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Joseph M. Hilbe (1944 - 2017)

Joseph Hilbe died on Sunday the 12th of March 2017.

Joseph M. Hilbe (72), philosopher, athlete, and a driving force in the advancement of astrostatistics, died on 12 March 2017 at his home in Arizona. Born to Rader John Hilbe and Nadyne Anderson Hilbe in Los Angeles, California, on 30 December 1944, Hilbe grew up in Arcadia, California, and graduated from Paradise High School in 1962. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1968 from California State University, Chico; masters degree in philosophy from the University of Hawaii; and his doctorate in 1988 in applied mathematical statistics from UCLA. In 1990, he retired from his decades-long position as professor of philosophy at the University of Hawaii and, in a major career shift, began to work in the private and government sectors as a statistical and data management specialist. In 1992, Hilbe was appointed Adjunct Professor of Statistics in the Department of Sociology (later the School of Social and Family Dynamics) at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.

In his 60s, Hilbe turned his energies to astronomy, creating the Astrostatistics Interest Group within the International Statistical Institute, which he developed into the independent International Astrostatistics Association (IAA) in 2012. At that time, he joined Penn State in creating the Web-based Astrostatistics and Astroinformatics Portal, which serves the cross-disciplinary communities of astronomers, statisticians, and computer scientists. Its mission: “To foster research into advanced methodologies for astronomical research, and to promulgate such methods into the broader astronomy community.” Hilbe’s leadership at the interface of astronomical research and statistical methodology spurred significant research in this subfield of astronomy. 

Starting in 1970, Hilbe authored more than a dozen textbooks in philosophy, logic, and statistics, including two editions of Negative Binomial Regression (Cambridge University Press, 2007, 2011), Logistic Regression Models (Chapman & Hall/CRC, 2009), and Modeling Count Data (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The latter won the Association of American Publishers’ 2015 PROSE (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) Honorable Mention Award for books in mathematics. Hilbe’s latest book, co-written with Rafael de Souza and Emille Ishida, is the posthumous volume Bayesian Models for Astrophysics Data (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

In 2007, Hilbe was selected as Solar System Ambassador with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. He was Founding President of the International Astrostatistics Association from 2012 to 2017, and was elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association, International Statistics Institute, and Royal Statistical Society. He was software reviews editor for The American Statistician for twelve years, from 1997 to 2009.

As a young man, Hilbe was a nationally-ranked track athlete, winning the national American Athletic Union Pentathalon Championships in 1968 and 1978. He served as a track and field coach at the University of Hawaii during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Rafael de Souza and Emille Ishida, co-authors of Joseph Hilbe’s last book, memorialized their colleague in the online Bulletin of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (August 30, 2017):

“During our long talks—which ranged from academic life, astronomy, statistics, the Brazilian carnival, beaches or the last adventures of his dog, Sirr—we were many times surprised about the limitless energy and the enthusiasm he presented in any conversation. Another precious characteristic of Joseph was that his caring nature was not restricted to humans. As the German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, ‘We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.’ On one particular occasion, Joseph missed one of our telecon meetings, for which he promptly explained the reason: He had spotted a small puppy in the street and immediately ran to rescue it from potential coyote attacks, common in the Arizona area. His unique qualities as a researcher and human being will be deeply missed.”

Hilbe is survived by his wife of 33 years, Cheryl (Swisher) Hilbe, their four children, and five grandchildren.

Arizona State University
Obituary Written By: 
Eric Feigelson (Pennsylvania State University), Alan W. Hirshfeld (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
BAAS: BAAS, 2017, 49, 037