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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.

Legislation to bolster medical research and revamp the way new drugs and medical devices are approved is on the fast track through a Congress that has had little success to celebrate this year.

The House could vote Wednesday on a vast bill that stretches nearly a thousand pages and holds changes large and small for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

Biomedical research is going big-time: Megaprojects that collect vast stores of data are proliferating rapidly. But scientists' ability to make sense of all that information isn't keeping up.

This conundrum took center stage at a meeting of patient advocates, called Partnering For Cures, in New York City on Nov. 15.

On the one hand, there's an embarrassment of riches, as billions of dollars are spent on these megaprojects.

Patients and their advocates are getting an ever-larger voice in how medical research is carried out. They participate in the design of experiments and have a greater say in what outcomes they care about most — and it's not always simply living longer.

Sharon Terry has lived through a couple of decades during which patients went from being complete outsiders to participants. She worries now that they risk being co-opted by the medical research juggernaut.

What could the world of medical research look like under a Trump administration?

It's hardly an idle question.

The federal government spends more than $30 billion a year to fund the National Institutes of Health. That's the single largest chunk of federal research funding spent outside the Pentagon's sphere of influence.

Policy insiders confronted that question — albeit with an acute shortage of actual data — Monday at a meeting of health advocates in New York City.

You can't choose your parents, so you can't help it if you're born with genes that increase your risk of heart disease. But a study finds that you can reduce that risk greatly with a healthful lifestyle.

Scientists have been wondering whether that's the case. To find out, one international consortium looked at data from four large studies that had isolated genetic risk factors for heart disease.

They identified genetic markers that seem to put people at nearly twice the risk for heart disease.

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