NPR science journalist tells about covering everything from AIDS to Zika

NPR health correspondent and senior editor Rob Stein has covered global infectious diseases since the early days of the AIDS pandemic, also reporting on emerging pathogens such as SARS and perennial threats such as influenza.  On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Stein will visit the University of Georgia to talk about his journey as he opens the 2017 Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard lecture series.

Stein’s talk, “From AIDS to Zika: The view from the NPR Science Desk,” takes place at 5:30 p.m. in the UGA Chapel and is free and open to the public. It is the first of three events sponsored by the UGA Grady College Health and Medical Journalism graduate program and the UGA Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

“There are a lot of parallels between the early days of the AIDS epidemic and what’s been going on this past year with Zika,” Stein said.  “They’re very different in a lot of ways, but similar in that so much was not known and there was so much fear and concern about [AIDS] in the early days.”

During his talk, Stein will explain why specialized journalism matters and how he moved from general assignment reporting to the health and science beat.

“I started off in journalism as a general news reporter and fell into science journalism by accident in a lot of ways,” Stein said.  “I kind of fell in love with it and stuck with it, and it’s led me to all these different stories over the years.”

Stein is drawn to stories that illustrate the intersection of science, health, politics, social trends, ethics, and federal science policy. At NPR, he tracks genetics, stem cells, cancer research, women’s health issues and other science, medical, and health policy news.

Whether the topic is a new set of dietary guidelines or laboratory research, Stein says he takes the same approach: storytelling.

“I try to give readers and listeners insights by telling human stories about how a disease or biomedical research affects people on a personal level,” he explained.  “Even though a lot of times I am covering very basic research, I always try to bring it down to the human scale if I can.”

Before NPR, Stein worked at The Washington Post for 16 years, first as the newspaper’s science editor and then as a national health reporter. Earlier in his career, Stein spent about four years as an editor at NPR’s science desk. Before that, he was a science reporter for United Press International (UPI) in Boston and the science editor for the international wire service in Washington.

Stein is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He completed a journalism fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health, a program in science and religion at the University of Cambridge, and a summer science writer’s workshop at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Stein’s work has been honored by many organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

The 2017 Global Diseases: Voices from the Vanguard series continues with two additional speakers:

March 21— Deborah L. Birx, M.D., International AIDS researcher and former Ambassador-at-Large, U.S. Department of State, who will talk about global efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.

April 11— Richard W. Steketee MD, MPH, Director, Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa (MACEPA) Program, PATH, who will speak about moving to malaria elimination in parts of Africa.

All lectures begin at 5:30 p.m. in the UGA Chapel and each is followed by a free public reception at Demosthenian Hall, next door to the Chapel.

The annual lecture series is co-organized by Patricia Thomas, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at Grady College, and Daniel G. Colley, professor of microbiology and director of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.