MDI Fellow Feature: Dr. Le Bao

Written by Carrie McDonald, MDI Journalism Intern

Le Bao, Ph.D., has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at MDI since July 2022 after receiving his Ph.D. from the Department of Government at American University. A political scientist and 

spatial statistics expert, Bao uses computational and statistical methods to study political behavior and environmental politics as an integral member of MDI’s Environmental Impact Data Collaborative (EIDC) and Measuring Online Social Attitudes and Information Collaborative (MOSAIC) teams. 

With the MOSAIC team, Bao explores methods for determining whether and to what extent we can use social media data to measure public opinion. For example, the team recently compared data from a large sample of traditional survey responses and information sourced from consenting respondents’ Twitter handles on a variety of topics, such as the motivations behind receiving or not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Bao’s work also supports the methodological development of the EIDC’s impact projects, which investigate environmental impacts on local communities with an environmental justice lens. The EIDC is a cloud-computing platform that provides users with access to over 170 datasets as well as tools to analyze and visualize these billions of rows of information, enabling community groups, policymakers, and researchers to collaborate on developing comprehensive solutions that work to combat climate change and champion environmental justice. 

 “I think we’re definitely in the process of making a difference,” Bao said of EIDC’s impact on environmental research. “We track a lot of environmental data, which hasn’t been done before.”

For example, Bao personally spends a lot of time working on the EIDC’s water project, improving and developing methods to better measure the distribution of water resources and services, water pollution, and service violations across space and demographics like race, ethnicity, and income.

“Both as a researcher and also as a person who cares about environmental justice, this is the kind of thing I really want to do,” Bao said of his work with the EIDC. 

Unlike traditional research centers, MDI establishes a unique community by bringing people together from across different disciplines and stages of their careers, Bao said. Working with and mentoring undergraduate and master’s students participating in the MDI Scholars Program has been a highlight of his time at MDI.

“Having MDI Scholars work here actually makes me more passionate about the subject matter, about maybe new statistical and computational methods,” Bao said. “They all want to do something after they graduate from Georgetown; they all want to do something that actually makes a difference.”