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.

Pages

4:23pm

Thu March 13, 2014
Shots - Health News

Google's Flu Tracker Suffers From Sniffles

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 11:27 am

Adam Cole NPR

If you want to know what's up with the flu at the moment, you have a few choices: You can get the latest information at Google Flu Trends. Or you can get the official word from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based on data that's by now a couple of weeks old.

But a report in the journal Science finds that quicker isn't necessarily better.

Read more

4:23pm

Thu February 20, 2014
Science

Scientists Fear Ecological Disaster In Nicaragua's Planned Canal

Originally published on Thu February 20, 2014 8:02 pm

A channel big enough to handle global shipping would require deep dredging throughout Lake Nicaragua, the largest source of fresh water in Central America.
Esteban Felix AP

Scientists are raising the alarm about the possible environmental consequences of a huge shipping canal that could cut across Nicaragua, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

The government of this Central American nation has signed a deal with a Chinese company that is planning to build a maritime shortcut that would compete with the Panama Canal. Construction could begin next year — yet there's no official route for the canal and no assessment of its potential impacts on the environment.

Read more

5:06am

Fri February 14, 2014
Environment

Report: Burning Natural Gas Is Better Than Using Coal

Originally published on Fri February 14, 2014 7:28 am

Methane is both a fuel and a potent greenhouse gas. A study in Science magazine suggests that about 50 percent more methane is leaking into the atmosphere than official estimates suggest. Even so, they conclude that it's better for the environment to switch electricity generation from coal power plants to those that burn methane.

3:03am

Thu February 13, 2014
Science

Ancient DNA Ties Native Americans From Two Continents To Clovis

Originally published on Thu February 13, 2014 8:01 pm

Until recently, finding characteristic stone and bone tools was the only way to trace the fate of the Clovis people, whose culture appeared in North America about 13,000 years ago.
Sarah L. Anzick Nature

The mysterious Clovis culture, which appeared in North America about 13,000 years ago, appears to be the forerunner of Native Americans throughout the Americas, according to a study in Nature. Scientists have read the genetic sequence of a baby from a Clovis burial site in Montana to help fill out the story of the earliest Americans.

Read more

4:29pm

Wed February 12, 2014
Environment

Risky Tech Fixes For Climate Becoming Likelier, Critic Warns

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 10:06 pm

Clive Hamilton's new book Earthmasters.
Courtesy of Yale University Press

Some strategists still see a small window of opportunity to address climate change before the effects become damaging and costly. At least one economist, for example, says we can make a lot of progress if at least half the world agrees to put a price tag on the carbon we dump into the atmosphere.

But some big thinkers also see a grim, potentially dangerous world ahead — one where nations, confronting a climate crisis, will instead reach for a risky technological fix.

Read more

5:34pm

Tue February 11, 2014
Science

Economist Says Best Climate Fix A Tough Sell, But Worth It

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 6:24 pm

The Climate Casino by William Nordhaus looks at the economics and politics of global warming.
Courtesy of Yale University Press

We often talk about climate change as a matter of science. But the biggest questions are really about money. How much would it cost to fix the problem — and what price will we pay if we don't?

The man who invented the field of climate economics 40 years ago says there's actually a straightforward way to solve the problem. William Nordhaus has written a book that lays it out in simple terms.

Read more

3:43pm

Wed January 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

Neanderthal Genes Live On In Our Hair And Skin

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 11:11 am

Neanderthals died out long ago, but their genes live on in us. Scientists studying human chromosomes say they've discovered a surprising amount of Neanderthal DNA in our genes. And these aren't just random fragments; they help shape what we look like today, including our hair and skin.

These genes crept into our DNA tens of thousands of years ago, during occasional sexual encounters between Neanderthals and human ancestors who lived in Europe at the time. They show up today in their descendants, people of European and Asian descent.

Read more

3:44am

Wed January 22, 2014
Science

Ancient And Vulnerable: 25 Percent Of Sharks And Rays Risk Extinction

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 9:23 am

Each year, 6 to 8 percent of the global population of sharks and rays gets caught, scientists say. The fish can't reproduce fast enough to keep pace
Mike Johnston Flickr

There are more than a thousand species of sharks and rays in the world, and nearly a quarter of them are threatened with extinction, according to a new study. That means these ancient types of fish are among the most endangered animals in the world.

This word comes from a Swiss-based group called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which maintains the so-called Red List of species threatened with extinction.

Read more

3:27am

Thu January 16, 2014
Science

An Old Tree Doesn't Get Taller, But Bulks Up Like A Bodybuilder

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 9:12 am

The world's biggest trees, such as this large Scots pine in Spain's Sierra de Baza range, are also the world's fastest-growing trees, according to an analysis of 403 tree species spanning six continents.
Asier Herrero Nature

Like other animals and many living things, we humans grow when we're young and then stop growing once we mature. But trees, it turns out, are an exception to this general rule. In fact, scientists have discovered that trees grow faster the older they get.

Once trees reach a certain height, they do stop getting taller. So many foresters figured that tree growth — and girth — also slowed with age.

Read more

11:51am

Wed January 8, 2014
The Salt

Whales, Dolphins Are Collateral Damage In Our Taste For Seafood

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 10:29 pm

A sperm whale entangled in a drift net. A report says commercial fisheries around the world kill or injure 650,000 mammals a year.
Alberto Romero Marine Photobank

Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals are injured or killed every year by fishermen around the world. And because most seafood in the U.S. is imported, that means our fish isn't as dolphin-friendly as you might expect.

Under pressure from conservation groups, federal regulators are preparing to tighten import standards to better protect marine mammals.

There was a time, more than 40 years ago, when U.S. fishermen killed millions of dolphins while fishing for tuna. After a public backlash, fishermen figured out how to minimize that so-called bycatch.

Read more

Pages