Sunday, March 09, 2008

Brain Enhancement is Wrong, Right?

A commentator in another thread recently mentioned drug abuse for intellectual inhancement. The NY Times ran a story about the ethical implications of this phenomenon today, and it is worth a read.

The piece asks some interesting questions. Is there a meaningful distinction between substance abuse in athletics and academics (because unlike athletes, intellectuals' successes drive social progress)? Is there an ethical distinction between a scenario in which an employee chooses to use, say, Adderall, and a scenario that person is asked to use Adderall by their employer? Will we someday put asterisks after Nobel Prize winners' names?

One comment in particular caught me off guard. A graduate student interviewed for the article said, "You can usually tell who’s using [stimulants] because they can be angry, testy, hyperfocused, they don’t want to be bothered."

Ummm . . . right.

Who has been spiking my coffee?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a person familiar with those who have dabbled . . . academic enhancing drugs are a mixed bag of chips. If you have a condition that the drugs are actually designed to address, then they may work spot on. However, if you do not, there will be some pluses and minuses.

the ADD drugs do enable you to focus your attention and keep you from slipping away in to facebookland. however, you may spend a full hour or more plowing away, belabouring a point that the next day when you are editing you will decide is completely irrelevant. drugs are mind altering, not purely mind enhancing.

so, to say that people are cheating because they are taking these drugs is not quite right. these students are altering their performance, which may or may not be to their benefit. If concentration is their problem, then maybe on the whole they benefit. But, if judgment is the issue, then maybe not.

the analogy to athletic performance drugs is imperfect and distracting from the real issues with pharmaceutical mind altering substances. To be honest, I don't know that much about the Juice, but I do know if makes you quicker and stronger, which is exactly the skills you need to perform. This is not true of mind altering substances.

A little ADD medication might get you through horrible doc review, but I would not recommend it if you are working on appellate brief. It is the clarity and quality of your arguments that will carry the day, not their number or length.

so, buyer beware. and don't be jealous or spiteful of those who use the modern magical gifts of the pharmaceutical idols, they are using a short term crutch. maybe a fun crutch, but a crutch.

3/09/2008 3:54 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Every time I walk past his office, I wonder who that fellow is. Now I know!

3/10/2008 6:39 AM  
Blogger matt said...

Maybe someone has been spiking your drinking water...

3/10/2008 8:34 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

The medication-in-drinking water "issue" is overblown hype.

While it may be true that we don't know the effects of random combinations of prescription medication in medication on the human body, it is a pretty safe bet that these mixtures, measured as they are in parts per trillion are innocuous. These are chemicals and compounds that (at least in theory) are compatible with human biology.

What we should be worried about are lethal compounds (think: dioxin) in chemical compounds NOT meant for consumption, that end up going down the sink and into drinking water, too.

3/10/2008 9:55 AM  
Blogger matt said...

For what it's worth, I agree that that the meds are probably so diluted that they would have little, if any, effect. I only read the headline this morning and thought it bore an entertaining relation to your blog entry.

3/10/2008 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you out of your mind? You don't mind that there are pharmaceuticals, including hormones, in your drinking water? Also, this has been known forever, but now that the AP did the investigative report, for some reason all the sudden the rest of the media cares.

3/11/2008 1:09 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I may be out of my mind, but my response to pharmaceuticals in the drinking water isn't evidence. It's just NOT as big an issue as it sounds. You are likely to inhale similar doses just by opening a pill bottle.

It's not like the AP went out and tested water all over the country -- they examined existing records and hyped up something that has been known and documented for a long time. This "investigative report" created a fervor because the public's frightened reaction is a knee jerk response, not an educated one.

I agree that it would be *nice* if the drinking water was cleaner, but it's not the reality. Have you ever been to a water treatment plant? The stuff your neighbors put down the sink/toilet/bathtub is not pretty, and trace amounts of all that ends up in the drinking water, too. As long as the doses stay this low, I have a hard time getting worked up about it. For the reasons I gave in the earlier comment, it's the non-pharmaceutical chemicals that worry me.

3/11/2008 10:18 AM  

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