Doping is A-Okay According to Nature.

November 14, 2007

The 15 Nov issue of Nature has a most interesting editorial in which they propose that artificial performance enhancement is not cheating but in fact highly laudable.

Of all the arguments levelled against taking drugs for human enhancement, the idea that it is cheating has least power. …What is sure is that opponents of enhancement are, to a degree, whistling in the wind. They raise other spectres — unfairness of access (although today’s enhancing dose is cheaper than a cup of coffee), possibilities of employer coercion and the loss of human dignity or of the ‘natural’ — but ultimately, to little avail. Many healthy people still opt for chemical enhancements of all sorts, as suppliers of cosmetics and some pharmaceuticals know well. Such actions betoken an ethical argument on the other side: the pursuit of personal liberty.

Yikes. Must be some big Tour de France fans on the editorial staff. Or football fans. Or the other football fans. Or MLB fans. Or… oh hell, any-kind-of-sports fans. Whoops, what’s that now? They’re talking about what? Oh.

Does it matter to you that they are focusing on cognitive enhancers?

Yet imagine if a researcher could improve his or her ability to memorize the postulated connections in a complex signalling pathway central to tumour development, or if a musician could improve his or her concentration and deliver a better performance on the night. Far from cheating on themselves or others, they would be delivering a higher return on their investment of effort, and indeed on society’s investment in them. We all benefit.

Well, gee. This almost makes drug taking sound obligatory for those of us in jobs that have a potential benefit to greater society doesn’t it? I mean just look at how good this stuff is!

Studies on healthy volunteers have shown the cognitive effects of enhancing drugs to be mild, but sufficient to be considered helpful. The pills with least risky side effects seem to be methylphenidate (prescribed for attention-deficit disorder) and modafinil (prescribed for narcolepsy). Studies, mostly in the United States, have documented usage of drugs for cognitive enhancement by 5–15% of students, and anecdotes abound of use by postdocs and academics.

Ha. Of course this is a considerable misrepresentation and minimization. Caffeine (prescribed by BM for “falling asleep in 4pm seminars”) and nicotine (ditto by a colleague) are also good for focusing of attention, improving memory and other GoodThings for complex brain function. Considerably more than 15% of students and “anecdotes” of “postdocs and academics” use these cognitive enhancers I can tell you. Sucks that they are addictive drugs, but them’s the breaks. I mean, we gotta function in our jobs, right?

But let’s get right down to the point in the Nature editorial, eh? Wouldn’t you become addicted to crack if it would cure “tumor development”? I mean surely if Nature believes a little chronic Ritalin (methylphenidate) is called for just for “memoriz(ing) a postulated signalling pathway” relevant to cancer they can get behind addiction for a cure, right?

ObSnark: Hmm, for those of you who may be wondering “Are they on drugs?” when receiving a negative decision on your Nature submission, this may be a key look behind the curtain… I’m just sayin’

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One Response to “Doping is A-Okay According to Nature.”


  1. [...] Nature arguing that science-enhancing drugs may not be just acceptable but indeed laudable, which I covered previously. A couple of blogs are already on it, including Adventures in Ethics and Science (natch), [...]

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