Main content area

The streetlight effect in climate change research on Africa

Hendrix, Cullen S.
Global environmental change 2017 v.43 pp. 137-147
adverse effects, climate, climate change, issues and policy, politics, risk, Africa
The streetlight effect is the tendency for researchers to focus on particular questions, cases and variables for reasons of convenience or data availability rather than broader relevance, policy import, or construct validity. To what extent does the streetlight effect condition the state of knowledge about climate change in Africa? Analysis of Google Scholar search results, both general and within leading climate change-related journals, reveals that two proxies for objective need, population and land mass, are associated with a higher volume of scholarly attention. Countries with greater exposure to the negative effects of climate change and countries with less adaptive capacity do not receive more scholarly attention. Rather, I find evidence that factors like British colonial history, strong civil liberties, and to a lesser extent political stability − factors not directly related to risks from climate change − affect scholarly attention. The streetlight effect is evident in climate change research on Africa.