The Judge and The Historian

Ramses Delafontaine

Historians as Expert Witnesses Ramses Delafontaine

Jon Harkness

Jon Harkness

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Jon Harkness has largely left his career as a historian of medicine to become a patent attorney at Geiser Law, a Minnesota based law-firm specializing in patent law. Jon Harkness has served for seven years (1992–1999) as managing editor of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, during which time he also testified for the tobacco industry.[1] Jon Harkness has made around half a million dollars for his work for the tobacco industry; $300,000 for testifying and another $200,000 for research.[2] He charged $150 an hour for his litigation-related work.[3]

While at Cornell, he taught survey courses in the history of medicine in that university’s Department of Science and Technology Studies. In the mid-1990s (1994–1995), he also served as a consultant to President Clinton’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. His research focussed on the history of medical science in the twentieth century, largely in an American context. He is especially interested in the history of human experimentation and the development of chronic disease epidemiology.

Harkness has published an article on the policy issues facing the Public Health Service during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.[4] At the beginning of this article Harkness discloses that he has received funding from the tobacco industry for litigation-related work. He did not receive funding for the article in question and the article has been peer reviewed.[5] Brandt remarks in a footnote on the article of Harkness; stating that like other industry experts, Harkness does not explore the role the tobacco industry played in shaping the PHS’s policies, and thus leaving out an important historical factor.[6]


[1] 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, 121.

[2] Proctor, Robert. 2012. Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 475. & Testimony of Jon Harkness, May 15, 2003, Boerner v. Brown & Williamson. Westlaw reference: 2003 WL 25744676.

[3]Testimony of Jon Harkness, as n. 2.

[4] Harkness, Jon. 2006. The U.S. public Health Service and Smoking in the 1950s: The Tale of Two More Statements. Journal of The History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 62, 171-212.

[5] Harkness, as n. 4, 171.

[6]See note 20 of Chap. 7 in Brandt, Allan. 2007. The Cigarette Century. The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of a Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 535-536.