Robert N. Proctor

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Robert N. Proctor at the 2009 meeting of the History of Science Society.

Robert Neel Proctor (born 1954) is an American historian of science and Professor of the History of Science at Stanford University.[1] 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.[2]


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.[3]

At Pennsylvania State University, he and his wife, Londa Schiebinger, co-directed the Science, Medicine and Technology in Culture Program for nine years.[4]

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"[5], winner of the Rachel Carson Prize in 2014. [6]

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 [7] to describe the study of intentionally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of intentionally inaccurate or misleading scientific data.[8][9].

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."[10]

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.[11] 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."[12]

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. The family are avid skiers and enjoy the slopes at nearby Lake Tahoe.


  • 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.

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. ^ 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.'
  3. ^ "Robert N. Proctor | Department of History". Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  4. ^ "IRWG director hopes to create 'go to' center for gender studies". Stanford News Service. 2004-10-13. Retrieved 2007-08-12.
  5. ^ "Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition", edited by Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, Stanford University Press, 2008
  6. ^ Society for Social Studies of Science, Rachel Carson Prize (academic book prize) 2014
  7. ^ 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."
  8. ^ 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.'
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ "The Agateer". Research Penn State. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  11. ^ Writers, Tonya Alanez and John Holland Staff. "N-word causes mistrial of suit over cigarettes". Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  12. ^ "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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