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 Star in DC.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, DC, 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.

Harris' book Rigor Mortis was published in 2017. The book covers the biomedicine "reproducibility crisis" — many studies can't be reproduced in other labs, often due to lack of rigor, hence the book's title. Rigor Mortis was a finalist for the 2018 National Academy of Sciences/Keck Communication Award.

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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Five years ago, Mary Millard went to the hospital for heart surgery. A contaminated medical instrument gave her an infection that led to septic shock. Her heart struggled, and her lungs and kidneys started to fail.

When Nathaly Sweeney launched her career as a pediatric heart specialist a few years ago, she says, it was a struggle to anticipate which babies would need emergency surgery or when.

"We just didn't know whose heart was going to fail first," she says. "There was no rhyme or reason who was coming to the intensive care unit over and over again, versus the ones that were doing well."

When the first cases of vaping-related lung injuries came to the attention of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer, they knew this was a potential curveball.

Disease detectives, more accustomed to stopping food-borne illnesses or tracking the annual influenza cycle, realized that they'd need a unique approach to take on a health crisis that has so far sickened 1,604 and killed 34.

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When Alex Yiu was born 14 years ago, he seemed like a typical healthy kid. But when he turned 2, his mother, Caroline Cheung-Yiu, started noticing things that were amiss — first little problems, then much bigger ones.

As Alex's health slowly deteriorated, Caroline and her husband, Bandy Yiu, set off on what has become known among families like theirs as a "diagnostic odyssey." This ended up being a 12-year quest that ended after a lucky accident.

Nearly half of all children who develop Type 1 diabetes don't know they have the disease until they end up in the hospital with a condition that puts them at risk of coma or even death.

Researchers in Virginia have set out to see if a genetic test for Type 1 diabetes can eliminate many of those emergencies.

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When William Kaelin was a pre-med student, one professor suggested he get a taste for laboratory research. It did not go well.

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Could the leading cause of death in hospitals be curtailed with a safe and inexpensive treatment that includes vitamin C?

That question has been on the minds of intensive care doctors since the spring of 2017, when a well-known physician asserted that he was saving the lives of most of his patients with sepsis by using a treatment based on intravenous vitamin C.

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The Food and Drug Administration has fired off a warning letter to the vaping company Juul. The company is being warned that it is violating the law by marketing its products as a safer alternative to cigarettes. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

More than a million Americans have donated genetic information and medical data for research projects. But how that information gets used varies a lot, depending on the philosophy of the organizations that have gathered the data.

Some hold the data close, while others are working to make the data as widely available to as many researchers as possible — figuring science will progress faster that way. But scientific openness can be constrained b y both practical and commercial considerations.

Three major projects in the United States illustrate these differing philosophies.

There's an astonishing outpouring of new information linking genes and health, thanks to the efforts of humble Englishmen and women such as Chritopeher Fletcher. The 70-year-old man recently drove 90 miles from his home in Nottingham to a radiology clinic outside the city of Manchester.

When Lalita Manrai went to see her doctor for treatment of kidney disease, she noticed that some of the blood test results had different "normal" ranges for African Americans compared with everybody else.

When she asked her doctor which range applied to her — a woman born in India — he said the "everybody else" category was actually based on a study of Europeans, so neither category was right.

Instead, he said, he calculated "normal" for her by averaging the two values.

A study published Monday suggests that fluoride consumed by pregnant women can decrease the IQ of their children. No single study provides definitive answers, but the latest research on this controversial topic will no doubt stir debate.

Fluoride protects teeth from decay, so public health officials celebrate what has been accomplished by putting it in many water supplies. But Christine Till, an associate professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, also wondered about potential downsides.

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