April 11, 2008

Nature Says Scientists Use Performance Enhancing Drugs

If only it were true.

This article is about shock, and about conveying a politically correct message-- not that it's wrong to take drugs, but that it's wrong to take them if they give you an edge over someone else.  

The results are (from the header:)

Poll: Scientists Use Brain-Boosting Drugs

Survey of Magazine's Readers Shows 1 in 5 Take Mental-Performance-Enhancing Drugs

and from the article:

Scientists from all over the world participated in the poll, but 70% of respondents said they were from the U.S.

The most popular drug was Ritalin, used by 62% of responders. Provigil was the drug of choice for 44% of those polled -- suggesting that many of the users take more than one drug.

First, 1 in 5 is actually pretty small.  I'm surprised at how small it is.

Second, it's misleading.  The readership of Nature isn't scientists, it's college kids and grad students.  If you read the article, you'll observe that that over half of the respondents were under 35.  While I'm sure they are all doing impressive work, they aren't the stereotype invoked by the title "Scientists Use Brain-Boosting Drugs."

But third, and to the point: the article simultaneously presumes, and reinforces, the idea that scientists are using these drugs improperly-- i.e. that using them on 9 year old kids with "ADHD" is their proper use.  You would think that one of the scientitians down at Nature might have observed how preposterous that is.

If anyone can tell me why it is more logical, medical, ethical, efficacious, or safe to force it on  a kid who scores high on a reliable but totally invalid ADHD checklist; but less so for a "scientist" with considerably more insight into his own condition-- and, by the way, the  autonomy to decide for himself--  I'm listening.

That aside, let me ask a different question: why not encourage the use of the drugs?  Beyond safety issues, is it just that we're worried about unfair advantage in science?  That's the debate in sports, that it doesn't allow for a level playing field.  You want a fair competition.

But why would you care about that in science?  I mean, if it takes 800mg of Provigil a day to find the cure to cancer a month earlier, well...? 

So there's the academic scam: it isn't about the cure.  It actually is a competition.  Different labs vying not for the cure per se, but for more funding, promotions, jobs, publications.  If one lab is doing coke out of 96 well microplates, another lab might feel pressure to smoke crack out of Eppendorfs, I guess.

Though at one point in my life I even resorted to using chocolate covered espresso beans in a pharmaceutical capacity, 10 tabs QID, I'm not endorsing the use of such drugs in anyone; but I hope everyone can see that the division between proper and improper use completely invented, and upheld by those who have much to lose should that division be eliminated.