Richard Harris

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris reports on science issues for NPR's newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Harris, who joined NPR in 1986, has traveled to the ends of the earth 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 and the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (for a story about tuberculosis).

In 2010, Harris’ reporting uncovered that the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was spewing out far more oil than asserted in the official estimates. He covered the United Nations climate negotiations, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, followed by 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 of the journalism and science industries’ most prestigious awards. The University of California at Santa Cruz awarded Harris the 2010-11 Alumni Achievement Award – the school’s highest honor. 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.

As part of the team that collaborated on NPR's 1989 series “AIDS in Black America,” Harris was awarded a Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, a first place award from the National Association of Black Journalists and an Ohio State Award. In 1988, Harris won the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award for his report, “Anti-Noise: Can Technology Turn Noise into Quiet?” which explored a revolutionary technology that uses computer-generated noise to cancel out, not just mask, unwanted noise.

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. Under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Harris spent the summer of 1980 as a Mass Media Science Fellow reporting on science issues for The Washington Star, in Washington, D.C.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Area Science Writers Association, as well as past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

A California native, Harris was valedictorian of his college graduating class at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1980. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology, with highest honors.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.