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.

Researchers have launched an innovative medical experiment that's designed to provide quick answers while meeting the needs of patients, rather than drug companies.

Traditional studies can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and can take many years. But patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease don't have the time to wait. This progressive muscle-wasting disease is usually fatal within a few years.

Unexplained fainting episodes may be caused by a dangerous blood clot in the lung more frequently than many doctors suspect, according to an Italian study.

Episodes of fainting (known as syncope) are quite common in elderly people. About half the time, doctors identify an underlying heart condition. Other cases are caused by shock or some other passing cause. But many cases remain mysterious.

Generic drugs generally cost 80 percent less than brand-name drugs, so hopes were high when a law enacted in 2010 paved the way for competition among the highest-priced drugs of all, known as biologics.

But, as these competing drugs start to appear on the market, consumers aren't reaping a windfall.

When doctors want to help untangle confusing and sometimes contradictory findings in the scientific literature, they often turn to specially crafted summary studies. These are considered the gold standard for evidence. But one of the leading advocates for this practice is now raising alarm about them, because they are increasingly being tainted by commercial interests.

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Researchers trying to understand diseases and find new ways to treat them are running into a serious problem in their labs: One of the most commonly used tools often produces spurious results. More than 100 influential scientists met in California this week and agreed on a strategy to address the troubling issue.

American lives have been getting steadily longer, and since the 1960s that trend has been driven mostly by a remarkable reduction in heart disease. But those improvements have slowed dramatically. Scientists are now wondering whether we're approaching the end of the trend of longer, healthier lives.

That's because the steady decline in heart disease is fading.

Universities and drug companies that use human volunteers for research face tough new rules designed to make sure that valuable information from these volunteers is widely available, not only to the volunteers themselves but to scientists trying to advance medical science.

The rules currently on the books are confusing and often ignored.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


Sorry, kids. Your pediatrician will probably give you the flu vaccine in the form of a shot this year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday that it doesn't recommend using the flu vaccine that comes as a nasal spray. That's because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at its performance last year and concluded it wasn't up to snuff.

A major study about the best way to treat early-stage breast cancer reveals that "precision medicine" doesn't provide unambiguous answers about how to choose the best therapy.

"Precision doesn't mean certainty," says David Hunter, a professor of cancer prevention at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

That point is illustrated in a large study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, involving decisions about chemotherapy.

Scientists have discovered that a common cause of sudden heart death has been misunderstood because researchers didn't appropriately account for racial differences in their studies.

Dozens of journal articles cross our desks at NPR each week and, like nurses in the emergency room, we need to do rapid triage.

First we scan for those in critical need of attention (they aren't all that frequent). Next we look for studies that are interesting but not essential. Finally, we ask ourselves whether articles that are iffy need some attention anyway, since other news organizations are going to run with them. We figure Shots readers would like to see our take.

Many medical studies involving children never end up being put to use because scientists frequently don't publish the results of their work, according to an analysis published online Thursday.

The findings raise both scientific and ethical issues regarding research on this vulnerable population.