With deep sadness, our community mourns the passing of Philip J. Hilts, former director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. A longtime reporter and author of six books, Philip taught the news writing and investigative sections in the Graduate Program in Science Writing for years before leaving the Institute in 2014.
A longtime journalist for the New York Times and the Washington Post, in the mid-90s, Philip broke the story of the tobacco industry’s multi-decade cover-up of research showing that cigarettes are addictive and cancer-causing. The work, which ran on the front page of the New York Times, led to a massive federal investigation and the largest civil settlement in history, with four tobacco companies paying a total of $206 billion.
Philip was a fearless reporter who broke major stories throughout his career. His news stories included a report filed from inside an active volcano located a mile below the surface of the Pacific Ocean and stories on hypnosis-induced courtroom testimony, which resulted in four people being freed from jail. His books, all of which are on science and social topics, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology and repeatedly landed on the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list. His book Scientific Temperaments, which explores the private and professional lives of scientists Robert Wilson, Mark Ptashne, and John McCarthy, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Philip served as director of the Knight Science Journalism Program for six years, during which application numbers nearly doubled as did visitors to the KSJ Tracker blog. He added boot camps for journalists on topics ranging from medical evidence to nanotechnology and added training courses in video and audio storytelling for Knight Science Journalism fellows. He was an instrumental teacher within the GPSW and helped shape both the program and the alumni we have today.