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.

When Merdis Wells visited the diabetes clinic at the University Medical Center in New Orleans about a year ago, a nurse practitioner checked her eyes to look for signs of diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of blindness.

At her next visit, in February of this year, artificial intelligence software made the call.

The clinic had just installed a system that's designed to identify patients who need follow-up attention.

Donated organs from people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus can be safely transplanted, according to the latest in a line of studies that are building a case for using these organs.

Typically, these organs have been discarded because of concerns about spreading the viral infection. But a study of heart and lung transplants published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine finds that new antiviral drugs are so effective that the recipients can be protected from infection.

Regina Barzilay teaches one of the most popular computer science classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And in her research — at least until five years ago — she looked at how a computer could use machine learning to read and decipher obscure ancient texts.

"This is clearly of no practical use," she says with a laugh. "But it was really cool, and I was really obsessed about this topic, how machines could do it."

Some computer scientists are enthralled by programs that can teach themselves how to perform tasks, such as reading X-rays.

Many of these programs are called "black box" models because the scientists themselves don't know how they make their decisions. Already these black boxes are moving from the lab toward doctors' offices.

The technology has great allure, because computers could take over routine tasks and perform them as well as doctors do, possibly better. But as scientists work to develop these black boxes, they are also mindful of the pitfalls.

A recent study that questioned the healthfulness of eggs raised a perpetual question: Why do studies, as has been the case with health research involving eggs, so often flip-flop from one answer to another?

The truth isn't changing all the time. But one reason for the fluctuations is that scientists have a hard time handling the uncertainty that's inherent in all studies. There's a new push to address this shortcoming in a widely used – and abused – scientific method.

Doctors turn to professional guidelines to help them identify the latest thinking on appropriate medical treatments, but a study out Friday finds that in the realm of heart disease, most of those guidelines aren't based on the highest level of evidence.

If you have a bad reaction to a medicine, it might not be the drug itself, but what are called "inactive ingredients" in the pill or capsule.

An article published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine surveys this field and finds ingredients that are potentially troublesome for some people are ubiquitous.

Doctors in London say they have apparently eradicated HIV from a patient's body. It's only the second time this has been accomplished, despite many attempts over more than a decade.

While some commentators are calling this a "cure" for HIV, the scientists who performed the experiment say it's too soon to say that. Instead, they say the patient is in remission.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Smokers who switched to e-cigarettes were much more likely to quit than people who used nicotine patches, gum or similar products, according to a large study.

The bad news: People who successfully quit tobacco were often hooked on e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are considered far less hazardous than the ones you light up. Still, American health officials worry about their addictive nature and lure for young people. But British health officials tend to look more favorably upon them.

Research published in a major medical journal concludes that a parachute is no more effective than an empty backpack at protecting you from harm if you have to jump from an aircraft.

But before you leap to any rash conclusions, you had better hear the whole story.

The gold standard for medical research is a study that randomly assigns volunteers to try an intervention or to go without one and be part of a control group.

Dr. Jonathan Sevransky was intrigued when he heard that a well-known physician in Virginia had reported remarkable results from a simple treatment for sepsis. Could the leading cause of death in hospitals really be treated with intravenous vitamin C, the vitamin thiamine and doses of steroids?

A study published Monday is pushing back against the notion that up to 40 percent of Americans should be taking statin drugs to reduce the risk of heart disease. The study, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, argues that current medical guidelines haven't adequately considered the risks from these widely used drugs.

The youngest children in a school class are most likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, when in fact their comparatively fidgety behavior may be due to their relative immaturity, according to a study published online Wednesday.

A startup genetics company says it's now offering to sequence your entire genome at no cost to you. In fact, you would own the data and may even be able to make money off it.

Nebula Genomics, created by the prominent Harvard geneticist George Church and his lab colleagues, seeks to upend the usual way genomic information is owned.

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