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April 10, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

20 percent of academics surveyed by Nature are abusing neuroenhancers.
Calling R.U. Sirius...
posted by mecran01 (78 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
And an amusing snippet of an interview with R.U. Sirius, who wrote about smart drugs a long time ago:

R.U. Sirius unplugged--Technoccult:

"S: You wrote about smart drugs years ago, do you still take any of that stuff?

RU: No, actually I’ve had stomach problems for a number of years. I’ve found that I can’t take most of those drugs. I certainly can’t take them regularly.

S: What did you feel worked for you, though?

RU: Oh I can’t remember of course. DMAE, I remember being one that was interesting. There was one that came in liquid drops, Deprenyl… quite good! Hydergine definitely — if you take it every day — sharpens up your memory. It was very closely related to LSD, actually."

posted by mecran01 at 7:37 PM on April 10, 2008


I see this contrived storm of condemnation over academics using mind-enhancing substances, but it just doesn't fly. It's one thing for athletes to use steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs for personal gain in competition, but scientists are working to advance the fundamental knowledge base of the human species. If they harm themselves in the process of getting smarter and making new discoveries, it's more of a form of self-sacrifice for the greater good than some short-sighted form of greed. I really have a hard time condemning them for it.
posted by mullingitover at 7:46 PM on April 10, 2008 [11 favorites]


So 201 smart drug-using academics got their drugs from a prescription, a pharmacy, or the internet, while 1227 did not answer, and Nature can't put 2 and 2 together and put a huge whopping "got them from a drug dealer like a normal person" slice in the chart.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:54 PM on April 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


I can see where you're coming from, mullingitover. However, if by "harming themselves", they actually have to quit their careers early (or die?), then the drugs may have shortened an otherwise long and useful research career. Maybe this isn't likely, I don't know.
posted by Jimbob at 7:55 PM on April 10, 2008


So, the two most commonly used so-called cgnitive enhancers reported used are ritalin and adderal. Stimulants. Which aren't exactly hydergine, DMAE or piracetam, podnuh. Those are not your father R. U. Sirus's smart drugs.
posted by y2karl at 7:55 PM on April 10, 2008


More like R.U. Starbucks.
posted by y2karl at 7:56 PM on April 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Abusing?" Do they all have nasty habits? Are they breaking into liquor stores for cash to fuel their rapidly expanding brains?
posted by mek at 7:56 PM on April 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, and it appears that THC may prevent Alzheimer's, so I was going to complain about the title being misleading but it turns out that it might not be.
posted by mullingitover at 8:02 PM on April 10, 2008


No, instead of liquor stores, it's mostly cracking private encryption algorithms, building secret death rays for power-mad dictators with too much cash, and sneaking into newspaper distribution outlets to do all of the crosswords in pen.

The Big Score will be when they ask for their Nobel prize money to be paid entirely in piracetam and adrafinil.
posted by adipocere at 8:06 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Neuroenhancers? You mean, like Eliot Spitzer's call girl? Is it ok as long as the 'neuroenhancers' are of legal age?
posted by grounded at 8:11 PM on April 10, 2008


Slightly widening the focus of this thread: it's not a bad idea to bookmark this site and visit it from time to time: Science and Consciousness.
posted by kozad at 8:18 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


"scientists are working to advance the fundamental knowledge base of the human species."

Yeah, because pressure to publish, a desire for esteem, tenure, rewards, and fame wouldn't the real motivation for the majority of scientists
posted by oddman at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


What excuses do the 80% who aren't using neuroenhancers offer?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:38 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


"20 percent of academics surveyed by Nature are abusing neuroenhancers."

Yeah, pb? I don't think this is a big enough issue for MeTa, but I need to report a bug. The timestamp on this post is about 15 years too early.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:39 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


oddman writes "Yeah, because pressure to publish, a desire for esteem, tenure, rewards, and fame wouldn't the real motivation for the majority of scientists"

Cure for leukemia > New record time in the 100 meter dash. I really don't care about what the motivation was.
posted by mullingitover at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


50% of Metafilter users are abusing using neuroenhancers.

...BUT I WON'T TELL WHOOOOOOO!!!
posted by LordSludge at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2008


Oookay, Mr. Grad School Overachiever, keep telling yourself you're going to get back around to that thesis five years from now when you're holed up in "your office" at the pay by the hour motel smoking shitty bathtub crank out of a hollowed out lightbulb.
posted by The Straightener at 8:53 PM on April 10, 2008


And an amusing snippet of an interview with R.U. Sirius

Young Einstein himself?
posted by dgaicun at 9:09 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was an "informal online poll" - I don't think that the 20% number would be anything that should be published in a journal like... whoops.

You can download the data, btw.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:09 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your grandfather's neuroenhancer is your scourge on society.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


If pizza and beer and occasional weed count as neuroenhancers, then all the scientists I know get really smart very often. That there was this whole other side eluded me. Interesting post!
posted by not_on_display at 9:19 PM on April 10, 2008


feel good hit of the semester!

Cure for leukemia > New record time in the 100 meter dash. I really don't care about what the motivation was.
posted by mullingitover at 8:40 PM on April 10 [2 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]


Agreed. Anyone see any reason why we shouldn't hop our researchers up on pheny-propyl-whatever and let them scrabble breaker to beaker for dwindling grant money? C'mon, its the american way!

stock portfolio > cure for leukemia > disposable research scientist
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 9:38 PM on April 10, 2008


Mate to stay up, kava for anxiety, and Ginkgo biloba so I remember to drink my mate and kava.

Better living through (gentle) chemistry.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:39 PM on April 10, 2008


Is this the entheogen thread?
posted by vrakatar at 9:39 PM on April 10, 2008


Cure for leukemia > New record time in the 100 meter dash. I really don't care about what the motivation was.

Ends justify the means. And so it goes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 PM on April 10, 2008


So... they're being put on this stuff against their will? Cause that could be an end justifies the means argument.

Otherwise, I'm thinking some of you are having difficulty with individual choice, here.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:55 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Adderall Me: My Romance with ADHD Meds
posted by jcruelty at 11:08 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Paul Erdös (1913-1996), "the man who loved only numbers", was one of the most brilliant and prolific mathematicians of the twentieth century. Erdös spent much of his restless life on psychostimulants.
posted by Tube at 11:15 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


To me this is different than athletes using steroids in that

Cure for leukemia > New record time in the 100 meter dash. I really don't care about what the motivation was.

Ends justify the means. And so it goes.


Really though? Wouldn't the means be the way in which the cure is found? Whether the scientist is motivated by pure altruism, fame, or buckets of money, the result is still that the disease is cured.
posted by !Jim at 11:29 PM on April 10, 2008


Whether the scientist is motivated by pure altruism, fame, or buckets of money, the result is still that the disease is cured.

Results of Death-Camp Experiments: Should They Be Used?

Don't get me wrong, on the scale of things, altruism, fame and buckets of money are relatively harmless means to an end.

I'm uncertain where drug-modified neurochemistry fits in there, though. And given past Nazi concentration camp experiments, I have to immediately question the ethical "logic" of the cure-at-any-cost mindset. Ends do not always absolve the means. And where they are used to absolve heinous means, some thoughtful introspection is perhaps a good idea.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:37 PM on April 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


This does not surprise me at all.
Grad students? Prly doin' it more.
Undergrads? Yup.
posted by k8t at 11:50 PM on April 10, 2008


From the Article:

Reported side effects included headaches, jitteriness, anxiety and sleeplessness.

OH NOES!!! THEY'RE ALL GOING TO DIES!!!

Gimme a break. The article was specifically talking about stimulants (Adderal) that happen to sharpen concentration, not smart drugs.

Personally, I can't take any kind stimulants. I drink some coffe at 8:00 in the morning and I'll be up till 3:00 am the next morning. And I'll have those same side effects.
I've also taken various smart drugs. They are stimulants, thus I don't take them anymore. I've never heard any reported negative side effects associated with them, but I bet you could take too much just like any other drug.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:20 AM on April 11, 2008


Blazecock Pileon writes "Results of Death-Camp Experiments: Should They Be Used?"

this is a total derail, so please don't reply or even read this comment.

[derail]
Abso-fucking-lutely. It would be pissing on the graves of the victims to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, those responsible for the wildly unethical experiments should be/should've been brought to swift and merciless justice. Personally, if I ever see MacArthur's grave, I'll do my best to empty my bowels on it for his pardon of the Unit 731 doctors. But if the knowledge that comes from the aftermath could save one life, what the fuck is to be gained by destroying it? That's just perpetuating the tragedy, and it's sick. on How is this even an ethical dilemma?
[/derail]
posted by mullingitover at 12:55 AM on April 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yes, BP, I get your point about means to an end. However, nootropics in comparison to...I don't even know how to describe the wartime experiments of the Nazis and Japanese as anything other than horror movie plot fodder...it's apples and oranges. (Although for Shiro Ishii, the Unit 731 ringleader, it apparently translated nicely into resume fodder and got him a bioweapons research job in Maryland after the war. Why aren't you wearing your flag lapel pin?)
posted by mullingitover at 1:13 AM on April 11, 2008


Personally, I can't take any kind stimulants. I drink some coffe at 8:00 in the morning and I'll be up till 3:00 am the next morning. And I'll have those same side effects.

Either your liver is so horrifyingly ineffective that you should be dead by now, or you've got some serious psychosomatic issues.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:35 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are certainly people with normal/healthy liver function who just happen to metabolize caffeine very slowly. Half-lives of over 15 hours are totally possible in normal/healthy people. If you drank a big cup of coffee at 8, that would still leave you with a soda's worth of caffeine at 3.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:45 AM on April 11, 2008


There was a lovely article I read once by an amateur cyclist who briefly saw a read doctor who proscribes performance enhancers for professional athletes. Anyone got the link? It pointed out a few drugs which were pretty harmless but had profound if subtle positive effect, notably human growth hormone.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:02 AM on April 11, 2008


Wait, what? Smoking dope slows down Alzheimer's? Does Terry Pratchett know?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:20 AM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Seems HGH doesn't list many mental benefits, although I've heard claims of those and improved eyesight, but it does have carpal tunnel syndrome as a possible side effect.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:29 AM on April 11, 2008


50% of Metafilter users are abusing using neuroenhancers.
...BUT I WON'T TELL WHOOOOOOO!!!


That's OK, I already know, thanks to my giant brain... Oh, crap, I've said too much!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:31 AM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wait, what? Smoking dope slows down Alzheimer's? Does Terry Pratchett know?

Have you read his work? I'm pretty sure he does.
posted by kjs3 at 6:05 AM on April 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


If you would like to know more, Here's the Immortality Institute's Research and Suppliers page.
posted by Orb2069 at 6:36 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


So... they're being put on this stuff against their will? Cause that could be an end justifies the means argument.

Otherwise, I'm thinking some of you are having difficulty with individual choice, here.
The angle I was taking was more about the hypocrisy in saying that it's different from performance enhancing drugs used in athletics. Science isn't all about altruistic motivation for the greater good of the human race, as oddman points out. Once it becomes about personal gain, it's silly to categorize scientists differently from professional athletes in your praise or condemnation of their behavior.
posted by Brak at 7:16 AM on April 11, 2008


Not only are these guys absolutely brilliant, their bathrooms sparkle with a toothbrush-scrubbed high gloss that's practically radioactive.
posted by The Straightener at 7:27 AM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here's a link to a FPP that I should have just posted here

Let me know what you think.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:27 AM on April 11, 2008



I just submitted a paper to Nature myself: "Emergent behavior and self-organization into social networks of all these bugs under my fucking skin."
posted by logicpunk at 7:43 AM on April 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


"HOW THE FEDS IMPLANTED CAMERAS IN MY EYEBALLS, A META-ANALYSIS OF DATA FROM 45 STUDIES."
posted by The Straightener at 7:54 AM on April 11, 2008


I'm curious about the correlation of "cognitive enhancement" drug use with age. A cursory look at the charted data suggests that something happens in the 45-55 age range that makes scientists decide it's not such a bad idea after all.
posted by owhydididoit at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The word "abusing" appears nowhere in the linked article, thanks for adding it. The word "abuse" appears twice on the page, and only once in the article--as part of an organization's title.
posted by 534154414E at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2008


The caffeine in coffee and tea (and mate, etc...) does not count as a(PDF) neuroenhancer, of course.

After all, a mathematician must be more than a device for turning coffee into theorems.
posted by bonehead at 8:12 AM on April 11, 2008


I really don't understand the notion that there's hypocrisy in distinguishing between sports and life. Sports uses a set of arbitrary rules prohibiting the use of certain performance-enhancing substances to try to achieve a level playing field. Life does not.

In a bicycle race, I'd get to the finish line faster by doping up on EPO. I'd also get there faster by riding a motorcycle. In either case, I'd be violating the arbitrary set of rules laid out for bicycle races, and I'd be rightly censured for doing so. Now I show up to the bicycle course later, outside of the context of a bicycle race and outside of its rules. I still want to get to the finish line faster. Is it unfair to use EPO or ride a motorcycle?

Suppose I'm racing another researcher to finish experiments. The first one to finish gets to publish first and wins prizes and rewards. I work 22 hour days on modafinil and coffee, and my rival takes the natural route and goes home at 5 every night. I finish first, I win, I get the prize. Unfair? I don't think so. But then, I'll take any advantage I can get to be better at what I do, so maybe I'm just sensitive to criticism in this area.
posted by bepe at 8:30 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, I don't remember the first time I broke into someone's house and stole their DVD player so that I could sell it and score some neuroenhancers, but I remember the last time; they were still home, and the guy tried to menace me with a baseball bat, but I thought quickly and distracted him by doing his taxes and reprogramming his computer to automatically calculate the statistical likelihoods of success based on 342 different factors of the teams in his next fantasy football league, and while he lay stunned on the ground I quickly grabbed his stereo and ran.
posted by quin at 9:03 AM on April 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm generally fine with scientists taking whatever they want as long as it doesn't make them dangerous, and if they do better research, that's great, because the goal in research is the results, not whether you broke the rules to get there, as long as you aren't doing evil along the way. (Whereas athletes are supposed to be the best examples of human physical development, not the best examples of human beings + chemistry sets + inserted springs and motors + grafted animal parts. A guy with synthetic muscle and tendon inserts and a carbon fiber skeleton and a built-in adrenalin pump may be a good RoboCop, but is he a fair candidate for the Olympics?)

BUT. Suppose the only way to get ahead in the sciences (or any other field) was to take fistfuls of possibly debilitating drugs. (I'm not talking about these drugs in particular; I don't know much about them.) Let's say it's your profession and the only people getting raises and promotions are the people burning out their brains and livers with stuff that keeps them working longer hours than the average employee can handle. They do great work, get money and fame, and then die at maybe 50. Do you (naturally smart but not quite up to the level of smart + drugs) settle for driving the bus and let the drug-takers get all the good jobs and prizes? Are you being pressured to join them in shortening their lives for the sake of success? That sort of situation would be worth worrying about.
posted by pracowity at 9:05 AM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Whereas athletes are supposed to be the best examples of human physical development


What's interesting about doping in sports is that probably soon enough you'll be able to genetically engineer your children for athletic prowess.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:11 AM on April 11, 2008


soon enough you'll be able to genetically engineer your children for athletic prowess.

Yes. Or a rich couple (with corporate sponsorship?) could buy Michael Jordan's sperm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee's eggs, pay some women to carry several superbabies to term, adopt them all, and cash in a couple of decades later with their own team of sports professionals.

But if it doesn't seem fair, it probably isn't. Aren't people still supposed to be fair in sports? Or is that old-fashioned now?
posted by pracowity at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2008


Jeffburdges here is the article you mentioned
posted by flummox at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2008


I like various omega oils (DHA, etc.), folic acid with b12, Ginkgo, and keeping away from sugar. Seems to help me focus but doesn't allow for those 22 hour days so much. I'm in the humanities so there's a lot less at stake, of course.
posted by mecran01 at 9:47 AM on April 11, 2008


Suppose I'm racing another researcher to finish experiments. The first one to finish gets to publish first and wins prizes and rewards. I work 22 hour days on modafinil and coffee, and my rival takes the natural route and goes home at 5 every night. I finish first, I win, I get the prize. Unfair? I don't think so.

Unfair? Unless you live alone, yes, to your household, who surely must pay dearly for your personal negligence.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:55 AM on April 11, 2008


I know where this leads.

Two things: First off, I could have sworn that I saw this study already on Metafilter. Maybe in the comments of another thread?

Second, boy, I could use some of that brain juice so that I could remember where I saw that.

(Third, aside from the Ritalin etc., where would you even get the RU Serious shit?)
posted by klangklangston at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've never been able to quantify it, but I know that I feel at least ten IQ points smarter when I get 20+ minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise on a daily basis. I wouldn't be surprised if exercise was actually more effective in enhancing intelligence than most nootropics. Of course, in combination with...
posted by mullingitover at 10:35 AM on April 11, 2008


bepe writes "Suppose I'm racing another researcher to finish experiments. The first one to finish gets to publish first and wins prizes and rewards. I work 22 hour days on modafinil and coffee, and my rival takes the natural route and goes home at 5 every night. "

So you're saying two scientists are racing for the good of all mankind? Both of them side by side? So determined? Locked in heated battle for the cure that is the prize? But it's so dangerous!
posted by mullingitover at 10:41 AM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


But if it doesn't seem fair, it probably isn't. Aren't people still supposed to be fair in sports? Or is that old-fashioned now?

Fair is a vague target. Back in the day, practicing for a sport was considered a bit unfair, as it gave an advantage over those who weren't. Today, is it fair that some athletes have better genes for their sport?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:43 AM on April 11, 2008


Forget R.U. Sirius. I blame Jessie Spano.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't believe somebody at Nature (Nature!) took the time to actually produce three fancy-looking charts and various statistical breakdowns of completely meaningless data from an online poll.
posted by whir at 11:25 AM on April 11, 2008


Either your liver is so horrifyingly ineffective that you should be dead by now, or you've got some serious psychosomatic issues.

Or your intake of caffeine is so high and you've been drinking coffee for so long that you don't realize the effects it has on your body. Then again, I do have psychomatic responses to douchebags in forums so kudos to you on that one.

where would you even get the RU Serious shit?

If you type in "nootropics" into google you could probably find a reputable online dealer overseas.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:43 AM on April 11, 2008


You guys think this is shocking, I was just reading about how over 80 percent of Navigators are Spice abusers.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't even know how to describe the wartime experiments of the Nazis and Japanese as anything other than horror movie plot fodder...it's apples and oranges.

A "smarter" if completely unethical way to more quickly find a cure for leukemia is to get more subjects on which to test new drugs.

A horridly unethical, but vastly more intelligent scientist would dose thousands of orphaned children with high levels of radiation, select for cancer patients from the survivors and start administering a battery of therapies to select the best treatment from the batch.

Now, this is a "fast" way to a cure. From the standpoint of statistics, trying a batch of different therapies on a massive sample size of similar cancer patients is, combinatorially, an intelligent approach to solving that kind of problem. Even better is if you don't have to worry about whether the patients live or die, only what the experiment proves, so full speed ahead.

Ridiculous strawman, right? But this is the sort of thing we have had war crime tribunals over, because no one in their right mind would ever propose it, let alone carry it out.

Yet again and again we have often had in history a number of smart people who are not in their right minds doing this sort of stuff, some of them as recently as 35 years ago in this country!

Here's another example that is grounded a bit more in what you and I may have to experience on a personal level: collecting evidence for use in criminal trials. It's smart to get criminals off the streets. Very smart. Who wants to live in fear of being a victim of violent crime, right? But you can't simply coerce statements out of the defendant or witnesses, or falsify evidence to implicate the defendant. There are standards for collecting and presenting evidence.

If we want to get all criminals off the street, it's smart to accept that we may pick some false positives by not being as picky about the evidence. Ethically, however, we've decided that some number of false positives are too many and that standards of evidence matter, generally because that false positive assertion of guilt happens from bad luck (sorry, but your jury of peers was made up of racists) or by the deliberate hand of the state (imprisoning political prisoners, for example), etc.

Ultimately, ethics and intelligence are not disjoint ideas. Ethics has to guide intelligence, so that we don't have to have as many tribunals, or so that we can know that the submitted evidence genuinely implicates guilt, etc.

So when I read "cure for leukemia > 100 m dash, regardless of motivation", I hesitate and wonder about the thought process behind it. Given human history, whether it's just a cup of coffee, a handful of DMAE, or whatever seems kind of, well, irrelevant to that moral calculation, you know?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:03 PM on April 11, 2008


"Suppose I'm racing another researcher to finish experiments. The first one to finish gets to publish first and wins prizes and rewards. I work 22 hour days on modafinil and coffee, and my rival takes the natural route and goes home at 5 every night. I finish first, I win, I get the prize. Unfair? I don't think so."

Suppose your adversary knows that you are using drugs to gain an advantage. Now you've forced him to choose between using drugs (thus potentially harming himself) and avoiding them (thus losing to you). You, and the rest who choose the drugs, will have created an atmosphere in which any scientist who wishes to be succeed will have to take drugs. This doesn't even take into consideration the grad students who will feel pressure to emulate you just because they are working in your lab.
posted by oddman at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2008


Tube--thanks for the Erdos link; reading it I found this memorable quote: "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." Does this mean too much coffee leads to theoria?
posted by ornate insect at 2:07 PM on April 11, 2008


Suppose my fellow grad students study & work hard, with or without drugs. This forces me to choose between studying and working hard, which often has potentially harmful effects such as stress, lack of sleep, and exhaustion, or avoiding hard work and study and thus losing to them.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:07 PM on April 11, 2008


oddman writes "Suppose your adversary knows that you are using drugs to gain an advantage. Now you've forced him to choose between using drugs (thus potentially harming himself) and avoiding them (thus losing to you). You, and the rest who choose the drugs, will have created an atmosphere in which any scientist who wishes to be succeed will have to take drugs. This doesn't even take into consideration the grad students who will feel pressure to emulate you just because they are working in your lab."

Unfortunately there is no drug which prevents false dichotomies.

Lots of workaholic researchers put in excessive numbers of hours and miss out on sleep without any drugs beyond, perhaps, caffeine. Maybe not even that. Missing sleep is pretty unhealthy too. Is it unethical to miss out on sleep and work yourself extra hard when others choose to get a healthy amount?

If you discover something while jacked up on provigil, and someone else arrives at the same discovery later, congratulations, we still all win because the experiment has been verified and that's still worth something. Scientific discovery isn't a zero sum game.
posted by mullingitover at 2:14 PM on April 11, 2008


I offered no false dichotomy. You either do drugs or you don't. If your peers do them, then you generally feel pressure to do them, too. If the drugs have negative consequences then you, in essence, feel pressure to risk your health. It's a pretty simple and intuitive picture.

As to the claim that being pressured by drug users is akin to being pressured by workaholics, I grant that there are superficial similarities. But there are two significant differences. Hard work will not increase your abilities beyond your inherent capacity; drugs will. Further, hard work has a built in corrective: getting tired. There is a point at which a hard working individual, without the aid of stimulants, will simply have to rest. Since most people need relatively similar amounts of rest the productivity advantage gained by the obsessive worker will be ameliorated. (E.g. a hard worker might work 14 hours a day, but less than half of those are likely to be a peak efficiency. So, the advantage of the extra hours of work isn't as great as it first seems.)

Finally, while certainly confirmation of earlier results is valuable, the grant money (and the renown) goes to the team that orchestrated the original discovery. Thus there is pressure to win by any means necessary which, I have been contending all along, is an unhealthy atmosphere and, as others have pointed out, an unethical "ends justifies means" mindset.
posted by oddman at 9:04 PM on April 12, 2008


So stress and sleep deprivation are not health risks while using speed never eventually has negative effects on your productivity?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2008


TOCT, strawman much? Where do I make either of those claims?
posted by oddman at 11:17 AM on April 13, 2008


You claim drugs have no "built in corrective." Do enough drugs, there will be a "built in corrective." You can perhaps get by with few negative effects if you moderate your drugs, but the same goes for if you only stay up a little late.

You discuss pressure to risk your health as if this does not apply to non-drug-using overwork. I've seen kids taken away in an ambulance just from overwork, without any drugs involved.

(As for the point I didn't address - what's inherent capacity? Can it be increased by study or practice?)

So, is it or is it not unethical to say, pull 16 hour work days or all nighters, both of which I've done this week?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:49 PM on April 14, 2008


"You claim drugs have no 'built in corrective.' " I did no such thing. I only said that hard work has a built in corrective. Though I grant that the way in which I made that point might be taken to imply that I believe drugs do not have that drawback.

Let me try again. You seem to be arguing that the use of performance enhancing drugs in science is in the same category as hard work. That is, according to your reasoning we should allow scientists to use steroid analogues simply because using drugs is really no different than working had.

I think that the two (hard work, drug use) are significantly different. Drugs, are external stimulant (focusing aid, etc.) which let you do things you would not otherwise be able to do, and which very often have severe medical side effects. Hard work is not an artificial agent; it does not allow you to do things you would not normally be able to do; it can have severe side effects.

Should we find that hard work is unethical because of its medical consequences? Of course not. I'm not advocating some kind of police state in which work police shine flashlights into offices and arrest people working late. But, admitting that a person has every right, through discipline and determination, to work as hard as they'd like, is a far cry from allowing that same person to engage in activities that are harmful to him/her and to society.

Furthermore, acknowledging that the distinction between the the two practices is muddled does not entail that there is no difference.
posted by oddman at 8:17 PM on April 14, 2008


What is inherent capacity? What is "normally able to do" and why is it so special? How does staying up all night working not allow you to do things you are not "normally able to do" where if we define "normally able" in the drugs case as what one can do without drugs and define "normally able" in the hard work case as what one can do without staying up till 8 AM, waking up at 11, and starting over?

Sometimes I work very hard, choosing to incur those costs in order to get the work done. I don't take any drugs to work harder or better - in fact, I don't even drink coffee (is coffee ethical?), in part because I don't want those health costs. But that's my choice, and I'm not going to tell someone who picks differently that he's behaving unethically towards me.


far cry from allowing that same person to engage in activities that are harmful to him/her


Creepy.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:19 PM on April 14, 2008


"How does staying up all night working not allow you to do things you are not "normally able to do" where if we define "normally able" in the drugs case as what one can do without drugs and define "normally able" in the hard work case as what one can do without staying up till 8 AM, waking up at 11, and starting over?"

Well you can certainly choose to redefine "normally able" to include whatever parameters you'd like. Heck, let's define "normally able" as being able to do whatever is logically possible given enough time. Under that definition I am able (normally) to make lightning fly out of my butt. Great.

Look, you can choose to be obtuse and insist that "normally able" has no standard meaning in this context. You can choose to insist that we are entitled to define it in a way that includes whatever activity we choose. And you can insist that this defining and redefining are perfectly legitimate. You can then insist that I have to argue for the standard, common, ordinary meaning of the phrase. But I won't bite. You know perfectly well what counts as normal human ability and what doesn't. We all do, it's one of the things that makes communication possible. If you're going to insist on rigorous definitions for every phrase and expression used in an argument, then you're never going to actually have an argument.

Isn't it obvious that if I need an artificial aid in order to accomplish X and I cannot accomplish X without the artificial aid, then accomplishing X is not something I can normally do?
posted by oddman at 11:34 AM on April 16, 2008


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