Philip J. Hilts, the author of six books and a prize-winning health and science reporter for both The New York Times and The Washington Post, has been named director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships program. He will succeed Boyce Rensberger, who retires this summer after 10 years in the job.
Hilts, whose journalism career began in 1968, was the Times reporter who broke the story of the tobacco industry's 40-year cover-up of its own research showing that tobacco was harmful and addictive. His most recent book, "Rx for Survival: Why We Must Rise to the Global Health Challenge," was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
A long-time teacher of science journalism at Boston University, Hilts will also take over Rensberger's teaching role in MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing.
Hilts said he was thrilled to have the chance to lead the program, especially during the rapidly changing economic environment in journalism and the rise of new media that are altering the craft, possibly in fundamental ways.
"This is the best program of its kind anywhere, and has for decades been the source of enthusiasm and high standards that science journalists look to," he said. "Now it has got even more to do, helping journalists launch themselves into the electronic future, again with enthusiasm while maintaining high standards.
"MIT is the liveliest place for science training on the planet, and it will be a pleasure to give more journalists the chance to come here to catch up on the latest and best," Hilts said.
Dean Deborah Fitzgerald of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, who chaired the search committee, said Hilts would use his "extraordinary experience and energy" to support the many science journalists who come to MIT each year.
"The Knight Fellowships program is a major part of MIT's effort to improve the public understanding of science and technology, and I'm confident that Phil will take the program to even greater heights," she said.
The Fellowships program, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in February, is the nation's leading program for advanced education in science for mid-career journalists. Each year 10 to 12 reporters, editors and producers are chosen to spend an academic year on campus, taking courses. The program also stages three shorter workshops each year for additional groups of science, medical and environment reporters.
Funded chiefly by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the program is a component of the Science, Technology and Society Program in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. It began in 1983 as the Vannevar Bush Fellowships in the Public Understanding of Technology and Science, founded by Victor K. McElheny, who retired in 1998.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 30, 2008 (download PDF).