WHORES OF THE COURT by Margaret A. Hagen

WHORES OF THE COURT

The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 As its title indicates, this is an unqualified jeremiad against what the author feels is the ``psychologization'' of the American legal system. Hagen, a psychology professor at Boston University, makes a great many valid points. She argues persuasively that clinical psychologists often proclaim the most authoritative conclusions based on the flimsiest of anecdotal evidence, and that diagnoses have proliferated beyond all sense (including such hopelessly vague, utterly unverifiable ones as ``urban psychosis'' and ``intermittent explosive disorder''), and that claims of ``psychological injury'' are vastly overused and have greatly inflated damage awards in tort cases. Yet for all her righteous indignation at the ``unscientific'' nature of psychological theory and practice, Hagen herself is prone to wild generalizations, as in her statement that ``the central premise of American clinical psychology is that the individual at birth is an infinitely malleable lump of clay.'' Surely the author knows that there is no ``central premise'' to contemporary psychology, but many competing schools. Too often, as in her claim that ``most mental health `treatment' is about as effective as laetrile for cancer,'' a statement belied by some of the evidence presented elsewhere in the book, Hagen writes with the kind of dismissive, snide tone more often found among barroom polemicists than serious academics. The author's approach in arguing against all use of psychological experts in courts, rather than more selective and better-regulated use of them, further undermines her case. There are also too many hectoring asides. For instance, Hagen asserts that as a society we have ``lost faith'' in the ``power of the individual,'' resulting in our absolving individuals of their criminal acts. How would Hagen square this assertion with the fact that America has the second highest imprisonment rate of the 15 leading industrialized countries? If Hagen is on to something, her grating, absolutist style makes her a poor advocate for her provocative hypothesis. (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: March 26th, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-039197-9
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997