Stanford history professor questions role of historians as researchers for the defense in such a lawsuit

Historians in the News

Four University of Florida graduate students who did research for a tobacco company's legal defense have been caught in a debate over the role of historians in such cases.

The controversy stretches from Gainesville to Palo Alto, Calif., where Stanford University history professor Robert Proctor has publicly identified and criticized historians who work for the tobacco industry. Proctor's discovery that UF graduate students in history were working for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. attorneys led him to e-mail objections to a UF professor, Betty Smocovitis.

Their e-mail exchange caused a legal dispute about whether Proctor tampered with witnesses. Last month, a Volusia County circuit court judge issued a harsh rebuke that said Proctor had intended to harass and humiliate the students to either resign or run the risk of being exposed in national publications...

... Over the past few decades, historians have been witnesses and consultants for tobacco companies. In recent years, Proctor has written about whether historians who lack expertise on the history of tobacco and its health effects should be doing such work.

Proctor is also one of a few historians who testified for plaintiffs suing the tobacco industry. He said the industry was now trying to silence him...

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Alonzo L Hamby - 12/9/2009

As nearly as I can read it, Professor Proctor at Stanford is attempting to intimidate graduate students at the University of Florida because they are doing low-level research for a tobacco company.

I'm sure he would have been equally outraged by the historians who consulted for the desegregationist side in Brown v. Topeka.

Clearly Proctor is an avid defender of academic freedom for everyone who agrees with him--an attitude that is unfortunately too common in academic life today.

Joseph Fitzharris - 12/9/2009

Everyone - including Hitler, Stalin, the Stasi, or tobacco companies - deserves the best defense available, including the best history. To pretend - as Professor Proctor does - that this is inappropriate merely suggests that if HE were in need of such historical research to assist HIM in defending himself, he would refuse it as inappropriate. Right?