Robert N. Proctor

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Robert N. Proctor
Proctor in 2009
Proctor in 2009
Born(1954-06-25)June 25, 1954
Corpus Christi, Texas
OccupationProfessor, Historian
Alma materIndiana University
SpouseLonda Schiebinger
ChildrenGeoffrey Schiebinger and Jonathan Proctor

Robert Neel Proctor (born 1954) is an American historian of science and Professor of the History of Science at Stanford University, where he is also Professor by courtesy of Pulmonary Medicine.[1][2] While a professor of the history of science at Pennsylvania State University in 1999, he became the first historian to testify against the tobacco industry.[3]


Robert N. Proctor graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science in biology. He then took up studies at Harvard University, earning master's and doctoral degrees in History of Science in 1977 and 1984, respectively.[4]

At Pennsylvania State University, he and his wife, Londa Schiebinger, co-directed the Science, Medicine and Technology in Culture Program for nine years.[5]

Proctor has worked on human origins and the history of evolution, including changing interpretations of the oldest tools. His 2003 Three Roots of Human Recency won the 2004/2005 Award for Exemplary Interdisciplinary Anthropological Research from the American Anthropological Association. In his Three Roots article he exposed the racism implicit in celebrating "leaving Africa" as a fundamental stage in human evolution (which he mocks as “out of Africa, thank God”); one of the points of this article was to show that anthropological ideas of human origins—including efforts to answer the question "when did humans become human?"—have been scarred by changing notions of race.[6] Race was also the focus of his 1988 book Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis, which identified the Nazi regime as a monstrous effort to create a biomedical utopia. Hitler was celebrated as "the doctor of the German people" and physicians joined the SS in great numbers than any other professional group. Proctor detailed how racial theorists in Nazi Germany were inspired by eugenicists operating in the United States, including men like Madison Grant and Harry Laughlin, and that one reason the Nazis mandated sterilization of "the unfit" and bans on racial intermarriage was to prevent the US from becoming “the world’s racial leader.” As of 2021, his Racial Hygiene has been cited nearly 2000 times, according to Google Scholar. However, Robert Proctor is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking 2012 history of the tobacco industry, "Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition",[7] winner of the Rachel Carson Prize in 2014.[8]

His 2008 book "Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance", co-edited with Londa Schiebinger, examines the concept of Agnotology", a term coined by linguist Iain Boal in 1992 [9] to describe the study of intentionally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of intentionally inaccurate or misleading scientific data.[10][11]

Proctor is currently writing another book on this topic, Agate Eyes: A Lapidary Journey': "By contrast with diamonds or asbestos or granite or the minerals we burn for fuel, the lowly agate is the victim of scientific disinterest, the same kinds of structured apathy I have elsewhere called 'the social construction of ignorance.' Agates seem to fall outside the orbit of geological knowledge, and therefore tend to be regarded — if at all — as geological accidents or oddities not really deserving systematic study."[12]

A central theme in Proctor’s work is the history of race and racism, a focus of his career already in the 1970s, when he taught The changing concept of race with Nathan Huggins and Barbara Rosenkrantz in the African American Studies department at Harvard. In 2008, Proctor served as an expert witness in a wrongful death suit against Philip Morris and used the n-word in his testimony, triggering a mistrial.[13] Later, in 2019, Proctor again drew scrutiny for repeatedly saying the racial slur aloud when quoting from cigarette advertisements in a guest lecture at Stanford Law School. He responded to this backlash with, "I didn't 'use' the N-word in my lecture, I showed and cited its use in three different brands of cigarettes sold in the middle decades of the twentieth century."[14]

Personal life[edit]

He is the longtime partner of fellow historian of science Londa Schiebinger, whom he met at Harvard. They have two sons together, named Geoffrey Schiebinger and Jonathan Proctor. Before having children, the couple decided they would have two and each would receive one of their surnames.


  • Proctor, Robert N. (1988). Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-74578-7.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (1991). Value-free Science?: Purity and Power in Modern Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-93170-X.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (1995). Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know about Cancer. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 0-465-02756-3.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (1999). The Nazi War on Cancer. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07051-2.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (2000). Adolf Butenandt (1903-1995): Nobelpreisträger, Nationalsozialist und MPG-Präsident: Ein erster Blick in den Nachlass. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften. LCCN 2001375957.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (2002) [1999]. Blitzkrieg gegen den Krebs. Gesundheit und Propaganda im Dritten Reich. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta. ISBN 3-608-91031-X.
  • Proctor, Robert N. (2012). Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520270169.
  • Cross, Gary S.; Proctor, Robert N. (2014). Packaged Pleasures: How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226121277.

Prizes and fellowships[edit]

  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002-Present
  • Visiting scholar, Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung, Hamburg, Germany, 1995
  • Senior Scholar in Residence, U.S. Holocaust Research Institute, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., 1994
  • Visiting Fellow, Shelby Collum Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton, 1992-1993
  • Research grant, National Center for Human Genome Research, National Institutes of Health, 1992-1993
  • Penn State Distinguished Scholar Medal Recipient, 1997.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stanford History Department : Robert N. Proctor". Stanford University. Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-08-12.
  2. ^ "Robert N. Proctor | Department of History".
  3. ^ Cohen, Patricia (2003-06-14). "History for Hire in Industry Lawsuits". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-01-25. Retrieved 2007-08-12. 'The historical profession has really not been prepared for this,' said Robert N. Proctor, a professor of the history of science at the University of Pennsylvania, who in 1999 became the first historian to testify against the tobacco industry. 'We don't have disclosure rules for publications, we haven't had discussions about the ethics of whether to testify or not to testify.'
  4. ^ "Robert N. Proctor | Department of History". Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  5. ^ "IRWG director hopes to create 'go to' center for gender studies". Stanford News Service. 2004-10-13. Retrieved 2007-08-12.
  6. ^ Proctor, RobertN. "Three Roots of Human Recency: Molecular Anthropology, the Refigured Acheulean, and the UNESCO Response to Auschwitz." Current Anthropology 44, no. 2 (2003): 213-39. Accessed September 4, 2021. doi:10.1086/346029.
  7. ^ "Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition", edited by Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University Press, 2008
  8. ^ Society for Social Studies of Science, Rachel Carson Prize (academic book prize) 2014
  9. ^ Proctor writes in the postcript to his book "Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, p. 27, that "My hope for devising a new term was to suggest...the historicity and artifactuality of non-knowing and the non-known - and the potential fruitfulness of studying such things. In 1992 I posed this challenge to linguist Iain Boal, and it was he who came up with the term in the spring of that year."
  10. ^ Arenson, Karen W (2006-08-22). "What Organizations Don't Want to Know Can Hurt". New York Times. 'there is a lot more protectiveness than there used to be,' said Dr.Proctor, who is shaping a new field, the study of ignorance, which he calls agnotology. 'It is often safer not to know.'
  11. ^ Kreye, Andrian (2007). "We Will Overcome Agnotology (The Cultural Production Of Ignorance)". The Edge World Question Center 2007. Edge Foundation. p. 6. Retrieved 2007-08-12. This is about a society's choice between listening to science and falling prey to what Stanford science historian Robert N. Proctor calls agnotology (the cultural production of ignorance)
  12. ^ "The Agateer". Research Penn State. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  13. ^ Writers, Tonya Alanez and John Holland Staff. "N-word causes mistrial of suit over cigarettes". Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  14. ^ "Professor's Use Of Racial Slur Sparks Backlash At Stanford". Palo Alto, CA Patch. 2019-12-13. Retrieved 2020-05-25.

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