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Give Scientists Performance-Enhancing Drugs

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    In our culture, performance-enhancing drugs are seen as a vehicle for cheating. For example, athletes who use steroids or human growth hormone are weeded out through testing policies, punished, and publicly shamed. But these drugs are more common than one might think, and their use extends beyond sports--military pilots have been given amphetamines for missions, and some of the most competitive college campuses are rife with illicit use of ADD medication.

    Performance-enhancers are increasingly part of our modern existence, despite our instinct to ban them. So why don't we use them for good? Let scientists and researchers use drugs that boost productivity and innovation. Allow them controlled access to prescription medication like Ritalin and Adderall and, with more caveats and limitations, hallucinogens like LSD and Ayahuasca that have been linked to creativity. Henry Greely, Director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Bio-Sciences, has advocated that "cognition-enhancing" pills are natural for students to take. "Better-working brains produce things of more lasting value than longer home runs," he argues. Similarly, we should encourage our scientists to experiment, if they so desire.

    The arguments against performance-enhancers are the same in both athletics and academics--users gain an unfair competitive edge, and they harm themselves in the process. High school football players ruin their bodies with steroids; college students who take Ritalin and Adderall fry their brains to unfairly outperform their peers. As a society, we're not willing to endorse a culture in which one has to inject oneself with chemicals in order to be a pro baseball player; it's just not worth the home runs.

    But for scientists and researchers, particularly those working on medical advancements, things are different. They're working for the public good. Fairness matters less. If one biochemist or physicist "cheats" to gain an edge over a rival research lab, university department, or grant competitor, it may be unethical, but we should be willing to forgive if it means one less day on earth with incurable cancer or massive emissions of carbon gas. As for health concerns, well, we are talking about adults, and we should be willing to let scientists and researchers make that sacrifice.

    Letting adults use performance-enhancing substances in a controlled fashion would have its upside. After all, steroids worked in baseball--in 1985, Major League Baseball players hit 3,602 home runs; in 2000, they hit 5,693. Throw fairness out the window, and let's see what happens.

    JUN 30 2010, 8:00 AM ET



  1. KingMe
    just because someone is working for the public good (or better said, for what is believed to be the public good at a certain point) does not mean they should be given special consideration. In fact, it might make the situation worse by creating a special group of people that would seem are "above" the rest, with all the problems that come from that. And who decides what is the public good? Pharma companies still have to be involved in research, and once a discovery is made it is surely patented right away, meaning public good is private profit.

    The article also jumps to the assumption that scientists are not working hard enough, or that finding something new/ discovering is still somewhat what it used to be in ancient times: one person looking at the world in a novel way and jotting down wonderful ideas on a paper napkin in a bar. But for some exceptions, this is not the case, requiring dedicated teams working for hours with sophisticated machinery to prove theories that have evolved for years.

    It also puts the general "good" above the safety of the individual, justifying frying one brain for the benefit of the masses. Just because one could work more / harder does not mean he should sacrifice himself, by exposing himself to possible side effects.

    just swims 2 cents.
  2. storkfmny
    I think it should be up to the individual, whether or not to take a mind altering substance. I think it could be very beneficial in science, maybe cocaine or even LSD. WHY NOT?
  3. EscapeDummy
    Swim doesn't know about the incidence of amphetamine usage in college previous generations, but its quite ubiquitous now. There are more amphetamines / ADD drugs being prescribed now than ever before, largely due to the increasing diagnosis of ADD/ADHD in recent years. Swim knows that many of these people are likely to not let it go, as it quite considerably increases their academic performance. He wouldn't be surprised if more and more academics, starting with current generations, kept using stimulants as professionals or scientists.

    LSD was also used by some scientists in low dosages as a cognitive enhancer during the time it was legal.
  4. shivakiva2112
    "college students who take Ritalin and Adderall fry their brains to unfairly outperform their peers."

    "But for scientists and researchers, particularly those working on medical advancements, things are different."

    pr0t0-man likes the article but finds these two sentences pretty silly. What makes a scientist different from a college student? Wouldn't we want to keep those brains working on medical advances from being fried?

    Alternatively, aren't many college students themselves scientists and researchers? pr0t0-man is a university student, but he is also an undergrad researcher collaborating on independent research with some fairly big names in his sub field.

    Meh, just a bit peeving.
  5. xenos
    I hear where you are coming from, but I would agree only if scientists were forced to take drugs to enhance performance. However I don't think that's what the article is suggesting. I feel like performance-enhancing drugs should be available for scientists if they decide to use them and have been educated on how to utilize these dangerous chemicals in the healthiest way possible. Also I think that the dosing should be on the therapeutic level, not producing much of a high(like the correct dose of amphetamine for ADHD). I also think that amphetamine should be favored to cocaine, methamphetamine, and other stimulants for the purpose of adding focus and stamina/alertness. Cocaine seems to have too short of a high and too much euphoria to be used that easily for productive means IMHO. Meth is most likely too damaging to the sleep schedule.

    I also think this would be a good foot in the door for continuing use of LSD, psilocybin and MDMA for therapy.

    I don't see the big difference between college students and scientists either. Theoretically the students would increase the amount they learned during their education which would make them more informed for their future (possibly scientific) future careers. The article seems to operate under the assumption that college is more competitive than it is for public good.
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