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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 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.

If you're bitten or scratched by an animal with rabies, your doctor can give you a shot to prevent the virus from taking hold in you and causing an infection. The same concept is now being put to the test for the coronavirus.

So many people are counting on a vaccine to help end the coronavirus pandemic that any hint of bad news gets a lot of attention. That's proving to be the case for a series of studies examining how long antibodies persist in people who have been infected with the coronavirus.

Anybody who has waited for hours in line for a coronavirus test, or who has had to wait a week or more for results, knows there has to be a better way. In fact, the next generation of tests will focus on speed.

But what should the Food and Drug Administration do with a rapid test that is comparatively cheap but much less accurate than the tests currently on the market? A test like that is ready to go up for FDA approval, and some scientists argue it could be valuable despite its shortcomings.

Scientists say they've identified an enzyme that could help explain how exercise can slow or even reverse some signs of aging in the brain. "Exercise in a bottle" isn't around the corner, but it's not out of the question either.

The idea builds on an observation a few years ago that certain parts of the brain can actually grow, even in older people.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a special challenge for scientists: Figuring out how to make sense of a flood of scientific papers from labs and scientists unfamiliar to them.

More than 6,000 coronavirus-related preprints from researchers around the world have been posted since the pandemic began, without the usual peer review as a quality check. Some are poor quality, while others, including papers from China from early in the course of the epidemic, contain vital information.

The beauty of science is the facts are supposed to speak for themselves.

Federal health officials are hoping to stretch the supplies used to test for the coronavirus by combining samples from a number of people and running a single test. Chinese health officials used that strategy to rapidly test large populations in Wuhan and Beijing.

The technique, called pooled testing, won't resolve the testing bottlenecks in the United States. But it could help.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many scientists who usually have nothing to do with viruses or infectious disease are turning their attention to COVID-19. For example, one wildlife biologist is raising questions about the accuracy of tests that detect the coronavirus.

Last month the White House issued guidelines suggesting a way to reduce the number of false positive results in antibody tests: Run two tests. But that strategy has not yet been validated for coronavirus testing. And the details matter.

Most people infected with the novel coronavirus develop antibodies in response.

But scientists don't know whether people who have been exposed to the coronavirus will be immune for life, as is usually the case for the measles, or if the disease will return again and again, like the common cold.

The Food and Drug Administration is stiffening its rules to counteract what some have called a Wild West of antibody testing for the coronavirus.

These tests are designed to identify people who have been previously exposed to the virus. The FDA said more than 250 developers have been bringing products to the market in the past few weeks.

Dozens of blood tests are rapidly coming on the market to identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus by checking for antibodies against it.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn't set standards for these kinds of tests, but even those that meet the government's informal standard may produce many false answers and provide false assurances. The imperfect results could be a big disappointment to people who are looking toward these tests to help them return to something resembling a normal life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more reassuring news about coronavirus infections among children.

A study published Monday finds that people in the United States under the age of 18 are far less likely to fall ill with COVID-19 or require intensive care, compared with older Americans.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The nation's 15 days of social distancing are nearly over. And while many states have issued stay-at-home orders for much longer periods of time, new guidance from the White House coronavirus task force is due soon.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The toll of the coronavirus pandemic is steep - hundreds of thousands of confirmed infections around the world, tens of thousands of lives lost.

ALISA CHANG, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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