Sabrina McCormick, PhD, fuses sociology, public health, and filmmaking. Dr. McCormick’s research investigates social dynamics of environmental health.
Dr. McCormick has long studied the health effects of emergent illness events. She improves estimation of mortality in these contexts. Using an in-depth qualitative assessment of heat-related mortality in New York City, her research demonstrates novel methods which show heat death is significantly higher than officially reported. She has also investigated the risks of such extreme events to pregnant women and fetuses, finding both pre- and post-natal adverse outcomes. Funded by the the Centers for Disease Control, McCormick and her colleagues investigated heat in four American cities. Dr. McCormick was Lead Author on the Special Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, including work heat and other extreme events. McCormick's research was a part of her work as Producer and Associate Producer on segments of the Showtime series, THE YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, that won the Emmy for Best Documentary Series in 2014. Her story with Matt Damon supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation investigated the mysteriously mis-reported numbers of how many people are dying from heat waves. The story was based on research she began as a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. McCormick also has a long-term research program on climate and health in American cities, published in Global Environmental Change and other outlets. This in-depth interviews and qualitative data collection is some of the only such research in the United States assessing how cities are able to assess and respond to climate risks, including protecting the public's health from such emergent challenges. She currently has a collaborative research project with Dr. Susan Anenberg on how cities are addressing urban air pollution and the obstacles they face to decreasing these exposures.
As a filmmaker and researcher, McCormick has a focus on how stories affect audiences. Funded by the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Nielsen Foundation, McCormick established the Climate Media Lab @GWU to examine how to motivate behavioral change for climate change. Seeing audience responses to specific narratives, characters, and imagery, McCormick sees how invoking specific emotional responses and offering tools can change the way people act to address climate. She is a member of the Climate Communication Initiative Advisory Committee for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, Dr. McCormick has studied how science is used in climate change lawsuits. Published in Science, Nature Climate Change, and the American Journal of Public Health, she looks at who is bringing climate lawsuits, why they are winning and losing, and the strategies being used to affect outcomes. She was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Academic Writing Residency at Bellagio to transform her work into a television series. She is completing a script (with Soopum Sohn) on the most important environmental Supreme Court case in history, Massachusetts v EPA to help litigators in other nations achieve regulation of fossil fuels with similar approaches. She is in production on another documentary feature film telling the story of the 25 Colombian children who brought a climate lawsuit against their own government and won.
McCormick has conducted research in the Brazilian Amazon for over a decade (funded by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research) focusing on the political economy of renewable energy development in that region. McCormick’s first scripted feature, SEQUESTRADA, premiered at the Beijing International Film Festival in April. Based on that research in Brazil, starring Tim Blake Nelson and indigenous non-actor Kamodjara Xipaia, amongst many others indigenous non-actors. McCormick’s first book, Mobilizing Science, was based on this work in Brazil.
McCormick has long examined innovations introduced by citizen science, first in the area of breast cancer then in the context of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Funded by the National Science Foundation, McCormick conducted research on citizen science in the Gulf and co-directed After the Cap (with Ben Kalina), the only interactive documentary about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, capturing unseen exposures faced by oil spill workers and coastal fishermen. Her first, award-winning documentary film, No Family History, accompanied the publication of her first book by the same title, following the journey of one woman with breast cancer living in a cancer hotspot, struggling to find out what could have caused her illness. Her narrative shorts, A Good Egg and FracKtured, have been seen at festivals across the country.
She was a Science & Technology Policy Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science working in the Global Change Research Program at the Environmental Protection Agency. She was also a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She advised Congress, the State Department, and the Obama White House on climate change issues. Dr. McCormick’s work has been featured in The New York Times, NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio, Canadian Public Radio, German Public Radio, TIME Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and many other media outlets. She is currently Associate Professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Department in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. She is also Senior Fellow at the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and was recently Visiting Scholar at the Columbia University Law School Sabin Center on Climate Change Law.