Biostatistics Seminar: Nathan Wikle

Nov 27, 2023

03:30 PM - 04:30 PM

College of Public Health Building, C217 CPHB

145 North Riverside Drive, Iowa City, IA 52246

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Nathan Wikle, PhD

Assistant Professor

Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science

University of Iowa


“Bayesian Causal Inference with Uncertain Physical Process Interference”

Abstract: Causal inference with spatial environmental data is often challenging due to the presence of interference: outcomes for observational units depend on some combination of local and nonlocal treatment. This is especially relevant when estimating the effect of power plant emissions controls on population health, as pollution exposure is dictated by (i) the location of point-source emissions, as well as (ii) the transport of pollutants across space via dynamic physical-chemical processes. In this work, we estimate the effectiveness of air quality interventions at coal-fired power plants in reducing two adverse health outcomes in Texas in 2016: pediatric asthma ED visits and Medicare all-cause mortality. We develop methods for causal inference with interference when the connections between treatment and outcome locations are unknown and instead must be estimated from ancillary data. We offer a Bayesian, spatial mechanistic model for the interference mapping which we combine with a flexible nonparametric outcome model to marginalize estimates of causal effects over uncertainty in the structure of interference. Our analysis finds some evidence that emissions controls at upwind power plants reduce asthma ED visits and all-cause mortality, however accounting for uncertainty in the interference renders the results largely inconclusive. Finally, we conclude with a general discussion of the role of physical process modeling in causal inference when analyzing environmental health data.

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