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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 (DC) Star.

Harris is co-founder of the Washington, D.C., 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.

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 you go to your doctor's office, sometimes it seems the caregivers spend more time gathering data about you than treating you as a patient.

Electronic medical records are everywhere – annoying to doctors and intrusive to patients.

But now researchers are looking to see if they can plow through the vast amount of data that's gathered in those records, along with insurance billing information, to tease out the bits that could be useful in refining treatments and identifying new uses for drugs.

Most drugs have side effects, but sometimes they're actually good news.

Researchers are now exploring whether some cheap and common drugs have side effects that could help people fight off the flu and other lung infections.

New advances in medicine also tend to come with a hefty dose of hype. Yes, some new cancer drugs in the hot field of precision medicine, which takes into account variables for individual patients, have worked remarkably well for some patients. But while many patients clamor for them, they aren't currently effective for the vast majority of cancers.

One of the enduring mysteries of biology is why so much of the DNA in our chromosomes appears to be simply junk. In fact, about half of the human genome consists of repetitive bits of DNA that cut and paste themselves randomly into our chromosomes, with no obvious purpose.

A study published Thursday finds that some of these snippets may actually play a vital role in the development of embryos.

For many years, the death rate from cancer climbed steadily, and the focus of big cancer meetings was the quest for better treatments to bring malignancies under control. Cancer death rates have been falling in recent decades, and that's allowed researchers to ask another important question: Are some people getting too much treatment for their cancers?

The answer, from the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago these past few days, is an emphatic yes.

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