Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

Harris has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis), and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.
In 2010, Harris' reporting revealed that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. That revelation led the federal government to make a more realistic assessment of the extent of the spill.

Harris covered climate change for decades. He reported from the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and including Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. Harris was a major contributor to NPR's award-winning 2007-2008 "Climate Connections" series.

Over the course of his career, Harris has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Those include the American Geophysical Union's 2013 Presidential Citation for Science and Society. He shared the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Communication Award and was a finalist again in 2011. In 2002, Harris was elected an honorary member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. Harris shared a 1995 Peabody Award for investigative reporting on NPR about the tobacco industry. Since 1988, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has honored Harris three times with its science journalism award.

Before joining NPR, Harris was a science writer for the San Francisco Examiner. From 1981 to 1983, Harris was a staff writer at The Tri-Valley Herald in Livermore, California, covering science, technology, and health issues related to the nuclear weapons lab in Livermore. He started his career as an AAAS Mass Media Science Fellow at the now-defunct Washington (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, and is past president of the National Association of Science Writers. He serves on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

A California native, Harris returned to the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2012, to give a commencement address at Crown College, where he had given a valedictory address at his own graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree at the school in biology, with highest honors.

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Shots - Health News
6:03 pm
Wed March 11, 2015

Results Of Many Clinical Trials Not Being Reported

Glenn Lightner in 2012 at age 13. His father searched clinicaltrials.gov for years, to no avail, hoping to find a promising experimental cancer treatment that might save his son's life.
Courtesy of Lawrence Lightner

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 4:07 pm

Many scientists are failing to live up to a 2007 law that requires them to report the results of their clinical trials to a public website, according to a study in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

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Shots - Health News
5:06 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

A Biological Quest Leads To A New Kind Of Breast Cancer Drug

It's a good start when experimental compounds stop the proliferation of cancer cells in the lab. But, as many researchers have learned the hard way, that's just an early step toward creating a worthwhile treatment.
Science Source

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 8:13 pm

Each year, the Food and Drug Administration approves dozens of drugs, but often those medicines don't make a huge difference to people with disease. That's because these "new" drugs are often very much like existing medicines — or are, in fact, existing medicines, approved for a slightly different purpose.

But every now and then the FDA approves a truly new drug. And that's the story of Pfizer's palbociclib, brand name Ibrance, which the agency approved for the treatment of a common form of advanced breast cancer.

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Shots - Health News
3:42 am
Thu February 12, 2015

Smoking's Death Toll May Be Higher Than Anyone Knew

Tobacco smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to die from infection, kidney disease and, maybe, breast cancer.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 9:09 am

The U.S. surgeon general lists 21 deadly diseases that are caused by smoking. Now, a study in this week's New England Journal of Medicine points to more than a dozen other diseases that apparently add to the tobacco death toll.

To arrive at this conclusion, scientists from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and several universities tracked nearly a million people for a decade and recorded their causes of death.

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Shots - Health News
4:04 pm
Thu February 5, 2015

FDA Commissioner Hamburg Grappled With Global Challenges

Dr. Margaret Hamburg will have served almost six years as FDA commissioner by the time she leaves, far longer than the recent tenure for chiefs of the agency.
J. David Ake AP

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 6:31 pm

Dr. Margaret Hamburg is stepping down from one of the toughest jobs in the federal government: commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency regulates drugs and medical devices and has an important role in food safety. And it's a highly contentious job. No matter what you do, someone's going to complain that you're either too easy on industry or standing in the way of progress.

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Goats and Soda
5:19 pm
Mon February 2, 2015

Lack Of Patients Hampers Ebola Drug And Vaccine Testing

A nurse administers an experimental Ebola vaccine Monday at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Researchers aim to give shots to 27,000 people during the large trial.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:39 am

On Monday, the first 12 volunteers received an experimental Ebola vaccine in Liberia, launching vaccine trials there. Over the next year or so, scientists hope to inject 27,000 volunteers. The goal is to test two different shots that could protect people from the deadly disease.

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Shots - Health News
1:23 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

Obama Wants Funding For Research On More Precise Health Care

Harvard University student Elana Simon introduces President Obama before he spoke at the White House Friday about an initiative to encourage research into more precise medicine.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

You may soon be able to donate your personal data to science. There are plans afoot to find 1 million Americans to volunteer for a new Precision Medicine Initiative that would anonymously link medical records, genetic readouts, details about an individual's gut bacteria, lifestyle information and maybe even data from your Fitbit.

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Shots - Health News
4:17 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Could This Virus Be Good For You?

Augustine Goba (right) heads the laboratory at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone. He and colleagues analyzed the viral genetics in blood samples from 78 Ebola patients early in the epidemic.
Stephen Gire AP

Originally published on Fri January 30, 2015 10:46 am

Viruses are usually thought of as the bad guys — causing everything from Ebola and AIDS to hepatitis and measles. But scientists have been following the curious story of a particular virus that might actually be good for you.

The virus is called GB Virus-C, and more than a billion people alive today have apparently been infected with it at some point during their lives, says Dr. Jack Stapleton, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa.

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Shots - Health News
3:03 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Scientists Give Genetically Modified Organisms A Safety Switch

Scientists reprogrammed the common bacterium E. coli so it requires a synthetic amino acid to live.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 7:37 pm

Researchers at Harvard and Yale have used some extreme gene-manipulation tools to engineer safety features into designer organisms.

This work goes far beyond traditional genetic engineering, which involves moving a gene from one organism to another. In this case, they're actually rewriting the language of genetics.

The goal is to make modified organisms safer to use, and also to protect them against viruses that can wreak havoc on pharmaceutical production.

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Shots - Health News
1:13 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

The City Might Not Be To Blame For High Asthma Rates

Dr. Stephen Teach helps Jeffery Ulmer listen to his daughter Alauna's asthmatic breathing at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Alauna's mother, Farisa, holds her. The District has one of the highest rates of pediatric asthma in the country.
Jahi Chikwendiu Washington Post

Originally published on Sat January 24, 2015 4:15 pm

Asthma affects children regardless of where they live and whether they are rich or poor. But scientists have long thought that living in poor urban neighborhoods adds an extra risk for this troublesome lung inflammation. A new study suggests that's not necessarily the case.

Asthma is often triggered by something in the environment, so in the 1960s, scientists started looking for places where asthma was especially bad.

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Shots - Health News
1:00 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

U.S. Funding of Health Research Stalls As Other Nations Rev Up

U.S. funding for medical research by source, 1994-2012. (Data were adjusted to 2012 dollars using the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index.)
American Medical Association

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 8:32 am

Though the United States is still leading the world in research related to diseases, it is rapidly losing its edge, according to an analysis in the American Medical Association's flagship journal JAMA.

If you look at biomedical research around the globe, the United States funded 57 percent of that work a decade ago. The U.S. share has since dropped to 44 percent, according to the study published online Tuesday.

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