Reviewed in the United States on January 15, 2009
Overall I agree with the positive aspects of this excellent book along with all the earlier 14 reviewers on www.Amazon.com. The twelve case decisions since the 1930s that did most to erode freedom and expand government are discussed clearly for the benefit of us non-lawyers. An additional dozen related case decisions are also dissected, with still more for context. Addenda explain Roe vs. Wade and the 2000 Presidential vote count in Florida.
The most outrageous revelation to me was that, under Supreme Court decisions, real estate developers could collude with city governments to condemn (or take by eminent domain) perfectly good properties with homes and then lease or sell the properties to the developers for the promise of more tax revenue from the property. Many states tightened state laws to damp down this outrage. Another was allowing established guilds to prevent competition by making testing and licensing the law for such professions as African hair-braiding, flower arranging and coffin selling! Relocation of Japanese Americans to camps in 1942 was approved by the Supreme Court, as were racial quotas for university admission; both were shown to be unconstitutional.
Unfortunately there was one serious error and a couple of minor ones related to science and health issues. The serious one was related to allowing federal agencies to effectively "make law" in areas where lawyers feared to tread, such as medical science. But the FDA was castigated, not for approving drugs of little to no benefit and great risk, but for failing to approve "wonderful" new drugs, the "lack of which let people die" (p82-3). The authors imply that the FDA has done well on avoiding approving unsafe drugs, but the facts disagree. Perhaps the greatest "killing" was done by antiarrythmic drugs, ones that are supposed to make defective hearts beat correctly. Between 50,000 - 90,000 had their lives shortened by these drugs, the worst being Tambocor from 3M. See: Deadly Medicine by Thomas J. Moore, 1995, and all his other books. In comparison, Merck's Vioxx may have "killed" only 5,000 or so.
The complaint listed was slow drug approvals by the FDA, "allowing people to die waiting for the drug." In the four examples given, there were supposed numbers of people who died waiting, the biggest number being 40,000. This is supposed to imply that the drug Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) would have made that number live forever. Contrarily, in one actual study: "The average (median) progression-free survival time was 6.1 months with 5-FU/LV vs.7 months with oxaliplatin, which amounts to a gain of about one month. However, it would be a mistake to think that "progression-free survival" necessarily means that patients live longer. That question is only addressed by the overall survival figures, which record when people die of any causes (including side effects of the treatment). A truly startling finding of this study was that the average (median) overall survival time was 19.9 months with the standard regimen vs. 19.4 months when oxaliplatin was added. In other words, those who received oxaliplatin actually seem to have had their lives SHORTENED by some weeks." See: [...]
Gleevec was another example. "...Gleevec cannot be deemed "effective" in the advanced phase of the disease [CML, a form of leukemia], and there is no reason at this moment to conclude that Gleevec increases survival in CML." However, it is not without serious adverse reactions. As the manufacturer's website states: "The majority of patients who received Gleevec in clinical studies did experience side effects." The most common were nausea (up to 71 percent of patients treated for CML), fluid retention (73 percent), muscle cramps (55 percent), diarrhea (55 percent), hemorrhage (52 percent), skin rash (44 percent), joint pain (36 percent), headache (34 percent), and indigestion (24 percent). Other side effects included fatigue, muscle and bone pain, vomiting and shortness of breath. Serious and severe side effects were also reported with Gleevec, including liver problems and low levels of certain blood cells. According to a company document, 64 percent of those in the blast crisis experienced neutropenia, a serious or severe deficiency in white blood cells called neutrophils; 63 percent had another kind of white blood cell destruction, thrombocytopenia; and 52 percent developed anemia of the red blood cells." See: [...]
The EPA tried to comply (p76) with a legislative directive to provide air quality standards with a margin of safety for 109 pollutants which were said to have adverse health effects at "...any concentration above zero." This flies in the face of scientific findings that most substances harmful at higher concentrations are beneficial at lower concentrations, and do nothing at some level above zero, which is infinitesimally small. See: [...] What happened was that Congress made an arbitrary ruling and delegated legislative power to the EPA, and the Supreme Court said that only a "...certain degree of discretion..." was delegated.
Finally, on p212, related to racial quotas for school admissions, the authors blame disparities in educational achievement squarely on the K-12 schools. While they may deserve some blame, the practical fact is that humans of any race are not interchangeable, and there is such a quality as more or less intelligence in any racial group. I will risk abuse by recommending The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray, 1994.
The mismatch between lawyers and technology and science in maritime lawsuits led to creation of special expert boards to hear maritime cases at least 200 years ago. We may need something like this for technical areas in general. But the problem the lawyers correctly name "dueling experts" would still exist. "For every Ph. D. there is an equal and opposite Ph. D." This is tough to solve, and the U. S. Supreme Court has not done it.