For reasons set forth in an earlier post, the author recently had reason to read Thomas Hager’s The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug (2006) (Demon). Demon is a highly recommended account of an episode in history, the discovery of the first effective antibiotics, which despite its world-shaking, near-miraculous consequences to the most of the planet’s inhabitants is curiously unknown even to the educated.
Chapters 17 and 18 in Demon (p. 207-233), however, concerning the events leading to the passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 which for the first time empowered the FDA to control what medications Americans can make, sell, or take, is curiously unsatisfactory. This is not because the facts recounted therein are incorrect, incomplete, or biased, but because these facts are in such stark contradiction to the chapter’s tone lauding the FDA. That this contrast should have escaped the author, his editors, and presumably most readers is a prime example of certain near-universal, powerful cognitive biases.