John Noble Wilford

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John Noble Wilford
Born (1933-10-04) October 4, 1933 (age 84)
Murray, Kentucky
Occupation Journalist, author
Citizenship  United States
Alma mater University of Tennessee, Syracuse University
Genre Science journalism
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize (1984, 1987)
Carl Sagan Award for Public Appreciation of Science (2001)

John Noble Wilford (born October 4, 1933[1]) is an author and journalist for The New York Times.


Wilford was born October 4, 1933, in Murray, Kentucky, and attended Grove High School across the border in nearby Paris, Tennessee.[1] After high school graduation, he attended Lambuth College for a year, then in fall 1952 transferred to the University of Tennessee (UT).[1] He received a B.S. in journalism from UT in 1955 and an M.A. in political science from Syracuse University.[2] After graduation from Syracuse, Wilford spent two years with the U.S. Army in West Germany.[1]

Wilford's professional career began in 1956 at the Wall Street Journal, where he was a general assignment reporter and (after a two-year military tour of duty) a medical reporter.[1] In 1962, he joined Time to work as a contributing science editor, then moved in 1965 to The New York Times to be a science reporter.[1][3] While at the NYT he also worked as assistant national news editor (1973–1975) and director of science news (1975–1979).

In 1969 he wrote the New York Times front-page article about man's first walk on the moon. His was the only byline on the front page, beneath the headline "Men Walk On Moon" and under the subheading "A Powdery Surface is Closely Explored."[4] Upon the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Wilford's article was lauded by journalist Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, who emphasized Wilford's skillful use of data. For example, Wilford wrote, "Although Mr. Armstrong is known as a man of few words, his heartbeats told of his excitement upon leading man's first landing on the moon. At the time of the descent rocket ignition, his heartbeat rate registered 110 a minute—77 is normal for him—and it shot up to 156 at touchdown." Dubner argues that this is one of the most elegant uses of data to have been ever used in journalism.[5] Forty-three years after the moon landing, it was Wilford's byline on the Times' front-page obituary of Neil Armstrong - and a few years later, on the Times' December 2016 obituary of John Glenn.

Wilford won two Pulitzer Prizes, one in 1984 for reporting on "scientific topics of national import" and one in 1987 as part of a NYT team reporting on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He has also won the G.M. Loeb Achievement Award from the University of Connecticut, the National Space Club Press Award, and two awards from the Aviation-Space Writers Association.[2] John Noble Wilford is also the 2008 recipient of the University of Tennessee's Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award (


The following is a partial bibliography:


  1. ^ a b c d e f Klein, Milton M. "Prominent Alumni: Part II". University of Tennessee, Knoxville History. University of Tennessee. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "John Noble Wilford". University of Tennessee Libraries. Retrieved January 7, 2009. 
  3. ^ Wilford, John Noble (December 8, 2014). "Covering Mars Opened a New World". New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2014. 
  4. ^ Wilford, John Noble (July 13, 2009). "On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  5. ^ Dubner, Stephen J. (July 21, 2009). "When Data Tell the Story". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 

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