA can be a valuable resource for visitors as well as its members. Its website features a page of Web resources. The site also hosts an immigration lawyer search function and offers viewers a database, albeit a limited one, of court cases and decisions relevant to U.S. immigration.

Comments: The AILA is a good source of information on immigration law; however, it, like most immigration organizations, is not unbiased. It is worth noting that the organization’s 2007 annual report reads: “No matter which party controls Congress, the potential for real, substantive immigration reform is limited by internal Republican party divisions, and by the 'rush to the center' of most Democrats.”

Political Leanings: Pro-immigrant rights

Brookings Institution

Brookings is the oldest and one of the best-known of the Washington-based “think tanks,” tracing its origins back to 1916 and founder Robert Somers Brookings, a wealthy St. Louis businessman. Its scholars generally have very strong academic credentials.

Reports from the institution and its scholars can be viewed by research programs, policy centers and research projects. They fall mainly into the categories of competitiveness, education, migration, health care or energy security.

Brookings says it is funded by “foundations, corporations, and individuals, and to a lesser extent by endowment income.”

Comments: Brookings has a well-earned reputation for scholarly excellence. Its reports are, for the most part, clearly written and can be fine guides to understanding how government programs work, or don't work. It has a reputation for leaning slightly to the left.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Cato Institute

The Cato Institute describes its work as broadening public-policy debate on “individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.” For the last decade, Cato has supported Social Security reform through private accounts and championed deregulation of the drug industry. Cato was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, a chartered financial analyst and former vice president of Alliance Capital Management Group. Most of Cato’s funding comes from private foundations and individuals, with only a small amount from corporations.

Cato is thought of as a libertarian think tank, and its scholars tend to argue for free markets and against taxes and government regulation. It also strongly rejects government infringement on individual rights.

Cato’s publications and reports can be explored by research area, which include defense and national security, constitutional issues, and a variety of domestic issues. The institute hosts a separate site focusing on Social Security.

Comments: Cato's research is thorough and well-documented, and advances a libertarian agenda.

Political Leanings: Libertarian

Census Bureau

The Census Bureau’s website offers far more than its up-to-the-second clocks with estimates of the U.S. and world populations. There is, of course, a general summary of the most recent census. A link from the home page brings up the American FactFinder, which allows the user to retrieve complete census breakdowns of the U.S. population by age, race, home ownership status and many other categories within cities, counties, states or even ZIP codes. The FactFinder is also the place to find complete data sets organized according to congressional district boundaries. The Statistical Abstract of the United States offers an extensive, text-based explanation of the census data, including information about immigration. Census provides annual updates of U.S. household income, as well as data on Americans living in poverty and persons with and without health insurance.

Comments: The Census Bureau provides a wealth of information on Americans, and the website is a valuable research tool.

Center for American Progress

Founded in 2003 by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, the Center for American Progress describes itself as “progressive.” Many of its experts once worked in Democratic presidential administrations or for Democrats on Capitol Hill. According to its website, the center seeks to “combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.”

The center's focus covers a wide range of issues, including energy, health care, the economy, civil rights, immigration, welfare and others.
Unlike many think tanks, the center has a lobbying and advocacy offshoot, called the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Action Fund describes itself as “the sister advocacy organization of the Center for American Progress.”

Comments: The center's website reflects its strong liberal bent.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Center for Immigration Studies

The Center for Immigration Studies, founded in 1985, is a think tank “devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.” The center’s research and policy positions are conservative, and it advocates a “pro-immigrant, low-immigrant” position, which “seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.”

Its website contains a number of reports and other publications, which can be viewed by topic, such as immigration numbers, history, legal and illegal immigration, costs, refugees, and assimilation and citizenship. While many of its papers are written to buttress the center’s support for tighter limits on immigration, other publications, including profiles and numbers of foreign-born populations, are straightforward analyses of Census Bureau data. The center’s director of research, Steven A. Camarota, has been widely quoted in the media on immigration matters.

The center has received grants from conservative foundations including the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, according to those organizations’ annual reports.

Comments: Journalists often turn to CIS when looking for a conservative point of view on immigration.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Congressional Research Service

The Library of Congress houses the Congressional Research Service, “the public policy research arm of the United States Congress.” The CRS performs independent, nonpartisan and objective research for members of Congress and their staffs on a nearly endless array of issues. The Librarian of Congress appoints the director of the CRS, which has a large, knowledgeable staff and receives a sizable budget.

The CRS no longer releases its reports to the general public, but many can be found fairly easily online. The U.S. State Department and independent groups including the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Council for Science and the Environment post the full text of some CRS reports relating to each group’s area of interest. The Open CRS Network website has a search engine that combines the resources of several, though not all, of these sites. The public can also purchase reports from some websites. And if time permits, individuals can request paper copies of specific reports directly from their senator or representative.

The CRS is acclaimed for its objective and thorough analyses. Authors are aware that they are writing for an audience that includes both Republicans and Democrats, and they are meticulous about avoiding partisanship.

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The department’s primary responsibilities are to prevent terrorist attacks and to respond to national security threats. After widespread criticism of DHS’ response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in 2005, the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act reorganized the department and its Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Besides FEMA, the department’s component agencies include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, and the Federal Law Enforcement and Training Center. Its website offers statistics on immigration as well as immigration enforcement actions, text of laws and regulations dealing with border security, guidance on how to become a U.S. citizen, information on current disaster areas in the U.S. and a hodgepodge of other material.

Comments: The department presents the government’s viewpoint, and information from its website should be viewed with that in mind. However, its information and statistics dealing with immigration, federal law enforcement training and the department's other components can be useful.

Economic Policy Institute

Founded in 1986, the EPI says it aims to broaden the economic policy debate “to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers.”

Although “nonpartisan” for tax purposes — it is a public charity — the EPI’s board includes presidents of several large labor unions that regularly back Democrats for election. The EPI says it gets about 30 percent of its funding from labor unions, 60 percent from foundations, and a small amount from individuals and corporations.

The EPI releases its well-known State of Working America report annually, and the organization offers both extensive statistical data and short summaries of domestic economic conditions.

Comments: The EPI tends to highlight any indication that workers and the poor are suffering, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary.
Political Leanings: Liberal, Pro-labor

Employment Policies Institute

The Employment Policies Institute focuses on labor issues and, especially, the debate over the minimum and living wages. Its studies nearly all conclude that raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to low-income workers and to the economy generally. The group further maintains that the “living wage campaign” amounts to “an organized effort to force employees to inject a welfare mentality into the workplace.” The name and acronym of the group are very similar to those of the much older, more liberal Economic Policy Institute, but its ideology couldn’t be more different.

The Employment Policy Institute’s publications are fully searchable, though new publications appear somewhat infrequently.

Comments: The EPI's conclusions are consistently sympathetic to business interests.
Political Leanings: Conservative

FactCheck.org

According to its website, FactCheck.org is a “nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” Its staff monitors factual accuracy in American politics, looking at what’s being said in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and the like.

The website has three main outlets for its work: Articles, the FactCheck Wire (for shorter items or ones of less national interest) and Ask FactCheck (in which the group’s staff members answer questions sent in by readers, often about chain e-mails on political subjects). The group debunks myths, falsehoods and exaggerations by politicians and outside groups involved in election campaigns and public policy debates. Examples of FactCheck.org’s work include stories about misinformation spread during public policy debates such as the one on overhauling the health care system, and inaccurate claims made during election campaigns such as John McCain’s position on Medicare or Barack Obama’s birthplace. The group’s work is often cited by other media organizations.

FactCheck.org is funded by, and is a project of, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which was established by the Annenberg Foundation with a $20 million endowment in 1993. The Annenberg Foundation also made additional grants to support FactCheck.org’s work. The APPC accepts no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. In 2010, FactCheck.org began accepting donations from individual members of the public. Its does not accept any funds from corporations, unions, partisan organizations or advocacy groups.

Political Leanings: None

Federation for American Immigration Reform

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a nonprofit organization promoting more restrictive immigration laws. FAIR favors
improved border security, an end to illegal immigration and restrictions on legal immigration, which means that the legislation it supports is
often spearheaded by Republicans and its concerns correlate with conservative causes. FAIR bills itself as a nonpartisan organization, and it will support Democratic legislation if it restricts legal and illegal immigration.

FAIR representatives have spoken to the media and testified before and lobbied Congress on the subject of changes to immigration law. On its website, FAIR offers data on the costs and prevalence of immigration, some of it based on original analysis. It also publishes
policy analyses and reports about immigration issues, including the societal and economic ramifications of immigration.

The organization was founded in 1979 by John Tanton, a controversial, anti-immigration figure. FAIR’s website does not offer a list of
individuals or organizations that support it financially; however, the liberal site mediatransparency.org shows that the conservative Scaife Foundation and its subsidiaries make large contributions to FAIR.

Comments: FAIR is a conservative group in favor of strict immigration controls, which is evident in its reports and publications.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s best-known think tanks on the right, says its mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

Heritage scholars generally argues for lower taxes, less spending for social programs and less government regulation of business. When Heritage criticizes Republicans it is often for being too liberal: It supported President Bush’s first-term tax cuts, for example, but criticized his expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs.

Comments: Facts cited by Heritage are generally solid and well-documented, though quite often they reflect only one side of an ideological debate.

Political Leanings: Strongly conservative

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says it is “the nation’s premier civil rights coalition,” and it has “coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.” It was founded in 1950 by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Arnold Aronson of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. Today, the LCCR has more than 180 member organizations, including People for the American Way, AARP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO and constituent unions, the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Organization for Women.

The LCCR’s website offers reports on such issues as fair housing and the status of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In addition to organizing various civil and voting rights campaigns, the LCCR is one of the main groups monitoring judicial nominations from the liberal point of view. The website for that campaign offers articles and op-eds, fact sheets, and profiles of current and past nominees. The LCCR also provides overviews of civil rights cases on the Supreme Court’s docket each term.

Comments: Most material on this site has a strong liberal, pro-civil rights slant, though with that in mind it can be useful.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Librarians’ Internet Index

Librarians’ Internet Index is a compendium of links and descriptions of websites that have been selected by a team of librarians. Publicly funded by the states of California and Washington, the site includes more than 20,000 entries that focus on a host of topics, from politics and legal issues to film and sports. LII is produced by six paid consultants who are assisted by more than 40 librarian contributors.

Started by a reference librarian in the early 1990s, LII is now under the management of the Peninsula Library System, a consortium of public and community college libraries in California. In 2002, the site launched a more limited partnership with Washington State Library, and it offers numerous websites of interest to those two states. Most of LII’s money comes from the California State Library, but site managers have been exploring other funding sources.

Users can subscribe to a free weekly newsletter that highlights various websites. It’s also possible to search the site or browse the links by 14 main topic areas and hundreds of subtopics. Visitors can narrow each list of sites by clicking on additional topics. The websites that LII features must meet various criteria, which include whether information is available for free and whether it’s credible.

Comments: LII is a valuable tool for researching any number of topics. The sheer volume of vetted websites is impressive. The amount of material, however, sometimes leads to rather eclectic lists of sites for a given topic and some misclassification. Specific searches yield the best results.

Political Leanings: None

Migration Policy Institute

The Migration Policy Institute is a nonpartisan think tank that studies international migration. According to its website, the institute “provides analysis, development, and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national, and international levels. It aims to meet the rising demand for pragmatic and thoughtful responses to the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration, whether voluntary or forced, presents to communities and institutions in an increasingly integrated world.”

The institute does not lobby for or against specific legislation. Rather, it performs research and analysis to inform policymakers and advocates. Its research covers refugee protection and immigration in the United States and Europe, with a focus on social, economic and political integration. The website offers a number of research papers and press releases and a link to the “Migration Information Source” online journal, as well as an online bookstore.

The institute is funded by donations from a number of international governments, foundations and organizations. The list of donors includes Booz Allen Hamilton, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau, among many others.

Comments: The institute is an excellent source for impartial, well-researched data on immigration. It gives a realistic portrayal of U.S. and international immigration without advocating a particular position.

Political Leanings: None

National Conference of State Legislatures

A bipartisan organization for state, commonwealth and territorial legislators and their staffs, the National Conference of State Legislatures “provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.” The organization advocates the interests of state governments.

The NCSL’s website contains information about the issues state governments are facing, such as education, environmental protection, transportation, criminal justice and state-tribal relations. Visitors to the site can access various reports, including summaries of which states enacted certain types of legislation on, for example, gambling or immigration. The site also contains information on state elections and election laws.

The “GrassCatcher” page is a daily roundup of state and policy news. Visitors can listen to podcasts and request a personalized daily or weekly e-mail on specified policy topics.

Comments: The NCLS website is a good resource for information on the status of state laws on various subjects.

National Immigration Forum

The National Immigration Forum is an immigrant rights organization that, according to its website, “advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and are fair to and supportive of newcomers to our country.”

The forum presses lawmakers to adopt immigrant-friendly policies. Founded in 1982, the forum has more than 250 membership organizations. It works with groups that provide services to immigrants at the national and local levels. Its Web site includes comprehensive information on legislation, such as summaries and analyses of bills, congressional votes, links to other sources of information and updates on policy. The site also posts comments on news coverage and links to public opinion polls. “The Debate” tab features links to reports and policy papers on issues such as due process, the economy and naturalization.

The Community Resource Bank is a clearinghouse of information on ways communities have helped immigrants integrate into U.S. society, and includes information on state and local government initiatives, immigration population data, “success stories” from pro-immigrant projects, links to reports on issues such as public safety and law enforcement, and a directory of pro-immigrant organizations.

Comments: The National Immigration Forum provides information from a pro-immigration stance. Its summaries and links to legislation and congressional votes, however, are straightforward. The media often quotes its experts, identifying them as advocates for immigrants’ rights, on legislative matters in this subject area.

Political Leanings: Pro-immigration and immigrant rights

National Immigration Law Center

The National Immigration Law Center analyzes proposed immigration legislation and litigates on behalf of immigrants’ rights. The NILC partners with community advocates in states that have high immigrant populations and works to help low-income immigrants get legal, medical and social assistance. The NILC’s website includes a number of publications and resources having to do with immigration issues, including in-depth analyses of legislation on driver’s licenses, employment, Social Security and public benefits.

While the NILC has an undisguised agenda to promote immigrants’ rights, its policy analyses are usually straightforward. The website does link to and contain biased resources, but the NILC provides solid overviews of legislation and state and federal rules regarding immigrants, as well as updates on proposed legislation.

The NILC is funded by foundation and individual donations, grants from state and federal government agencies (including the Department of Justice), publication sales, and attorney fees. A list of major donors is available.

Comments: The NILC frequently goes to court to defend immigrants' rights, but its website is also a valuable resource for information on relevant cases and legislation.

Political Leanings: Pro-immigration and immigrant rights

NumbersUSA

NumbersUSA describes itself as a “non-partisan, public policy organization that favors an environmentally sustainable and economically just America” or, more succinctly, an “immigration-reduction organization.” It was founded in 1997 by Roy Beck, a former journalist who wrote primarily on environmental issues such as urban sprawl.

The organization’s goals include studying the numerical levels of legal and illegal immigration and informing the public about the recommendations of two national commissions from the 1990s to reduce immigration, recommendations that include eliminating chain migration (whereby an immigrant who has gained citizenship sends for adult relatives to join him) and eliminating the visa lottery. It also generally opposes any legislation that would increase or maintain current immigration levels in the United States.

NumbersUSA has ties to John Tanton, an outspoken conservationist who has helped found other anti-immigration groups. Tanton, a controversial figure, is publisher of the Social Contract Press, which has put out some of NumbersUSA’s materials and reprinted the French novel “The Camp of the Saints,” criticized by some as racist. Beck once worked for Tanton’s magazine The Social Contract. Beck writes on the NumbersUSA Web site that “nothing about this website should be construed as advocating hostile actions or feelings toward immigrant Americans.”

The organization’s studies and books as well as its research and reports are available for download. Visitors can find information organized by “interests” or topics, such as American workers, the environment and illegal immigration. Those pages contain reports, congressional testimony and media reports that support NumbersUSA’s views. The group also keeps track of the immigration voting records of members of Congress.

Comments: NumbersUSA states that its views on immigration result from environmental and economic justice considerations, but its “immigration-reduction” stance is generally shared by conservatives.

Political Leanings: Conservative, favors strict immigration controls

Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that’s a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts, calls itself a “fact tank.” It conducts public opinion polling and social science research, and publishes reports and information on various issues through seven distinct projects:

Pew Research Center: U.S. Politics & Policy examines public attitudes toward the news media, surveys the demographic makeup of the American electorate, analyzes public and opinion leaders’ views on international policy, and measures public use of media sources. As with all of the Pew Research Center projects, its surveys are published on the Web site, along with commentary and datasets.

Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media conducts empirical studies of press coverage, mainly through content analysis. Its annual report on journalism, State of the News Media, is a comprehensive look at American journalism, including trends in the industry, content analyses and the economics of the business.

Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech researches the impact of the Internet on people, society and various facets of life, such as the work, health care and politics.

Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life functions as a forum for discussion of religion and public affairs. It publishes polls and reports on subjects such as religious affiliations, bioethics, religion and politics, the death penalty, and religion and social welfare.

Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends focuses on eight key subject areas: demography, economics, education, identity, immigration, labor, politics and remittances. It conducts or commissions studies and public opinion surveys on Latino issues and perspectives. Its estimates on the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have been widely cited.

Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes & Trends conducts public opinion polls worldwide on various subjects, including top issues in the news and people’s personal views of their lives. Its surveys have been conducted in 54 countries.

Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends examines behaviors and attitudes in various areas of American life, such as family, health, work and leisure. Its reports pair public opinion polling with demographic data analysis.

Comments: The center is a good resource for public opinion surveys and detailed studies in its seven project areas.

Political Leanings: None

United Nations

The United Nations’ website contains a huge amount of information that dates back to the global governing body’s inception in 1945. From the U.N. home page there are links to several of its divisions and programs; unfortunately, due to the website’s outdated layout, it can be
difficult to navigate.

For research purposes, a long listing of links to U.N.-supported sites, from UNICEF to the U.N. Volunteer Program, can be found at the site index page. Also, visitors can search the U.N.’s statistical database, which contains statistics on member countries and economic issues, and the U.N. documents database, which holds U.N. documents such as official letters, releases and resolutions dating back to 1993. (The site says it will add documents dating back to the 1940s.) The site also has a U.N. “cyber school” page, which aims to teach children about U.N. countries and developments.

Comments: While it’s not particularly user-friendly at first, the U.N. site has plenty of valuable content, from its statistics databases to the many U.N. program sites.

USA.gov

USA.gov calls itself “the official U.S. gateway to all government information.” The U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications oversees the website, which offers a library of links to government agencies, information about particular laws and regulations, and data and statistics. Visitors can get pertinent links classified by topic and access links to state and local governments as well.

Comments: USA.gov can be a good place to begin for researchers who are unsure of where to look first.

ProCon.org

This independent, nonprofit website lays out the arguments on both sides of a host of controversial issues. Its mission statement: “We promote critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship.”

ProCon.org presents issues such as “Sports and Drugs” or “Death Penalty” by giving a brief overview of the controversy, then framing the key question — “Should performance-enhancing drugs (such as steroids) be accepted in sports?” — and breaking it down into 10 underlying debates — “Athletes as Role Models” and “Sportsmanship,” for instance. Quotes from various sources on each side of the issue help readers understand the main points of contention and what the arguments are in support of each perspective.

The nonpartisan site was founded in 2004 by businessman Steve Markoff and his wife, Jadwiga.

Comments: ProCon.org is unusual in that it provides the arguments on both sides of an issue, along with sources for those who want to follow up further.

Political Leanings: None

Regulations.gov

Regulations.gov was set up in 2003 to better equip citizens to find, view and comment upon the vast array of federal regulations.

After Congress passes laws, federal agencies are responsible for enforcing them. They use regulations to accomplish that task, spelling out in detail how specific statutes are to be implemented. Each new proposed regulation must go through a notice-and-comment process, meaning that an agency must publicly announce a proposed regulation and then allow citizens the chance to weigh in. Keeping track of these draft rules once was a daunting project, as there are thousands of federal regulatory agencies. Regulations.gov simplifies the process by collecting proposed regulations from each federal agency and offering a forum for submitting comments on them.

The site also catalogs existing federal regulations, so that anyone wanting to check the wording of rules that were issued to implement, say, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act can find them here.

The site can be searched by keywords, phrases or rule numbers. A short glossary of regulatory terms is provided, as is an extensive user guide. The site also includes an RSS feed that provides up-to-the-minute notice of new federal regulations.

Comments: The basic keyword search is straightforward, but the most powerful search functions require considerable knowledge of the regulatory process. If you know what you are looking for, Regulations.gov offers one-stop shopping. It is less useful for casual browsing and novices.

Social Science Research Council

The Social Science Research Council is a New York-based “independent not-for-profit research association” that brings the work of academic social scientists to contemporary social problems. Recent projects include studying the causes of state violence, fostering understanding of Muslim communities and analyzing the human impact of Hurricane Katrina.

The staff and affiliated scholars of the Social Science Research Council are largely professional academic social scientists. About three-quarters of the board of directors are professors at respected universities. The council says it is funded “from a range of private foundations and public institutions.” Documents available on its website show that its largest contributors include the Mellon, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the U.S. State Department.

The council currently organizes its work into four main areas: Global Security and Cooperation, Knowledge Institutions, Migration and The Public Sphere. Its website contains online articles written by staff members and a quarterly journal featuring work by independent scholars working on SSRC-related projects.

Comments: The Social Science Research Council is a clearinghouse for academic work in the social sciences. Its reports are, for the most part, free from partisan slant. They are fine sources of information, though they may be more technical and jargon-filled than reports from "think tanks" like the Brookings Institution.

Political Leanings: Neutral

Urban Institute

The Urban Institute says it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization” focusing on “the social, economic, and governance problems facing the nation.” It has its roots in the Great Society era of government anti-poverty programs; it was chartered by a blue-ribbon commission assembled by President Lyndon Johnson to examine problems and issues faced by the nation’s urban populations.

The Urban Institute’s website offers detailed information, organized both by topic and by policy center, which are research arms within the Institute that focus on specific areas. The Issues in Focus section offers summaries of the group’s research, along with links to more in-depth reports relating to specific areas of policy disputes, such as Social Security reform, immigration and education. The institute also maintains a Policy Decoder section, which is a helpful glossary of the more technical terms used in debates about public policy and social programs.

Comments: Though liberal in its leanings, the institute's scholarship is widely respected.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia where articles may be written or edited by any user who creates a free account. It offers a vast amount of easily accessible information; the English version contained more than 3.2 million articles as of March 2009. But it can’t guarantee accuracy and sometimes has been dramatically wrong.

Individuals who write and edit articles for Wikipedia are volunteers. In theory, they bring a vast collective knowledge to bear and quickly discover and correct any biased or inaccurate entries. Advocates say this bottom-up approach produces a product that rivals traditional, top-down encyclopedias in which articles are written by individual experts chosen by professional editors. Indeed, a study in the December 15, 2005, journal Nature reported that in a sample of 42 entries on scientific topics, its experts found 162 errors in Wikipedia compared with 123 errors in Britannica. However, Britannica later challenged the Nature study as “fatally flawed” and filled with “flagrant errors.”

The weakness of Wikipedia’s anybody-can-edit policy was demonstrated dramatically when a false biographical entry on John Seigenthaler Sr., former editorial director of USA Today, went uncorrected for four months in 2005. It claimed Seigenthaler had a role in the assassinations of former President John Kennedy and his brother Robert. Those false claims were the work of a 38-year-old employee of a Nashville delivery service, Brian Chase, who had posted the libels as a joke and who later apologized to Seigenthaler. Numerous other instances of false Wikipedia entries have come to light since.

Wikipedia’s own founder, Jimmy Wales, publicly cautions students against citing it as an authoritative source. In June 2006, at a conference sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, he said that he gets about 10 e-mails a week saying, “Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia.” Wales said those comments make him think to himself: “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”

Wikipedia is “pretty good,” Wales said, “but you have to be careful with it. It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”

Comments: Wikipedia is a useful resource when beginning research on an unfamiliar topic, but it's not always reliable. Information needs to be checked against original sources, but this is often difficult due to a frequent lack of footnotes.

Political Leanings: None