Judith Layzer, 1961-2015

A leading expert in how scientific research can best be used to promote environmental causes has died

June 18, 2015
Judith Layzer, 1961-2015
Source: Len Rubenstein

Judith Layzer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 18 August 1961 and went to school in Belmont before taking a degree in economics at the University of Michigan (1983). She worked in social science research for Abt Associates and then embarked on a PhD in the department of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1999), which tackled environmental protection disputes ranging from acid rain to the restoration of the Florida Everglades. This research contributed to Professor Layzer’s first book, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy (2002), a highly influential work now in its third, radically updated edition.

After teaching at Middlebury College, Vermont, from 1998 to 2003, she returned to MIT as an assistant professor in the department of urban studies and planning, securing promotion to associate professor in 2007 and full professor in 2014. She also served as head of MIT’s Environmental Policy and Planning Group from 2010.

Although scientific evidence is crucial to environmental advocacy, Professor Layzer was aware that it needed to be woven into “a politically compelling story” if campaigners hoped to prevail in the face of opposition. Her second book, Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment (2008), examined whether the collaborative initiatives grouped under the title “ecosystem-based management” were an effective alternative to traditional regulatory approaches. Her third and final book, Open for Business: Conservatives’ Opposition to Environmental Regulation (2012), demonstrated how anti-regulatory activists have successfully deployed the ideals of unfettered markets and individual freedom to gain public support.

Eran Ben-Joseph, head of the department of urban studies and planning at MIT, described Professor Layzer as “a brilliant scholar and exceptional writer”, but also as “a person of genuine integrity who will be sorely missed…Judy was motivated by intellectual curiosity and a zest for academic inquiry, but more importantly she was driven by an underlying sense of ethics and a core belief that we would be wrong – period, no qualifiers – to destroy the planet and its natural systems. She was a true friend who would often make you laugh and a scientist who would always make you think.”

Alongside her scientific work, Professor Layzer was an exceptional Ultimate Frisbee player: her Boston-based club team, Lady Godiva, won the world championship in 1998.

She died of complications arising from a soft-tissue sarcoma on 28 May. She is survived by her parents and four siblings.


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