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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The Salt
2:48 pm
Thu August 13, 2015

You Don't Need To Go Low-Carb To Burn Body Fat, Study Says

Low-carb diet or low-fat one? Either diet will trigger the body to burn off fat, a new study finds.
Mahafreen H. Mistry/NPR

Originally published on Fri August 14, 2015 2:43 pm

If you've ever tried to lose weight, you've probably gotten drawn into the argument over whether it's better to cut carbs or fat from your diet. A new study doesn't completely resolve that question, but it does provide an important insight.

Some proponents of the low-carb diet insist that you must cut carbs to burn off body fat. Their reasoning goes that when you cut carbs, your body's insulin levels drop, and that's essential in order to burn fat.

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Shots - Health News
3:52 am
Thu August 13, 2015

Sutures With A Soundtrack: Music Can Ease Pain, Anxiety Of Surgery

We all get by better with a little help from our tunes.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu August 13, 2015 3:52 pm

Hospitals have a free and powerful tool that they could use more often to help reduce the pain that surgery patients experience: music.

Scores of studies over the years have looked at the power of music to ease this kind of pain; an analysis published Wednesday in The Lancet that pulls all those findings together builds a strong case.

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Shots - Health News
1:03 pm
Thu August 6, 2015

States Haven't Embraced Later School Start Times For Teens

Maybe she goes to school in Wyoming, where no schools start after 8:30 a.m.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Sat August 8, 2015 12:51 pm

Here's a number to help frame the debate over whether middle schools and high schools should start later in the morning: A study finds that only 18 percent of these public schools start class at 8:30 a.m. or later, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

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Shots - Health News
5:30 pm
Mon August 3, 2015

Could Your Child's Picky Eating Be A Sign Of Depression?

Originally published on Wed August 5, 2015 1:11 pm

One of the frequent trials of parenthood is dealing with a picky eater. About 20 percent of children ages 2 to 6 have such a narrow idea of what they want to eat that it can make mealtime a battleground.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics shows that, in extreme cases, picky eating can be associated with deeper trouble, such as depression or social anxiety.

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Children's Health
5:31 am
Mon August 3, 2015

When A Child's Picky Eating Becomes More Than A Nuisance

Originally published on Mon August 3, 2015 7:59 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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 Thu July 30, 2015 8:49 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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