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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The CDC says almost 1 in 4 American teenagers used tobacco products this year. Younger people have started moving away from cigarettes towards vaping without realizing that vaping is highly addictive. Here's a story from NPR's Richard Harris that we first aired last week.

The Trump administration's plan to ban most flavored vaping products has stalled out, at least for the moment.

Two months ago, President Trump announced he was pursuing the new policy to put a dent in the youth vaping epidemic. The plan was supposed to have been unveiled in a matter of weeks.

But industry pushback and the politics of vaping appear to have derailed that process.

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Updated at 1:35 p.m. ET Wednesday

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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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.

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Scientists are gearing up a major study to find out whether a drug can silence the gene that causes a devastating illness called Huntington's disease.

This development follows the discovery that the experimental drug reduced levels of the damaged protein that causes this mind-robbing ailment. The new study will determine whether that drug can also stop progression of the disease.

It is also another sign that drugs built with DNA, or its cellular collaborator RNA, can be powerful tools for tempering diseases that until now have seemed out of reach.

Sometimes rare diseases can let scientists pioneer bold new ideas. That has been the case with a condition that strikes fewer than 100 babies a year in the United States. These infants are born without a functioning immune system.

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."

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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.

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.

A treatment for early stage cervical cancer that has rapidly gained acceptance in the United States turns out to be worse than standard surgery, according to two studies.

The practice, now thrown into question, is called minimally invasive surgery. Instruments are threaded through small incisions, and surgeons use those to remove a diseased uterus. This technique has been growing in popularity since 2006 and has been widely adopted.

If you are one of the 5.7 million Americans who ends up in the intensive care unit each year, you are at high risk of developing long-term mental effects like dementia and confusion. These mental problems can be as pronounced as those experienced by people with Alzheimer's disease or a traumatic brain injury and many patients never fully recover.

Doctors have gradually come to realize that people who survive a serious brush with death in the intensive care unit are likely to develop potentially serious problems with their memory and thinking processes.

This dementia, a side effect of intensive medical care, can be permanent. And it affects as many as half of all people who are rushed to the ICU after a medical emergency. Considering that 5.7 million Americans end up in intensive care every year, this is a major problem that until recently, has been poorly appreciated by medical caregivers.

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This year's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (ph) will be given to two scientists whose discoveries have led to a revolution in cancer treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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For the fourth year in a row, federal health officials report that there has been a sharp increase in sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017 — an increase of 200,000 cases over the previous year, and a record high.

Federal health advisers say women can now consider three options when it's time for their cervical cancer screening tests. The influential group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, has expanded its recommendations for this potentially lifesaving exam.

The new recommendations are published in the latest issue of JAMA.

Healthy women with normal pregnancies can opt to have labor induced without worrying that the decision will make a cesarean section more likely, according to a major study published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine.

Artificial intelligence, which is bringing us everything from self-driving cars to personalized ads on the web, is also invading the world of medicine.

In radiology, this technology is increasingly helping doctors in their jobs. A computer program that assists doctors in diagnosing strokes garnered approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year. Another that helps doctors diagnose broken wrists in X-ray images won FDA approval on May 24.

Updated 12:43 p.m. ET

Perhaps 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico in 2017 for reasons related to September's Hurricane Maria, according to a study that dismisses the official death toll of 64 as "a substantial underestimate."

A research team led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health didn't simply attempt to count dead bodies in the wake of the powerful storm. Instead, they surveyed randomly chosen households and asked the occupants about their experiences.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a first-of-its-kind drug that reduces the number of migraines among people prone to these sometimes crippling headaches.

Children and adolescents are getting fewer prescription drugs than they did in years past, according to a study that looks at a cross-section of the American population.

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