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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.

Cancer can be caused by tobacco smoke or by an inherited trait, but new research finds that most of the mutations that lead to cancer crop up naturally.

The authors of the study published Thursday poked a hornet's nest by suggesting that many cancers are unavoidable.

It's hard not to get excited about news of a potentially effective treatment for sepsis, a condition that leads to multiple organ failure and kills more people in the hospital than any other disease.

But there have been so many false promises about this condition over the years, it's also wise to treat announcements — like one published online by the journal, Chest — with caution.

Biomedical research and public health are among the big losers in the Trump administration's proposed budget.

The proposal promises:

  • A "major reorganization" in the National Institutes of Health, which supports most of the nation's research on diseases and treatments. That includes a cut of $5.8 billion, about 20 percent of NIH's $30 billion budget.

Chemotherapy remains one of the mainstays of cancer treatment, but these harsh drugs are slowly being edged aside in medical research, as new treatments, like immunotherapy, grab the spotlight.

Still, this is not the end of the road for chemotherapy. For one thing, doctors are coming to realize that some of these drugs are useful for more than just killing cancer cells.

When you pick up a newspaper and read a story about the latest results on breast cancer, autism, depression or other ailments, what are the odds that finding will stand the test of time?

The answer, according to a study in the journal PLOS One is: flip a coin.

One of the great treats of following an Agatha Christie mystery (my favorite being Hercule Poirot) is that you know there will be an "Aha!" moment at the end. The fastidious, mustachioed detective will pull together all the disparate facts and present a compelling answer.

Many studies designed to try out new drugs simply languish. They don't attract enough patients, and they aren't completed. That slows medical progress.

But here's a story of one study that has bucked that trend — in fact, it is so popular, scientists had to put the brakes on it for a while.

There's a lesson about one of the testosterone studies released this week that has nothing to do with testosterone: The study on how testosterone affects anemia was designed with an ethical lapse that nobody noticed until the study was complete.

If you think your hearing is just fine, think again. A federal study finds that about a quarter of people between the ages of 20 and 69 who think their hearing is good or excellent are in fact showing signs of hearing loss.

Hearing loss is often chalked up to noisy work environments or to aging. To be sure, those are major reasons that people's hearing becomes less acute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest survey on hearing finds that 24 percent of hearing loss is due to loud workplaces.

A widely used blood test to measure blood-sugar trends can give imprecise results, depending on a person's race and other factors. This test means diabetes can sometimes be misdiagnosed or managed poorly.

Doctors have been cautioned before that results from the A1C test don't have pinpoint accuracy. A study published Tuesday underscores that shortcoming as it applies to people who carry the sickle cell trait.

When scientists first read out the human genome 15 years ago, there were high hopes that we'd soon understand how traits like height are inherited. It hasn't been easy. A huge effort to find height-related genes so far only explains a fraction of this trait.

Now scientists say they've made some more headway. And the effort is not just useful for understanding how genes determine height, but how they're involved in driving many other human traits.

Screening for lung cancer using low-dose CT scans can save lives, but at a cost: Tests frequently produce anxiety-producing false alarms and prompt unnecessary procedures.

A study from the Veterans Health Administration lays out the considerable effort required by both patients and doctors to undertake screening.

"I have heard people say 'what's the big deal, it's just a CT,' " says Dr. Linda Kinsinger, who ran the study at the VA. "But I think what we tried to show is it's a lot more than just a CT."

The first results from a major project to measure the reliability of cancer research have highlighted a big problem: Labs trying to repeat published experiments often can't.

That's not to say that the original studies are wrong. But the results of a review published Thursday, in the open-access journal eLife, are a sobering reminder that science often fails at one of its most basic requirements — an experiment in one lab ought to be reproducible in another one.

Chances are your doctor has stopped taking notes with pen and paper and moved to computer records. That is supposed to help coordinate your care.

Increasingly, researchers are also exploring these computerized records for medical studies and gleaning facts that help individual patients get better care.

A Canadian doctor who is opposed to a widely used drug for morning sickness has fired another volley.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, Dr. Navindra Persaud in the department of family and community medicine at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, notes that an unpublished study that supported use of the drug, conducted in the 1970s, is seriously flawed.

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