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KQED Science News


KQED’s award-winning team of science reporters explores climate change, water, energy, toxics, biomedicine, digital health, astronomy and other topics that shape our lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a trusted news source, KQED Science tackles tough questions facing humanity in our time with thoughtful and engaging storytelling.


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KQED’s award-winning team of science reporters explores climate change, water, energy, toxics, biomedicine, digital health, astronomy and other topics that shape our lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a trusted news source, KQED Science tackles tough questions facing humanity in our time with thoughtful and engaging storytelling.




If You’re Offered the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Take It, Experts Say. Here’s Why

The risk of a blood clot developing after a J&J vaccine is tiny, but it's also scary and confusing. We break down ways to evaluate vaccine options.


‘Worst. Editorial. Guidance. Ever.’ KQED Science Reporters Reflect on the Pandemic’s Early Days

Remember when no one knew what this new thing called the ' novel coronavirus' was? Three KQED Science reporters remember some struggles, decisions and startling moments that shaped our coverage.


Kelp, Sea Otters and Urchins. Who’s Eating Who in Monterey Bay

California's underwater kelp forests are suffering massive declines. But a new study shows that sea otters are helping to preserve kelp off the Central Coast.


California Has a Rule to Protect Workers Against Pandemics. Here’s How It’s (Not) Working

Twelve years ago, Cal/OSHA passed a rule aimed at preparing hundreds of thousands of Californians from airborne disease. Why didn't it protect more people?


Only 2,000 Monarch Butterflies Remain in California. But They Still Don’t Have Protection

Federal wildlife officials say that monarch butterflies qualify to be protected as an endangered species but won't be receiving that protection for now.


Analysis: Trump Administration Incompetence Helped Save Environmental Regulations

Donald Trump had one of the most antienvironmental agendas in U.S. history, says Rolling Stone's Hannah Murphy. However, his administration 'was really quite bad' at carrying out its plans. KQED talks to Murphy about this and what Joe Biden can do to put the environment front and center.


What Is the True Cost of California Wildfires? No One Really Knows

'There are many things under the state's control that we can do to make this problem better,' said Michael Wara, who led the team assessing wildfire costs.


From Condoms to Coronavirus Masks, ‘Harm Reduction’ Has Worked to Protect Public Health

From a public health perspective, pasting a proverbial big X over something is frequently a losing bet. The solution: harm reduction, or allowing risky behavior provided that rules are imposed to lessen the chances of injury or illness.


Millions of Older Californians Live Where Wildfire Threatens. Mostly, They’re on Their Own

The most promising solution is neighbors helping neighbors, so older adults living independently can evacuate in a disaster


California AG Wants More Companies to Be Able to Make COVID-19 Drug

The drug maker balks as 34 state attorneys general call on Washington to step in and authorize more manufacturers.


Meet the Plants! SF Botanical Garden Looks Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for Flora

From rare magnolias to towering palm trees, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a haven for plants threatened by climate change and deforestation around the globe.


Ten Simple Rules for Building an Anti-Racist Research Lab

There's nothing simple about solving racial inequity in science, but here is one place to start.


When Picky Eating Becomes a Dangerous Disorder

People who have avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder are not just finicky about their food. Their phobias can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies.


And Now … Fire Season. This Year, It’s Especially Important to Prepare. Here’s How

With dry conditions and drought, this fire season could start early. Protect yourself, your family and your neighborhood by preparing now for a bad wildfire.


Yosemite National Park Plans to Reopen, But It’s Not Going to Be the Same. Here’s What We Know

Yosemite National Park officials have drafted a plan to reopen as early as June. If approved by the Interior Department, however, things aren't going to be like they were pre-pandemic, at least not as first.


Big Push: Probing Virus Genomes for Clues to Contain COVID-19 Outbreaks

Bay Area researchers are joining forces with scientists around the world to trace the evolution of the COVID-19 virus, parsing its genome to contain its spread.


Warning: That Coronavirus News You’re Reading Could Be All Wrong

From the start of this pandemic, science news has unfolded at a dizzying pace and crushing volume. Scientific research, which usually creeps along in the background until publication day and then pops up to say something worthy, is suddenly making breathtaking international news every few days. The speed of science research has gone into overdrive and the media horde is hungry for answers. Science is meant to be a slow process of asking questions, then submitting the answers to the kind of vigorous probing ordinary people devote considerable energy to avoiding. After that is when the media report the answers—vetted! peer reviewed! confident!—usually with caveats attached: Areas where questions yet unasked are lingering to be sought after. But now, studies on COVID-19 therapies and possible therapies and could-be-someday-down-the-road-if-it-proves-out-in-mice-first-therapies make screaming headlines before the studies are vetted to assess their merits or limitations. As a result, the public has heard some contradictory and confusing results, and some claims that are flat-out wrong. KQED’s Tara Siler spoke with science reporter Danielle Venton about this problem and how to understand the science being reported these days. (Edited for length and clarity.) Why are people hearing so much science that’s not ready for prime-time? Danielle Venton: We're at a time where there’s this brand new problem, a brand new virus. There are so many unanswered questions. There's a huge need for research and a real desire to get it out quickly. Now, what is also true is that science can be a messy process and things aren't always correct. Science has a way of correcting itself, but unfortunately, right now, that process is happening in public. What do you mean by messy process? So many of the normal safeguards have been glossed over in this desire to get findings out quickly. Dr. Irving Steinberg is a professor of clinical pharmacy and pediatrics at USC. He's been talking and writing about this issue a lot, and he uses the analogy of working in a sausage factory where production suddenly had to be doubled because people were so hungry: “You can imagine that there might be some problems that would arise in the back room where science is adjudicated—whether it's in the lab or whether it's in the editorial processes—where the sausage is made. What the public is seeing is some of the spilled sausage out of the casing. You've got this sort of spillage of raw sausage. You know it's a food product, but you don't know what to do with it at that point. It's on the floor. It's dirty. I can't really put it on the grill. Maybe I can put it into a cast iron pan? We've left to the public too many things to figure out.” What could happen here is that the public may begin to doubt the results. And the danger here is that the public may begin to doubt science. Right now, we are in need of good science and for the public to trust it. What are some of the big failures in this pandemic, the so-called sausage spillage? Early in March, some researchers raised concerns in a letter—not a reviewed study—that ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19 symptoms. It wasn’t based on experimental data, it was a theoretical concern based on how ibuprofen works in cells. Three days later, the French health minister tweeted a message saying to avoid ibuprofen. The World Health Organization did the same thing and then reversed itself a day later. More scientists weighed in, and now it’s thought that it’s fine to take ibuprofen. The original worries were based on an incomplete understanding. A famous example is hydroxychloroquine, which was touted in public as a possible treatment for COVID-19 in an early study. The study was poorly designed and later retracted, but we saw some politicians, notably the president, seize on this and just shoot from the hip. Demand surged for the drug, so that some patients who need it for conditions like lupus and rhe...


How Can California Fight Wildfires in the Middle of a Pandemic? In a Few Months, We’ll Likely Find Out

Fire agencies and emergency managers are now planning how they'll fight wildfires, issue evacuation orders, set up shelters and handle power shutoffs in the face of the massive challenge of coping with a highly infectious disease.


Thousands of Bay Area Patients Wait for Surgery as Hospitals Hold Beds for Coronavirus Surge

Elective procedures, including brain surgery, are on hold to preserve hospital beds and conserve masks.


Coronavirus: When Will We Know if California Is Flattening the Curve?

Experts are telling us that staying home is the one way to 'flatten the curve' of the number of cases of COVID-19. But when will we know if this massive change to our daily lives is having enough of an impact?