Do Scientists Cheat When They Brain-Dope?


As an April Fool's joke, Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, issued a press release about the National Institutes of Health's new anti-brain doping regulations, complete with a World Anti-Brain Doping Authority website.

Now Nature is reporting the results from an informal poll that one-fifth of scientists confess to using pharmaceuticals such as ritalin, modafinil, and beta-blockers to enhance their cognitive function. According to Nature:

One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory. Use did not differ greatly across age-groups (see line graph, right), which will surprise some. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Bethesda, Maryland, says that household surveys suggest that stimulant use is highest in people aged 18–25 years, and in students.

For those who choose to use, methylphenidate was the most popular: 62% of users reported taking it. 44% reported taking modafinil, and 15% said they had taken beta blockers such as propanolol, revealing an overlap between drugs. 80 respondents specified other drugs that they were taking. The most common of these was adderall, an amphetamine similar to methylphenidate. But there were also reports of centrophenoxine, piractem, dexedrine and various alternative medicines such as ginkgo and omega-3 fatty acids.

The most popular reason for taking the drugs was to improve concentration. Improving focus for a specific task (admittedly difficult to distinguish from concentration) ranked a close second and counteracting jet lag ranked fourth, behind 'other' which received a few interesting reasons, such as "party", "house cleaning" and "to actually see if there was any validity to the afore-mentioned article".

So far professional scientific societies have not declared that using such enhancements violates their rules.

Whole Nature article here.

Hat tip to Andy Fell.