4/4/18 - Francesca Dominici presents "Data Science and our Environment"

Presentation Date: 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


CGIS Knafel K354

Francesca Dominici presents "Data Science and our Environment" 



Francesca Dominici, PhD

Professor of Biostatistics

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Co-Director Harvard Data Science Initiative


What if I told you I had evidence of a serious threat to American national security – a terrorist attack in which a jumbo jet will be hijacked and crashed every 12 days. Thousands will continue to die unless we act now. This is the question before us today – but the threat doesn’t come from terrorists.  The threat comes from climate change and air pollution.


We have developed an artificial neural network model that uses on-the-ground air-monitoring data and satellite-based measurements to estimate daily pollution levels across the continental U.S., breaking the country up into 1-square-kilometer zones. We have paired that information with health data contained in Medicare claims records from the last 12 years, and for 97% of the population ages 65 or older. We have developed statistical methods and computational efficient algorithms for the analysis over 460 million health records.


Our research shows that short and  long term exposure to air pollution is killing thousands of senior citizens  each year. This data science platform is telling us that federal limits on the nation’s most widespread air pollutants are not stringent enough.


This type of data is the sign of a new era for the role of data science in public health, and also for the associated methodological challenges. For example, with enormous amounts of data, the threat of unmeasured confounding bias is amplified, and causality is even harder to assess with observational studies. These and other challenges will be discussed.


Press coverage links


NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/28/534594373/u-s-air-pollution-still-kills-thousands-every-year-study-concludes


Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-air-pollution-death-20170628-story.html


New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/well/even-safe-pollution-levels-can-be-deadly.html?_r=0


Podcast: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/harvard-chan-this-week-in-health-archive/




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, June 29, 2017, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1702747

Di Q,Dai L,Wang Y,Zanobetti A,Dominici F,Schwartz J. (2017) A Nationwide Case-crossover Study on Air Pollution and Mortality in the United States, 2000-2012, Journal of American Medical Association, AMA. 2017;318(24):2446-2456. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17923 

See also: All videos, 2018


See also: 2018