Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal reported on the alarming news about the diabetes drug Avandia, which places users at a 43% increased risk of suffering a heart attack. I have a close relative on the drug, so it’s of immediate concern to me. More about the Avandia news here.
Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, the WSJ article reports, started investigating Avandia’s risks in 2006, based on “hints” of trouble he found in prior studies of the drug. However, the article states, he “hit pay dirt with a Google search that pointed him to a trove of study data.” Dr. Nissen then pushed this study data “in just a few weeks” into the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine’s article, to be released in the June 14, 2007 issue. Nissen’s Google search, which turned up an online database of drugmaker Glaxo’s study results, including the heart attack data, was the catalyst for Nissen’s viewing the “hints” as much more serious indicia of Avandia’s dangers, and for the push to quick publication.
If anyone doubts the power of Google and, more accurately, the new “information society,” the WSJ article firmly makes the case. Before Google hit the broad mainstream, I read about it in a 1998 issue of Smart Money magazine, which mentioned it’s astoundingly accurate search results. I tried it myself, and was immediately hooked. The rest of the story is told, of course, in its 2004 IPO and phenomenal growth, its multiple acquisitions including YouTube and internet advertising firm DoubleClick, and its now 55.2% share of the search engine market.
Now, I have complained before that my law students have splattered their papers with internet sites (which typically are secondary sources at best) they’ve mis-cited as primary sources, and probably some of their “information” they’ve gleaned from simple Google searches. Shame. Don’t get me wrong–Google, and the like, are no panacea.
However, witness Exhibit 1. the NEJM Avandia article’s history: both science and the law, in the past 20 years, have undergone a sea change in methodology, and likewise in immediacy and accuracy, that inures to the benefit of us all.
I have routinely (and with little modesty, I’ll claim with much superior accuracy compared to many of my colleagues) been using Google to augment my legal LEXIS/NEXIS searches (and before that Westlaw searches) for many years now. It is an indispensable daily tool when I’m looking for trends or explanations of arcane Constitutional and criminal law issues, and it fills in about 98% of the blanks with either leads that I’ll supplement with further LEXIS/NEXIS searches, or with the simple commodities–addresses, phones, and names–that point me to those subject matter experts who can help me resolve the issues I’m tackling.
I’ll even go out on a limb here. For a lawyer to not make use of Google and the other internet search engines, it may often amount to bad lawyering, or even malpractice. And for you youngsters out there–born in the mid-80’s and later–you may be blissfully ignorant of how much some of your elders have to learn. Law partners, businessmen, professors, bankers–those that are unable to make use of these technologies efficiently are still out there. It costs the consumer, and in my case the client, money: lawyers who don’t use these free services to resolve problems that in the past has taken middlemen, contracted help, extra trips to law or specialized libraries, may pass the bills directly on to their clients.
So when you’re looking to hire an attorney out there, make sure he or she is absolutely fluent with the new technologies. If not, the attorney isn’t competitive. Moreover, the problems can be even more serious: if he or she isn’t absolutely capable of doing complex Boolean searches on the online legal databases, he or she may well be wrong and missing the most pertinent (or even correct) precedent out there in support of your cause.
Most of my colleagues, happily, are competent with the new modes of research. My notes of caution are just that: caveat emptor. Those who hire lawyers should be very careful to research qualifications–the difference can cost money, or even a life. And my point is not primarily cautionary here–it’s optimistic. The changes that have occurred in the past 8 years, thanks to Google and its progeny, have been dramatic and extraordinarly significant, not least of which in the health and legal realms. This new ability to see all precedent almost simultaneously, dating back hundreds of years, has revolutionized and held a spotlight on the agonizing care and great skill that needs to be applied in order to correctly analyze years of precedent.
Hear, hear: these are good days indeed.