Robert Neel Proctor

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Robert Neel Proctor, Ph.D. is a science historian. He formerly worked at Pennsylvania State University, and is currently (in 2009) at Stanford University in California. He has served as a witness for the plaintiff in trials against the tobacco industry.


From the Stanford University Web site, "Professor Proctor specializes in 20th century science, technology, and medicine, especially the history of controversy in those fields and projects on scientific rhetoric, the cultural production of ignorance (agnotology), and the history of expert witnessing." [1]

Courtroom controversy

Dr. Proctor testified in the first trial of Hess v. Philip Morris in December, 2008. In the course of giving his testimony about a project involving research into racism in the tobacco industry, he used a term derogatory to African Americans, which resulted in a mistrial. Dr. Proctor explained that research into the topic could not be done without using the term. Two of the jurors and one alternate in Hess were African-American.[2] A second trial began in February 2009.[3]

Exposing RJR's hiring of University of Florida students

In 2009, Dr. Proctor discovered that four graduate students in history at the University of Florida (UF) were working for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, a defendant in a case he was involved with. RJR was paying the students $20/hour plus expenses to look through archives of a Pensacola, Florida newspaper dating back to the 1940s for stories on smoking and its health effects. Proctor contacted UF professor, Betty Smocovitis, via email to tell her that the information the students were finding was to be used by RJR to argue in court that "only an ostrich or a moron could have failed to realize cigarettes cause death and injury -- so plaintiffs don't deserve compensation." Proctor said, "In my view this is historical malpractice, and I would be very interested to know if the advisers of these students know what they have been doing," he wrote. Smocovitis answered in e-mails that she was concerned that students were working for a tobacco company but wrote that she had received a "so what" response from colleagues about Proctor's complaint, saying one of the colleagues had said that "if scientists can take money to build bombs so can we." Attorneys for the tobacco companies found out about the e-mail exchange and filed motions charging Professor Proctor with witness tampering and harassment in two Florida cases in which Proctor was testifying.[4]

Harassment by tobacco industry

In the case of Stella Koballa v. Philip Morris, et al R.J. Reynolds (RJR) tried to force Dr. Proctor to reveal the unedited manuscript of a book he was working on at the time, tentatively titled "Golden Holocaust: A History of Global Tobacco." RJR subpoenaed Proctor's rough manuscript for the case. Proctor pointed out that RJR's attempt to grab the manuscript constituted an attack on his private work, an invasion of his privacy and infringed on his right to freely gather information. He said that RJR's effort to get his notes and thoughts before they were compiled into a completed manuscript impaired his ability to conduct research, and -- most importantly for RJR and other tobacco companies-- would probably dissuade other historians from testifying against the industry.[5]

In a victory for academic freedom, Judge Charles Mitchell of the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court in Duval County, Florida, ruled that Professor Proctor did not have to turn over the manuscript of his unpublished book.[6]


Robert N. Proctor, Ph.D.
Professor of the History of Science
History Department, Building 200
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-2024
Tel (650) 723-2651
Fax (650) 725-0597

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Stanford University History Department Robert N. Proctor, accessed February 3, 2009
  2. Tonya Alanez and John Holland N-word causes mistrial of suit over cigarettes: Witness uses slur telling about racism research and tobacco industry, December 5, 2008
  3. Patrick Danner Tobacco lawsuit against Philip Morris going to trial again Litigation. Miami Herald. January 31, 2009
  4. Nathan Crabbe UF students caught in middle of tobacco case's controversy The Gainsville Sun, December 8, 2009
  5. Anne Landman Stanford Historian Robert Proctor vs. R.J. Reynolds: A Lot on the Line,, blog. November 2, 2009
  6. Ryan Mac Professor and Big Tobacco clash Stanford Daily. December, 2, 2009

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