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.
Scientists are trying to determine whether blood serum taken from recovered COVID-19 patients could help prevent the disease in others.
Some studies suggest immunity to the coronavirus doesn't last long. That might have implications for the development of vaccines.
A single test that can give false reassurance sounds bad. But a $10 test for the coronavirus, if repeated daily, would discover real infections, say proponents of such tests as screening tools.
Vaccines being developed in China and Britain are showing promise according to the latest report from those labs. The vaccines stimulate an immune response and seem to have mild side effects.
Coronavirus vaccine studies in Great Britain and China have both reported encouraging results. These projects are on the vanguard of vaccine development, but now they are awaiting large-scale tests.
When scientists revved up the production of an enzyme called GPLD1 in older mice, it stimulated nerve growth in their brains and the animals navigated a maze better.
Scientists have discovered an enzyme that is elevated in people and mice who exercise a lot. They hope the discovery could lead to medicine that would have some of the benefits of exercise.
The surge in coronavirus cases has led to a sharp demand for testing, making labs fall further behind. That, in turn, is hampering efforts to identify and isolate people who are spreading the disease.
Faced with a glut of pandemic research from around the world, scientists are confronting their biases and learning to engage with science conducted at institutions they're unfamiliar with.
Instead of running a coronavirus test on every specimen, a lab combines multiple samples. If the batch is negative, then everyone is in the clear. A positive leads to a second round of testing.