The current edition of Nature includes a remarkable Commentary (free online until December 18th) that advocates the use of "cognitive-enhancing drugs." It's co-written by researchers from six prominent universities in the US and UK (Hank Greely is lead) and by the editor of the magazine.
They state forthrightly that in the article they "propose actions that will help society accept the benefits of enhancement" although they blithely acknowledge that it is "too early to know whether any of these new drugs will be proven safe and effective."
The piece has provoked a minor storm of controversy (about which the editor is doubtless shocked, shocked to hear). The best line came first from George Annas, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle: "What were they smoking?" It was also used by Christopher Wanjek at LiveScience, who calls the Nature commentary "ivory tower intellectualism at its best" (shouldn't that be worst?) and makes some strong points about side-effects, especially given long-term usage.
Nature's own Forum includes many strongly critical comments, as well as a few supportive ones. Here are some excerpts:
- I think this is probably the silliest idea I have yet heard being suggested by some otherwise really smart people.
- [H]ow totally irresponsible to suggest that we healthy people now need to take drugs to compete! Which of the pharmaceutical companies are they trying to appease to obtain a grant for their study?
- Surely you jest. Where is your evidence? Where are your randomized controlled trials? Where are your benefit/risk analyses? Where is your conscience? Do any of you remember "First, do no harm?" How did any of you ever qualify for a medical license?
- Shame on the authors of this commentary.... Replace "cognitive enhancement drugs" in this commentary
with "genetic and reproductive manipulation" and we end up with an
argument for eugenics. Shameful.
- [T]he authors are wrapped up in these intellectual arguments - their ivory tower - to such a degree that they can't see how coercive and desperate the environment they drop their pro-doping argument into is.... How can anyone be so oblivious: the authors' many and well-argued calls for research and education will be largely ignored, while only their licensing of brain doping will get though....
- [I]t is a bit like the entire "penis enlargement" industry that makes profits on the backs of sexual insecurity as opposed to real need. Who DOESN’T wonder if they are smart or attentive enough? You can start backing up the snake oil tanker trucks now.
Nature has been on this subject for at least a year, since publishing "Professor's Little Helper" last December (co-authored by Barbara Sahakian, one of the authors of the latest piece). They have run correspondence arising from that, conducted a survey on neuroenhancement, and maintain a public Forum. In other words, this seems like a campaign.
Posted in A "Post-Human" Future?, Media Coverage, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts
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