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
11:15 am
Tue July 28, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday, Medicare. Your Patients Are Getting Healthier

A Yale University study analyzed the experience of 60 million Americans covered by traditional Medicare between 1999 and 2013, and found "jaw-dropping improvements in almost every area," the lead author says.
Ann Cutting Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 29, 2015 12:20 am

Here's a bit of good news for Medicare, the popular government program that's turning 50 this week. Older Americans on Medicare are spending less time in the hospital; they're living longer; and the cost of a typical hospital stay has actually come down over the past 15 years, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Health
6:14 pm
Thu July 23, 2015

What If Chemo Doesn't Help You Live Longer Or Better?

For best quality of life, many cancer patients who can't be cured might do best to forgo chemo and focus instead on pain relief and easing sleep and mood problems, a survey of caregivers suggests.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri July 24, 2015 11:10 am

Chemotherapy given to patients at the end of life often does more harm than good, according to a study that calls into question this common practice.

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Shots - Health News
2:36 pm
Fri July 10, 2015

FDA Boosts Its Heart-Attack Warning On NSAIDs, Sows Confusion

It's long been known that taking NSAID pain relievers can increase risk of stroke and heart attack.
iStockphoto

If you're one of the 29 million Americans who regularly take ibuprofen, naproxen or similar drugs for pain, you may be scratching your head a bit over the latest word out of the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has strengthened its words of caution for people who use these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, but in a way that may be confusing.

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Shots - Health News
5:06 am
Fri July 10, 2015

Bill To Boost Medical Research Comes With A Catch

National Institutes of Health funding has been flat for years.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri July 10, 2015 12:11 pm

Update 12:04 PM Friday: The House passed the 21st Century Cures Act Friday morning. The vote was 344 to 77.

Original post: The House of Representatives is planning to consider a bill Friday that could give a big cash infusion to medical research, which has been struggling in recent years. But the bill would also tweak the government's drug approval process in a way that makes some researchers nervous.

Despite those worries, many scientists are cheering on the legislation.

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Shots - Health News
1:39 pm
Tue July 7, 2015

Heroin Use Surges, Especially Among Women And Whites

A user prepares drugs for injection in 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vt.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 8, 2015 10:57 am

Health officials, confronted with a shocking increase in heroin abuse, are developing a clearer picture of who is becoming addicted to this drug and why. The results may surprise you.

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Shots - Health News
4:00 pm
Thu June 11, 2015

Got Water? Most Kids, Teens Don't Drink Enough

Kids and teens should get two to three quarts of water per day, via food or drink, research suggests.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri June 12, 2015 2:17 pm

Most American children and teenagers aren't drinking enough fluids, and that's leaving them mildly dehydrated, according to a new study. In fact, one-quarter of a broad cross-section of children ages 6 to 19 apparently don't drink any water as part of their fluid intake.

The Harvard scientists who turned up the finding were initially looking into the consumption of sugary drinks in schools and looking for ways to steer children toward water instead — a much healthier beverage.

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Shots - Health News
3:45 am
Thu June 11, 2015

Data Dive Suggests Link Between Heartburn Drugs And Heart Attacks

A Stanford University study explored the medical records of millions of people looking for patterns. People taking proton-pump inhibitors for chronic heartburn seemed to be at somewhat higher risk of having a heart attack than people not taking the pills.
IStockphoto

Originally published on Thu June 11, 2015 1:19 pm

Electronic medical records may seem like a distraction when your doctor is busy typing on a screen instead of looking you in the eye. But, as a new study shows, these systems have the potential to help identify some drug side-effects.

Researchers at Stanford University gathered about 3 million electronic medical records — with patients' names and other identifying material stripped away — to look for a link between a popular heartburn drug and heart attacks.

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Shots - Health News
6:16 pm
Tue June 9, 2015

Costs Of Slipshod Research Methods May Be In The Billions

iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed June 10, 2015 3:10 pm

Laboratory research seeking new medical treatments and cures is fraught with pitfalls: Researchers can inadvertently use bad ingredients, design the experiment poorly, or conduct inadequate data analysis. Scientists working on ways to reduce these sorts of problems have put a staggering price tag on research that isn't easy to reproduce: $28 billion a year.

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Shots - Health News
5:07 pm
Wed June 3, 2015

International Group Says Mammograms Of 'Limited' Value For Women In 40s

Originally published on Thu June 4, 2015 5:00 pm

A federal health task force that has been criticized for its mammography recommendations now has scientific support from the World Health Organization.

The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer has just finished its review of mammography to screen for breast cancer, and it, too, concludes that the value of these screening X-rays is "limited" for women in their 40s.

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Goats and Soda
5:27 pm
Tue May 26, 2015

How Worried Should We Be About Lassa Fever?

A single Lassa fever virus particle, stained to show surface spikes — they're yellow — that help the virus infect its host cells.
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 6:31 pm

An unidentified New Jersey man died after returning home from West Africa, where he had contracted Lassa fever, a virus that has symptoms similar to those of Ebola. Federal health officials are treating the case with caution because the virus, which commonly is spread by rodents, can occasionally spread from person to person.

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Shots - Health News
3:37 am
Mon May 25, 2015

Multiple Sclerosis Patients Stressed Out By Soaring Drug Costs

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 3:20 pm

American medicine is heading into new terrain, a place where a year's supply of drugs can come with a price tag that exceeds what an average family earns.

Pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts says last year more than half a million Americans racked up prescription drug bills exceeding $50,000.

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Shots - Health News
5:58 pm
Wed May 13, 2015

Smokers More Likely To Quit If Their Own Cash Is On The Line

Originally published on Thu May 14, 2015 3:25 pm

A new study finds that employer-based programs to help people stop smoking would work better if they tapped into highly motivating feelings — such as the fear of losing money.

This conclusion flows from a study involving the employees of CVS/Caremark. Some workers got postcards asking them if they wanted a cash reward to quit smoking. One card ended up in the hands of Camelia Escarcega in Rialto, Calif., whose sister works for CVS.

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Goats and Soda
2:03 pm
Wed May 6, 2015

Smartphones Can Be Smart Enough To Find A Parasitic Worm

The posterior end of the Loa loa worm is visible on the left. The disease-causing worm can now be located with a smartphone/microscope hookup. That's a big help because a drug to treat river blindness can be risky if the patient is carrying the worm.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 7:55 pm

Smartphones aren't simply an amazing convenience. In Africa they can be used to make a lifesaving diagnosis. In fact, scientists are hoping to use a souped-up smartphone microscope to help them eradicate a devastating disease called river blindness.

Onchocerciasis, as the disease is also known, is caused by a parasite that's spread by flies. Thirty years ago, it was simply devastating in parts of Africa, like Mali.

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Shots - Health News
5:04 am
Mon May 4, 2015

Sepsis, A Wily Killer, Stymies Doctors' Efforts To Tame It

Bob Skierski at the beach in Avalon, N.J., just hours before he fell ill and went to the hospital. He never went home.
Courtesy of Jennifer Rodgers

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 12:48 pm

If you ran down the list of ailments that most commonly kill Americans, chances are you wouldn't think to name sepsis. But this condition, sometimes called blood poisoning, is in fact one of the most common causes of death in the hospital, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Jennifer Rodgers learned about sepsis the way many people do — through personal experience.

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Shots - Health News
5:20 am
Sun May 3, 2015

Who Keeps Track If Your Surgery Goes Well Or Fails?

XiXinXing iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 4:37 pm

In order to improve the quality of health care and reduce its costs, researchers need to know what works and what doesn't. One powerful way to do that is through a system of "registries," in which doctors and hospitals compile and share their results. But even in this era of big data, remarkably few medical registries exist.

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Shots - Health News
2:13 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Small Plague Outbreak In People Tracked To Pit Bull

Rod-shaped specimens of Yersinia pestis, the bacterial cause of plague, find a happy home here in the foregut of a flea. Fleas can transmit the infection to animals and people, who can get pneumonic plague and transmit the infection through a cough or kiss.
Science Source

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 2:14 pm

For the first time in 90 years, U.S. health officials say they have diagnosed a case of the plague that may have spread in the air from one person to another. Don't be alarmed — the plague these days is treatable with antibiotics and is exceptionally rare (just 10 cases were reported nationwide in 2014).

And if the plague has become mostly a curiosity in the United States, this case is more curious than most.

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The Two-Way
6:09 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

Big Aftershocks In Nepal Could Persist For Years

A man stands near collapsed houses in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, on April 27, two days after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. Aftershocks tend to get less frequent with time, scientists say, but not necessarily gentler.
Prakash Mathema AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 6:20 pm

Aftershocks following Saturday's magnitude-7.8 quake in Nepal are jangling nerves and complicating rescue operations. So far, there have been more than a dozen quakes of magnitude 5 or higher, and another two dozen between magnitude 4.5 and 5.

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Shots - Health News
2:49 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Personalizing Cancer Treatment With Genetic Tests Can Be Tricky

Sequencing the genes of a cancer cell turns up lots of genetic mutations — but some of them are harmless. The goal is to figure out which mutations are the troublemakers.
Kevin Curtis Science Source

Originally published on Wed April 15, 2015 6:52 pm

It's becoming routine for cancer doctors to order a detailed genetic test of a patient's tumor to help guide treatment, but often those results are ambiguous. Researchers writing in Science Translational Medicine Wednesday say there's a way to make these expensive tests more useful.

Here's the issue: These genomic tests scan hundreds or even thousands of genes looking for mutations that cause or promote cancer growth. In the process, they uncover many mutations that scientists simply don't know how to interpret — some may be harmless.

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Shots - Health News
5:38 pm
Fri April 10, 2015

Clam Cancer Spreads Along Eastern Seaboard

The blood cancer in soft-shell clams poses no risk to humans, but it does kill the shellfish.
Pat Wellenbach AP

Originally published on Mon April 13, 2015 8:50 am

Not every clam is, as the expression goes, happy as a clam. Even shellfish, it turns out, can get cancer. And it just might be that this cancer is spread from clam to clam by rogue cells bobbing through the ocean, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Cell.

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Shots - Health News
5:44 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

Link Between Heart Disease And Height Hidden In Our Genes

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 11:53 am

Shorter people are more likely than taller folks to have clogged heart arteries, and a new study says part of the reason lies in the genes.

Doctors have known since the 1950s about the link between short stature and coronary artery disease, "but the reason behind this really hasn't been completely clear," says Nilesh Samani, a cardiologist at the University of Leicester in the U.K.

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