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Professors Taking Performance-Enhancing Drugs:
From the Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog, via IsThatLegal:
  Some university faculty members have started popping 'smart' pills to enhance their mental energy and ability to work long hours.
  In a commentary published in Nature on Thursday, Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir of the University of Cambridge revealed an informal survey showing that a handful of colleagues, all involved in studying drugs that help people perform better mentally, would take the drugs.
  The notion raises hackles in some parts of academe. "It smells to me a lot like taking steroids for physical prowess," said Barbara Prudhomme White, an associate professor of occupational therapy at the University of New Hampshire, who has studied the abuse of Ritalin by college students. With the recent revelations about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball, she sees parallels between striving athletes and faculty members.
law student:
I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of law professors working long hours. Does that mean we should expect grades before February this year?
Merry Christmas.
12.21.2007 4:39pm
OrinKerr:
Law student,

Some of us work a lot harder than students. Have a nice vacation.
12.21.2007 4:41pm
dps (mail):
The great mathematician Paul Erdos was notorious for taking stimulants. Wikipedia says:


After 1971 he also [in addition to coffee] took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month. Erdős won the bet, but complained during his abstinence that mathematics had been set back by a month: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit.


I've heard it told that Graham charged the $500 to his school, Yale, as a business expense, although that part might be apocryphal.
12.21.2007 4:45pm
Bruce:
Flowers for Sunstein
12.21.2007 4:57pm
Curious:
My high school valedictorian took speed on a regular basis to help him study during all of high school, starting freshman year. He eventually became a Rhodes Scholar.
12.21.2007 5:01pm
GV_:
Ye who lives in a coffee-free house can cast the first stone.
12.21.2007 5:03pm
titus32:
Doesn't the quoted post just say that an "informal study" found that "a handful" of scholars "would take" drugs? I would be surprised if a disproportionate percentage of faculty took performance enhancing drugs. Maybe grad students though.
12.21.2007 5:06pm
Arkady:
Hmmm. This story was going around when I was in school. Seems this guy took some speed before an exam that he had been working his butt off for. The exam was an essay exam and consisted of one question, compare and contrast, whatever. He opened his blue book and began to write and write and write. He came out of the exam believing, in his elevated state, that he'd aced it. Turned out that he'd written his entire answer on the same line...
12.21.2007 5:09pm
Enoch:
Some of us work a lot harder than students.

Tell it to the practicing attorneys. =)
12.21.2007 5:15pm
OrinKerr:

Some of us work a lot harder than students.

Tell it to the practicing attorneys. =)


Some of us make 1/3rd the money of practicing attorneys. ;-)
12.21.2007 5:16pm
wfjag:
Is human-self-experimentation any better or worse than standing in reflected moon light, see, www.starlightuses.com/, or home remedies that turn you blue (see stories on Paul Karason)?
12.21.2007 5:21pm
lawyergirl:
I had several boring and lifeless professors in law school. I really wish they would have taken performance enhancing drugs!
12.21.2007 5:35pm
Clint:
Does caffeine count as a performance enhancing drug?


Do we really think that ensuring "fairness" in the competition for jobs is more important than optimizing results? I can see the argument for what amounts to professional game-playing, but who here wants to go into surgery with a surgeon who has been denied his morning coffee, or rush to the E.R. to be treated by a caffeine-free resident in her forty-third straight hour?
12.21.2007 5:45pm
MJG:
Adderall, ritalin, and the like are rampant among students. It's only a matter of time before it finds its way to the academy itself.

It's difficult to look at them the same way you might look at steroids etc. It's not a perfect analogy but I think of cyclists who add the red blood cells so they don't fatigue as much. I mean as others point out, I have come to find coffee a tasty drink, but I've definitely had a few cups at 10:00pm or even midnight in order to finish an outline, a practice exam, a brief, or an indenture or whatnot in practice.

I remember in undergrad I had a Professor build up a huge talk about how F. Scott Fitzgerald abused a substance in the making of the Beautiful and the Damned and the Great Gatsby. Said he drank it constantly, and refused to write without it. The reveal: coca-cola! Zing! Anyway, it's a greyer area when we're not talking about sports.
12.21.2007 6:00pm
Mike Keenan:
I have seen some statistics that 25 to 50% of the members of high level orchestras are taking performance-enhancing drugs -- beta blockers to calm their nerves.
12.21.2007 6:08pm
Hewart:
Well, Coca Cola actually had at least small amounts of cocaine in it up until 1929. So there's more than caffeine involved for the early drinkers like Fitzgerald, who wrote Gatsby in 1925.

It reminds me of when I was a young lad, taught about Edison's great industriousness ("he needed very few hours of sleep a night!") and innovation ("he invented a bazillion new devices!").

Then as an adult, I learned that his industriousness came, at least in part, from significant cocaine use and his innovation came, at least in part, from significantly filching others' ideas and actively working to thwart some others.

There foundered another childhood hero, his shining myth dashed on the rocky shores of reality. :(
12.21.2007 6:12pm
stunned:
@law student

If any of my professors managed to work less than me, another law student, s/he would have to be a truly gifted -- perhaps magical -- individual.

Try taking it easy. Life is too short and this is probably your last chance to really have a relaxing life.
12.21.2007 6:15pm
Annonymous Coward (mail):
I am reminded of the controversy over drug testing for high level chess matches. Some say the discovery of anything that enhances sustained mental performance over many days should rightly be more encouraged than discouraged.

Is there any evidence that there exists any drug capable of enhancing sustained mental performance beyond the use of stimulants to allow continued but declining performance?

Vernor Vinge's Focus to bring the discontinuity sooner and more painfully for many than it would otherwise occur?
12.21.2007 6:17pm
Hewart:
One follow on note: it may well be that the cocaine levels in Coca Cola had dropped to insignificant amounts by the 1920s due to Coke's use of processed coca leaves. If so, Fitzgerald wasn't getting very high -- at least off of his Coca-Cola -- in the mid-20s.
12.21.2007 6:21pm
frankcross (mail):
Test Cass. Perhaps his research records need an asterisk.

Though I find cigars to be performance-enhancing
12.21.2007 6:29pm
bellisaurius (mail):
I always thought the main reason that we dont let people take performance enhancing drugs in sports isn't mostly because of cheating aspect, but rather A). It can cause them harm in the long term, and B). It's against medical ethics to prescribe a drug which doesnt fix a problem, but rather just enhances ability. Pretty much the rules with any pharmaceutical.

Now, disregarding caffeine and sugar as they are legal, and believed to be safe in typical dosages (all nighters not withstanding), the remainder of mind enhancers are either illegal (cocaine), prescription drugs (under the above rules), or items which will interfere with the results of drug tests. This makes the case for intellectual drug use pretty open and shut, unless a professor can show his memory or attention is slipping (in which case he has a legit reason to use it).

Now, I did blow by the issue of cheating, but I do wonder, What is a professor who has tenure taking drugs for? That's just showing off for no good reason; like keeping fit after you get married :p
12.21.2007 6:38pm
happylee:
Another reason to wonder why drugs in general are illegal. Might we all be better off with responsible use of heroin, cocaine, pot, etc?

I remember studying for finals in lawschool and having a buddy of mine give me a few ritalins to take over the weekend. Dang! The little suckers were effective.

I hate big pharma, otherwise I would get a scrip for ritalin, or the fashionable substitute of the moment. So I take "Attend" instead. Better than nothing.
12.21.2007 6:52pm
BobVDV2 (mail):
Promotions to full professor may require an asterisk.
12.21.2007 6:53pm
BobVDV2 (mail):

So I take "Attend" instead. Better than nothing.

Or one could just "attend" class.
12.21.2007 6:55pm
dearieme:
The paper is from Cambridge, where High Table wine is known to have near-miraculous properties.
12.21.2007 6:55pm
alias:
The athlete comment seems a little off to me.

Athletes don't do anything useful, and their only purpose is to compete with each other. Since the value of their performance is relative and not absolute, "cheating" means something.

Similarly, law students don't do anything useful, and their performance is measured in relative terms.

In the real world, however, where people are asked to produce things that have value to other people, the idea of "cheating" is less relevant. If I'm being treated by a doctor, I don't much care if he's taking drugs that make him a better doctor, so long as those drugs don't have any countervailing side effects that also affect my treatment. If President Bush took some drugs to make him smarter and more astute (again, with no countervailing side effects), I think most people would appreciate that.

I think professors are more like presidents and doctors than like athletes and law students. They supposedly have some purpose other than merely competing with each other, and if they do well at their jobs with "artificial" help, not all of the baggage associated with steroids in sports necessarily transfers over.

This is not to say that there are no problems with performance-enhancing drugs other than their effects on the fairness of competition, only that the athlete analogy isn't very good.
12.21.2007 6:56pm
MarkField (mail):
If any Conspirator confesses now, he can still be eligible for the Hall of Fame. If not, though, and we catch you later, I think you'll have a hard time getting 75% of the votes.

BTW, I highly recommend the "I only did it once or twice, and only to recover from X" as your confession. It seems to be the excuse all the kewl kidz are using.
12.21.2007 7:01pm
MarkField (mail):

Athletes don't do anything useful, and their only purpose is to compete with each other.


I dunno. Most people see athletes as entertainers. In that sense, they're like the orchestra musicians mentioned above. If we look at them that way, they seem much more like the doctor than the law student.


If President Bush took some drugs to make him smarter and more astute (again, with no countervailing side effects), I think most people would appreciate that.


From your lips to God's ears.
12.21.2007 7:05pm
Colin (mail):
So I take "Attend" instead. Better than nothing.

According to your link, "Attend" is homeopathic. Nothing is exactly what you're taking.
12.21.2007 7:25pm
Visitor Again:
Athletes don't do anything useful, and their only purpose is to compete with each other. Since the value of their performance is relative and not absolute, "cheating" means something.

You must not be a sports fan. Athletic performances are an important form of human endeavor, just as chess playing, playing a musical instrument and dancing are other forms. They constitute a measure of the limits of human performance of one type. They have an absolute value as well as a relative one. Look at a records book. They help us understand the working of the human body and mind. They entertain us, as Mark Field notes. They are a way of making life more bearable. Some are beautiful to watch; poetry in motion, as they say. Plus taking part in them is exhilirating, life-affirming, life-lengthening if one remains fit. No value? Not useful? Quite the contrary.
12.21.2007 7:41pm
happylee:
Colin and David Bernstein seem to agree that if large meta studies don't prove something works, then it doesn't. I take the simpler view that all humans are unique and that meta studies can, maybe, help define the limits of the general efficacy of medications, but they cannot substitute for individual self assessment. In other words, at any given time, for any given person, a self-administered test of efficacy is and logically must be more valid than some silly statistical analysis of aggregated data based upon other people.

Medicine is a soft science in that it involves not just the physical absolutes of nature, such as gravity (I drop a human being or a rock, they both fall at the same rate), but the relative absolutes of individuals (I take 40 mg of ritalin and it makes me 10x more productive, but a guy with the same height, weight, hair color, etc, needs 50mg to obtain 5x increase in productivity). No amount of aggregated data broken down to bla bla significance can possibly match what I conclude on my own. And that goes for all the studies that "prove" homeopathy is bunk.

Now, in fairness, if Colin or Professor Bernstein performed a rigorous test of my real performance with or without Attend, and this test said that it's all in my head, then, and only then, I would agree that what I experience is a placebo effect, or whatever.
12.21.2007 7:47pm
Gary Anderson (mail):
Professors Taking Performance-Enhancing Drugs

I only read the head, and thought y'all were coming clean about rampant use of V**gra in the ivory towers. Not that there's anything wrong with that!!
12.21.2007 7:53pm
Baseballhead (mail):
I'm going to wait for Senator Mitchell's report before I garner myself an opinion.
12.21.2007 7:57pm
anym_avey (mail):
One follow on note: it may well be that the cocaine levels in Coca Cola had dropped to insignificant amounts by the 1920s due to Coke's use of processed coca leaves. If so, Fitzgerald wasn't getting very high -- at least off of his Coca-Cola -- in the mid-20s.

The transition to "spent" leaves was made in 1904, according to Wikipedia. Only faint traces of cocaine would have made it into the Coca-Cola batches by that method, and significant amounts certainly would not have been permitted after 1916, when cocaine was made mostly illegal in the US.
12.21.2007 8:25pm
Waldensian (mail):

Some of us make 1/3rd the money of practicing attorneys. ;-)

Which goes together nicely with the fact that, um, you don't work nearly as hard as the people in private practice making 3 times what you do. :)

The fact that university faculty feel they need drugs because they are working "long hours" reminds me of those days -- back in the long long ago, in the before time -- when I thought I needed a vacation from college.

I sure got an education in the wake of my schooling.

A vacation from college. It is to laugh.

Not that I'm bitter.
12.21.2007 8:58pm
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Some of us make 1/3rd the money of practicing attorneys. ;-)

Some of us don't have the luxury of tenure either.
12.21.2007 9:50pm
Dave N (mail):
Some of us make 1/3rd the money of practicing attorneys. ;-)
And some law professors make more than hard working government attorneys who don't have tenure.

As an aside, the comment does remind me of something my favorite law professor said: "I teach for free. They pay me to grade."
12.21.2007 10:27pm
Beran Panasper:
Given that the scholarly and practical value of a lot of what emerges from academia is essentially zero, taking performance enhancing drugs amounts to multiplying zero by a larger number.

Celebrity academics should make their anonymous, low-paid research lackeys take the drugs. Think of how much more prolific the academic superstars could be if their ghost writers were chemically enhanced!
12.21.2007 10:53pm
alias:
Fine. Athletes have some purpose. (and yes, I'm a sports fan, but a somewhat disdainful one...).

Clint said it much more clearly than I did, earlier in the thread:


Do we really think that ensuring "fairness" in the competition for jobs is more important than optimizing results? I can see the argument for what amounts to professional game-playing, but who here wants to go into surgery with a surgeon who has been denied his morning coffee, or rush to the E.R. to be treated by a caffeine-free resident in her forty-third straight hour?


I can't argue with this.
12.22.2007 12:17am
TribalPundit (W&M 1L) (mail) (www):
I'm wondering if this thread isn't getting unhealthily bitter...

The law students are upset that they don't get their grades back for six weeks.

The untenured professors are upset that they don't have tenure.

The tenured professors are upset they don't make as much as practicing attorneys.

The practicing attorneys are upset that they work longer hours than professors.

Sheesh.
12.22.2007 12:32am
Acksiom (mail) (www):
Oh, yes. . .yes, athletes don't do anything useful.

And that's not even the best routine I've ever seen "Mr. Personality" do.

I wonder if perhaps alias were to take some drugs to make her smarter and more astute (even with some countervailing side effects), would most people appreciate that even more?
12.22.2007 12:42am
NikFromNYCPhD (mail):
The military (and NASA) for *years* used speed instead of caffeine to keep their people awake more than one day, since speed didn't give them jitters like caffeine does. Today, however, is an unscheduled (except prescription instead of OTC) narcolepsy drug called Modafanil that allows one to stay away for almost a week, with *no* relapse (catch-up sleep)! I will not post the link to the place or two I know that sells it without prescription, for fear that they will be put on the postal service's watch list, but it's "out there." Most low level prescription drugs are in fact OTC (over the counter) in areas like Canada, South America, and India, so yes, Dorthy, you can get Valium without a prescription, and receive it glued between two pages of what looks like a collector's edition of an old National Geographic magazine, so it passes Customs.

In other news, the Russians, had a state secret overall vitality (mind *and* body) mixture called ADAPT that combined ginseng (the real stuff, not the little bottles sold at drug stores), some berry (Schizandra chinesis) with a certain very legal herb called Rhodiola (see Science News weekly magazine, 22 Sept. 2007, Vol. 172, p185). They gave it to jet pilots etc. The Rhodiola seemed to be the key component.

Another way to pull an all-nighter is to use sleeping pills, regularly, then just stop taking them, but this only works one day, especially if you drink wine with dinner the next day, like I always do. Zzzzzzz...fall asleep in chair, wake up at 3:30AM, and try to sleep in bed. Ugh.

Then there is all the Olde School "smart drugs" like lecithin and acetyl-N-carnitine etc. etc. etc. I admit to bulking up on those when I was a student. Now, an old man twenty years out of college (almost), all I use to stimulate my creativity is beer and girl-watching.
12.22.2007 1:20am
ArtD0dger:
When a medical professor on smart pills discovers a miracle cure, I'll have no sympathy for those crying foul. But I have yet to be convinced that law professors are not simply engaged in artificial zero-sum competition, much like pro baseball players.
12.22.2007 2:15am
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
And some law professors make more than hard working government attorneys who don't have tenure.

Yeah, but we get the satisfaction of tangible results, the people we deal with are generally less objectionable than law students and law professors, cool junkets involving firearms and explosives are not uncommon, and I suspect most women consider prosecutors as a class sexier than professors as a class. I harbor no bitterness toward law professors.
12.22.2007 3:32am
Rodger Lodger (mail):
After 15 or 20 years teaching I hit a real slump for a few years, and got desperate. Not a coffee drinker, I started having a cup just before class. End of slump.
12.22.2007 7:08am
Brett Bellmore:

You must not be a sports fan. Athletic performances are an important form of human endeavor, just as chess playing, playing a musical instrument and dancing are other forms.


Yes, that's something sports fans tend to believe...
12.22.2007 8:08am
MarkField (mail):

You must not be a sports fan. Athletic performances are an important form of human endeavor, just as chess playing, playing a musical instrument and dancing are other forms.



Yes, that's something sports fans tend to believe...


Speak for yourself. For me, watching Willie Mays play was a religious experience.

Just to supplement (pun intended) the post by NikfromNYCPhD, amphetamines have been used as a performance-enhancing drug in MLB for over 50 years. There seems to be an inexplicable double-standard which accepts amphetamines but rejects steroids or hGH. So that's your advice, Prof. Kerr: chow down on the greenies and get those grades out, but lay off the steroids. You'll have to find some students to help you carry your lecture notes.
12.22.2007 10:44am
Brett Bellmore:
More power to people who actually enjoy watching grown adults being highly paid for playing children's games. I personally find the whole concept mildly embarassing, but I understand I'm in the minority.

But I do mourn the distorting impact of sports on medicine. Naively, you'd think that enhancing performance was a good thing. But that's exactly what the sports mavens find objectionable about performance enhancing drugs: They're just fine with guys destroying their joints by the age of 30, or accumulating closed head injuries, but let a substance actually improve athletic performance, and it's got to be banned to keep it from distorting sports outcomes, and banned for everybody, not just professional athletes.

Considering the extent to which health in old age is influenced positively by having built a decent muscle mass to decline from, the potential of performance enhancing drugs to improve the lot of non-athletes is remarkable, but it's never going to be realized as long as sports drive so much public policy.
12.22.2007 4:54pm
MarkField (mail):
Brett, I agree with you on this. These drugs need to be studied and made safer, not banned in a climate of hysteria.
12.22.2007 7:59pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Silly me. I thought that, in a free society, it was up to people to decide for themselves what is "useful" and what isn't. And one of the ways to measure the usefulness of an activity is to see how much money and resources people throw at it.

Now I know that there are people right here on this blog who can explain to me what things are "really" useful and which things aren't. Thank heavens. I never would have been able to do that on my own. What we should do is create a system where the people who can make those distinctions will decide for everyone else. Then no-one will have to worry about people wasting their time and money on useless endeavors.
12.22.2007 10:05pm
George Weiss (mail):
law studnet:

I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of law professors working long hours. Does that mean we should expect grades before February this year?
Merry Christmas.

OrinKerr:
Law student,
Some of us work a lot harder than students.


Tell it to the practicing attorneys. =)

Enoch:
Some of us work a lot harder than students.

Tell it to the practicing attorneys. =)


OK
Some of us make 1/3rd the money of practicing attorneys. ;-)

then it should probably matter that 4


Me:

law students make negative money
12.22.2007 10:08pm
Hoosier:
"If any Conspirator confesses now, he can still be eligible for the Hall of Fame. If not, though, and we catch you later, I think you'll have a hard time getting 75% of the votes. "

I'm not here to talk about the past . . .

BUT to return to the TOPIC, and not 'who makes less for more hours of labor': I am an academic who uses amphetamines.

They help my creativity tremendoulsy: I've gone from barely grinding away at minutiae to /giving away/ original research topics to colleagues and grad students, because I simply won't have the time to do them all. I still need 6-7 hours sleep a night: I don't have superhuman endurance as a result of the the meds (Insert V(*)agra joke here). But the connections in my brain have been fired up like never before thanks to 60mg/day of uppers.

After three years, I still cannot belive how much life is when on speed. But the meds are prescribed by my doc as a treatment for a severe, ADA-covered memory disorder. You can imagine how much of a problem that sort of thing is when you are a historian. I slogged through grad school and then my first job without the oranges, or even a diagnosis. So if someone wants to call this cheating," I won't be very sympathetic. Now I can actually remember the names of colleagues, and even family members. Which is nice.
12.22.2007 11:33pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Query: If I'm a trial lawyer and I can function better (e.g. more alert, more attentive, more focus, more awake, more energy) by taking an Adderall or Ritalin (assume I have a legal prescription for purposes of legality of my possession of these pills, but nothing more--that is, I do not have ADD/ADHD), do I not have an ethical duty to my client to take the medication before trial? I'm saying assume that I can function at 100% without the pills, but at 120% with them. Keep in mind that not even the best lawyer, functioning at 100%, will conduct a perfect trial.

What if a missed trial objection (that I would have caught had I taken some Adderall) ultimately results in my client's execution (on appeal, it would not have been harmless error, but it was not plain error). Seems if I were the client, I'd sure want to know my lawyer did everything he could to be the best advocate possible. I'd want my lawyer funcitoning above 100% if possible.

So, is there an ethical duty to take the pills to enhance your performance and function better than normal so long as you're not breaking the law in acquiring/possessing said pills?
12.23.2007 10:09pm
Waldensian (mail):

So, is there an ethical duty to take the pills to enhance your performance and function better than normal so long as you're not breaking the law in acquiring/possessing said pills?

Wow. I don't like where this is going. It's leading toward and ethical duty to stop drinking, carousing, sniffing glue, etc.
12.24.2007 11:30pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
The point of the comment about sports vs. academia is that sports are inherently competitive, whereas academia is supposed to be a cooperative venture in pursuit of knowledge and learning. If that's going to be helped by drugs, then it shouldn't be the same sort of problem as the use of drugs to get an edge in a competitive endeavor. There's question about whether it really will be helped, but that's the difference between sports and academia that should be relevant to this issue.
12.25.2007 3:33pm