In our culture, performance-enhancing drugs are seen as a vehicle for
cheating. For example, athletes who use steroids or human growth hormone
are weeded out through testing policies, punished, and publicly
shamed. But these drugs are more common than one might think, and their
use extends beyond sports--military pilots have been given amphetamines
for missions, and some of the most competitive college campuses are rife
with illicit use of ADD medication.
are increasingly part of our modern existence, despite our instinct to
ban them. So why don't we use them for good? Let scientists and
researchers use drugs that boost productivity and innovation. Allow them
controlled access to prescription medication like Ritalin and Adderall
and, with more caveats and limitations, hallucinogens like LSD and
Ayahuasca that have been linked to creativity. Henry Greely, Director of
the Stanford Center for Law and the Bio-Sciences, has
that "cognition-enhancing" pills are natural for students
to take. "Better-working brains produce things of more lasting value
than longer home runs," he argues. Similarly, we should encourage our
scientists to experiment, if they so desire.
arguments against performance-enhancers are the same in both athletics
and academics--users gain an unfair competitive edge, and they harm
themselves in the process. High school football players ruin their
bodies with steroids; college students who take Ritalin and Adderall fry
their brains to unfairly outperform their peers. As a society, we're
not willing to endorse a culture in which one has to inject oneself with
chemicals in order to be a pro baseball player; it's just not worth the
But for scientists and researchers,
particularly those working on medical advancements, things are
different. They're working for the public good. Fairness matters less.
If one biochemist or physicist "cheats" to gain an edge over a rival
research lab, university department, or grant competitor, it may be
unethical, but we should be willing to forgive if it means one less day
on earth with incurable cancer or massive emissions of carbon gas. As
for health concerns, well, we are talking about adults, and we should be
willing to let scientists and researchers make that sacrifice.
adults use performance-enhancing substances in a controlled fashion
would have its upside. After all, steroids worked in baseball--in 1985,
Major League Baseball players hit 3,602 home runs; in 2000, they hit
5,693. Throw fairness out the window, and let's see what happens.