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.

The Food and Drug Administration is evaluating two potential drugs that could help keep people healthy after they've been infected with the coronavirus.

So far, there's no clear system to make sure they would be allocated fairly or how to pay for these expensive drugs over the long haul.

"Demand is going to far outstrip supply here," says Rena Conti at Boston University's Questrom School of Business.

Pfizer, the apparent front-runner in developing a COVID-19 vaccine for the United States, says its results won't be ready until mid-November at the earliest. That dims any lingering expectation that there could be a vaccine by Election Day, as President Trump has asserted.

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

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If you think all the coronavirus news is bad, consider the uplifting story of Don Ramsayer.

The 59-year-old man from Cumming, Ga., is living evidence that doctors in intensive care units quickly figured out how to help more patients survive.

In early August, Ramsayer was helping his son pack up the car for his freshman year at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Ramsayer had been having night sweats and wasn't feeling that well, but he tried to play it down.

If the coronavirus vaccines currently being tested don't pan out, don't expect new drugs to fill the gap any time soon.

Many drugs are in the works, and those that succeed could play a role in reducing symptoms and sometimes saving lives. But, given the way drugs are developed, it's unlikely that any single medicine will be anywhere as potent against the coronavirus as a successful vaccine.

Three new studies strongly support using inexpensive and widely available drugs to treat people who are seriously ill with COVID-19. The drugs are steroids, and the research published Wednesday confirms they are proving to be the most effective treatment found to date.

Updated Thursday at 4:55 p.m. ET

The Trump administration has stirred confusion and concern by rewriting its guidelines for coronavirus testing. Public health experts fear the revised guidelines will lead to less testing – something the president has repeatedly asked for — but the administration denies that.

Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

The Food and Drug Administration's chief has undercut the agency's assertion that it is basing its decisions on science, not politics.

At a White House event Sunday with President Trump, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn used a deeply misleading statistic to claim that a treatment the agency had just authorized for treating the coronavirus would save 35 lives out of every 100 people who get the treatment.

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.

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

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In New York today, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared this news. For the second day in a row, his state did not see a large rise in COVID-19 deaths.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

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

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.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the face of mixed messages and confusion about who can or should be tested for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted updated guidance for doctors on Sunday about when to test a patient.

The short answer is, if your doctor thinks a test is appropriate, he or she can request the test. But a request doesn't guarantee that you'll get one.

Confused? You're not alone.

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Pages