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.

As the coronavirus spreads more widely around the globe, scientists are starting to use a powerful new tool: a blood test that identifies people who have previously been exposed to the virus. This kind of test is still under development in the United States, but it has been rolled out for use in Singapore and China.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tonight, President Trump tried to quell rising fears about the effects of the growing coronavirus outbreak.

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Despite worrisome new outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, the coronavirus disease called COVID-19 is not currently a pandemic, the World Health Organization said today.

In fact, there are some encouraging trends, especially in Hubei province, where most of the cases have been reported.

The epidemic there appears to have plateaued in late January and is continuing on a good trajectory. Dr. Bruce Aylward led a WHO trip to China with a scientific delegation that just concluded. On Sunday, he told reporters in Beijing that trend is real.

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Even though the coronavirus disease that has sickened tens of thousands of people in China is new to science, doctors have a pretty good idea about how to treat it. COVID-19, as it is now named, attacks the lungs. Doctors see similar symptoms from other diseases all the time, especially from serious cases of the flu.

Public health officials attempting to contain the new coronavirus are trying to figure out how easily it spreads. One key question is whether people who are infected but show no symptoms can infect other people.

"If you have a lot of people who [have mild disease or are] asymptomatic and not seeking medical care for respiratory illness but are still contagious, you're going to have a very difficult time," says Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University.

Updated at 5:01 p.m. ET

Last week, we asked our audience to share questions they might have about Wuhan coronavirus, the new respiratory virus that was identified in China.

While there is a lot we don't know about the virus — how the disease first emerged, for example — there are things that we do know.

China has reported a large surge of cases of the novel coronavirus — upping its count from under 3,000 to over 4,500 as of Tuesday morning. More than 100 deaths have been reported. It is spreading rapidly in many provinces, and sporadic cases have now been reported in 18 other locations outside of China, including Australia, France and Canada.

Hope for an effective and inexpensive treatment for the deadly condition sepsis has dimmed following results of a major new study.

Researchers had hoped that a simple treatment involving infusions of vitamin C, vitamin B1 and steroids would work against a disease that kills an estimated 270,000 people each year in the United States and 11 million globally. Sepsis, or blood poisoning, occurs when the body overreacts to infection. It leads to leaky blood vessels, which can cause multiple organ failure.

A medical condition that often escapes public notice may be involved in 20% of deaths worldwide, according to a new study.

The disease is sepsis — sometimes called blood poisoning. It arises when the body overreacts to an infection. Blood vessels throughout the body become leaky, triggering multiple-organ failure.

Cancer death rates in the United States took their sharpest drop on record between 2016 and 2017, according to an analysis by the American Cancer Society.

Cancer death rates in the U.S. have been falling gradually for about three decades, typically about 1.5% a year. But during the latest study period, the cancer mortality rate dropped 2.2%, "the biggest single-year drop ever," says Rebecca Siegel, scientific director for surveillance research at the cancer society.

Alexa Kasdan had a cold and a sore throat.

The 40-year-old public policy consultant from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn't want her upcoming vacation trip ruined by strep throat. So after it had lingered for more than a week, she decided to get it checked out.

Kasdan visited her primary care physician, Roya Fathollahi, at Manhattan Specialty Care, just off Park Avenue South and not far from tony Gramercy Park.

A health-surveillance system put in place after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 has been used to pinpoint the cause of the vaping-related lung injuries that have killed 54 Americans and sent more than 2,500 people to the hospital.

Using this system, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the lung injuries rose sharply in June of this year.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's doctor says he is a "healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

Scientists know that if they transfuse blood from a young mouse to an old one, then they can stave off or even reverse some signs of aging. But they don't know what in the blood is responsible for this remarkable effect.

Researchers now report that they've identified hundreds of proteins in human blood that wax and wane in surprising ways as we age. The findings could provide important clues about which substances in the blood can slow aging.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season is starting to ramp up — and it's not too late to reduce your risk with a vaccine.

But scientists have come to realize that flu vaccines are less effective for people who are overweight or obese. Considering that excess weight affects more than two-thirds of the U.S. adult population, that's a significant shortcoming.

Researchers are studying why that's the case, with an eye toward developing better flu vaccines.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

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.

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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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.

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