Many Academics Use Cognition Enhancing DrugsThe journal Nature just published the results of a survey it undertook in January about readers' use of drugs to enhance cognition, chemically stimulate, and reduce anxiety. Now, it sounds like this was an opt-in survey, meaning that it would be a self-selecting sample, and, as such, not one that is necessarily representative of even the journal's readers, let alone academia at large. There is a large geographic bias, with more than three-quarters of the respondents coming from the U.S. and U.K.; 64.5 percent said they work in either biology, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences, engineering, medicine, physics, media, or education, with the remainder being "other," whatever that means. The group skews young, with nearly 65 percent being under 36.
But still the results are interesting. One in five admit to have taken modafinil (Provigil), methylphenidate (Ritalin), or beta blockers like propranolol (Inderal) "to improve concentration or cognition." And additional 13.5 percent said they had taken such drugs for a medically diagnosed condition.
If you know anything about these drugs, they're intended for daily use. However, the usage patterns admitted to split into daily, weekly, monthly, or once a year at most, with fairly even numbers in each.
Of the over 1,400 answering the survey, 1254 answered the question "Should healthy humans be allowed to use cognitive enhancing drugs if they want to?"; almost 80 percent said yes. And 1258 answered the question, "Accepting a normal risk of mild side effects, would you boost your brain power by taking a cognitive enhancing drug?"; almost 70 percent said yes. About a third would feel pressure to let their kids take such a drug if other children in the school were doing so.
Obviously many people in academia, research, and the sciences feel no problem about others taking cognitive-enhancing drugs. But why is that any different from athletes taking performance-enhancing substances? There is effectively a public competition, with research money and even public acclaim at times going to those who get the edge in results. But isn't this a form of cheating - using something to let you do what you might not ordinarily to gain an advantage? According to Nature, one respondant from the US wrote, "As a professional, it is my duty to use my resources to the greatest benefit of humanity. If 'enhancers' can contribute to this humane service, it is my duty to take them." But is it really for nothing but a humane gesture? What if suddenly there would be no possibility of person gain in tenure, money, or professional stature? Why shouldn't an athlete say he or she has a duty to move past the limits of normal performance for the good of his or her team and the fans of the team?