Performance-Enhancing Drugs and Competitive Advantage
| Peter Klein |
Once again, performance-enhancing drugs are in the news. In a highly competitive environment some people will do anything to gain an advantage, despite the potential long-term health risks. How widespread is the problem, and what should be done about it?
No, not baseball. I’m taking about professors popping “smart pills” to improve their cognitive performance. Two Cambridge researchers report in Nature that colleagues studying brain disorders are themselves using drugs like Modafinil “to counteract the effects of jetlag, to enhance productivity or mental energy, or to deal with demanding and important intellectual challenge.”
Is this acceptable? “Should the life of the mind be chemically enhanced,” asks the Chronicle, “when, say, a professor needs to crank out a tenure-worthy paper?” Many of us consume massive quantities of caffeine already; perhaps Modafinil isn’t really all that different. Others see the practice akin to Ritalin abuse by college students. “It smells to me a lot like taking steroids for physical prowess,” says one critic.
My questions: If we discover that particular scholars are using these substances, should we put asterisks by their publications in reference lists? Should we deny them places in the academic Hall of Fame?