How much evidence do you need? Data Science to Inform Environmental Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Francesca Dominici, PhD
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm

The 18th Annual Henry W. Kendall Memorial Lecture

Please join us for a thought-provoking evening with Francesca Dominici, Co-Director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative and the Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population and Data Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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On December 7, 2020, the New York Times reported that President Trump declined to tighten soot rules. This was despite strong evidence of the adverse health effects including a link to COVID-19 deaths. In this talk, I will provide an overview of data science methods, including methods for causal inference and machine learning, to inform environmental policy. This is based on my work analyzing a data platform of unprecedented size and representativeness. The platform includes more than 500 million observations on the health experience of over 95% of the US population older than 65 years old linked to air pollution exposure and several confounders. Finally, I provide an overview of my studies on air pollution exposure, environmental racism, wildfires, and how they also can exacerbate the vulnerability to COVID-19.

Press Coverage


  1. Di Q, Wang Y, Zanobetti A, Wang Y, Koutrakis P, Dominici F, Schwartz J (2017) Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population. New England Journal of Medicine, 376:2513-2522. PMID: 28657878, PMCID: PMC5766848, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1702747.
  2. Wu X, Braun D, Schwartz J, Kioumourtzoglou M, Dominici F (2020). Evaluating the Impact of Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter on Mortality Among the Elderly, Science Advances, Science Advances. 17;6(29):eaba5692. PMID: 32832626, PMCID: PMC7439614, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5692
  3. Wu, X., Nethery, R. C., Sabath, M. B., Braun, D. and Dominici, F., 2020. Air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: Strengths and limitations of an ecological regression analysis. Science advances, 6(45), p.eabd4049.
  4. Abdulrahman Jbaily, Xiaodan Zhou, Jie Liu, Ting-Hwan Lee, Stéphane Verguet, Francesca Dominici (2020), Inequalities in air pollution exposure are increasing in the United States
  5. Liu JC, Mickley LJ, Sulprizio MP, Dominici F, Yue X, Ebisu K, Anderson GB, Khan RFA, Bravo MA, Bell ML. (2016) Particulate pollution from wildfires in the Western US under climate change. Climatic Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1762-6.
  6. Cutler D, Dominici F. A Breath of Bad Air: Cost of the Trump Environmental Agenda May Lead to 80000 Extra Deaths per Decade. JAMA. 2018;319(22):2261-2. Epub 2018/06/14. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.7351. PMID: 29896617.

Sponsored by the Center for Global Change Science and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. 

Questions? Please contact Geraldine McGowan  |

The Henry W. Kendall Memorial Lecture Series honors the memory of Professor Henry W. Kendall (1926-1999) who was the J.A. Stratton professor of physics at MIT. Professor Kendall received the Nobel Prize in 1990 for research that provided the first experimental evidence for quarks. He had a deep commitment to understanding and finding solutions to the multiple environmental problems facing the world today and in the future. The permanently endowed Kendall Lecture allows MIT faculty and students to be introduced to forefront areas in global change science by leading researchers.