The Judge and The Historian

Ramses Delafontaine

Historians as Expert Witnesses Ramses Delafontaine

Robert N. Proctor

Robert N. Proctor

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Robert Proctor is Professor of the History of Science and Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Stanford, who has testified as an expert witness regarding negligence claims made by smokers against tobacco companies. Tobacco companies have made many efforts to prevent Proctor from testifying in these cases. He has argued that the tobacco industry, relying heavily on historians, has created a new “science”, which he terms “agnotology”, for the creation of doubt and ignorance about its actions in the past. Proctor has surpassed any other historian in the number of cases he has served in as an expert witness: that number is 93.

In a deposition pertaining to Rosol v. R.J. Reynolds from 2003 Proctor stated that he charged $350 an hour for tobacco-related research.[1] The following year Proctor disclosed during a deposition for Ferlanti v. Liggett Group that he charged $500 an hour for research and $600 for depositions and testimony.[2] In 2010 he acknowledged that he had made $600,000 dollar as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in tobacco litigation. Proctor added that he was paid $4,800 by the tobacco industry for or each deposition he did.[3] Later that same year Proctor declared he had made $700,000 as an expert judicial witness in tobacco litigation. He also pointed out that a lot of that amount had come from the 25 times he had been deposed and thus had been paid a retainer of $4,800 per deposition by the tobacco companies.[4] In a deposition given in 2012 concerning Reider v. R.J. Reynolds Proctor stated that he had made around $1.5-$1.6 million as an expert witness in tobacco litigation. He claimed that he made approximately $100,000 a year as an expert for 16 years. That was the equivalent of 40 % of his total income, Proctor furthermore declared.[5] Proctor has acknowledged that he has made between 1.5 and 2 million dollars with his tobacco-related litigation work. He further notes that his remuneration to a considerable extent comes from depositions he gets paid to do by the tobacco companies to enable legal counsel for the tobacco companies to question him.[6]

Proctor has been the victim of intimidation by the tobacco industry who tried to exclude him for further testifying in Engle Progeny cases and subpoenaed his unfinished manuscript of Golden Holocaust in 2009.[7] The book is, together with The Cigarette Century by Allan Brandt, an epic work on the history of tobacco and its deadly product.[8] Proctor has been a very active voice in the debate on the involvement of historians in tobacco litigation with articles on the subject in Nature,[9] The Lancet, [10]and Tobacco Control.[11]

Proctor has been active in over 90 court cases. His research and heavy involvement in tobacco related litigation, not in the least in the federal case US v. Philip Morris et al., has recently been acknowledged when Proctor was invited to attend the celebratory events at the White House remembering the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General Report on Smoking from 1964.


[1] See deposition of Robert Proctor, December 2, 2003, Rosol v. R.J. Reynolds. Westlaw reference: 2003 WL 25885108.

[2] See deposition of Robert Proctor, December 13, 2007, Ferlanti v. Liggett Group. Westlaw reference: 2007 WL 7010907.

[3] See deposition of Robert Proctor, March 8, 2010, Mack v. R.J. Reynolds. Westlaw reference: 2010 WL 5647593.

[4] See testimony of Robert Proctor, September 20, 2010, In re: Engle Progeny Cases. Westlaw reference: 2010 WL 5647599.

[5] See deposition of Robert Proctor, August 22, 2012, Reider v. R.J. Reynolds. Westlaw reference: 2012 WL 4050497.

[6] From personal correspondence with the author.

[7] Schmidt, Peter. 2009. Big Tobacco Strikes Back at Historian in Court. The Chronicle of Higher Education 56, November 13. For the polemic discussion that followed afterwards in The Nation of Jon Wiener’s article on the subject see Wiener, Jon. 2010. Big Tobacco and the Historians. The Nation, February 15. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[8] The following link is an interview with prof. Proctor on C-SPAN, discussing his book. See Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[9] Proctor, Robert. 2000. Expert Witnesses Take the Stand. Nature 407, 15-16.

[10] Proctor, Robert. 2004. Should Medical Historians Be Working for the Tobacco Industry? The Lancet 363, 1174-1175.

[11] Proctor, Robert. 2006. ‘Everyone Knew But No One Had Proof’: Tobacco Industry Use of Medical History Expertise in US courts, 1990-2002. Tobacco Control 15, 117-125.