February 26, 2024

Are scientists drugs cheats?

One in five use ‘cognitive enhancement’

Should scientists who use performance-enhancing drugs return their Nobel Prizes? If the figures in a poll conducted by Nature are correct, the Stockholm post office would be very busy, since about 20% of scientists may be using them. Although the poll was taken over the internet without rigorous statistical standards, it does suggest that scientists, especially the younger generation, are not opposed to "cognitive enhancement". It is the largest survey to date on this topic, with 1,427 responses. One in five said that they had used Ritalin, Modafinil or beta-blockers to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory. About a third of the drugs were purchased over the internet.

Although most scientists did not use the drugs, 80% of those surveyed defended the right of "healthy humans" to use them to improve performance. More than half said that their use should not be restricted, even for university entrance exams. Still more significant, a third said that they would feel pressure to give their own children these drugs if other children at school were taking them.

A Nature editorial dismissed concerns that using drugs to go the extra mile at work was "unnatural". "What is ‘natural’?," it asked. "Devices such as glasses, hearing aids, pacemakers and artificial hips are unnatural. Yet they are widely accepted as legitimate ways to enhance the human experience." In the same vein, one older American scientist wrote on the survey that it would be immoral not to use these drugs. "As a professional, it is my duty to use my resources to the greatest benefit of humanity. If ‘enhances’ can contribute to this human service, it is my duty to do so." ~ Nature, Apr 10; AFP, Apr 10

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