Biotechnology

If It's OK for Navy SEALs, Why Not College Kids?

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Slate's William Saletan sized up the Pentagon's Human Performance study and concluded that fears of genetically enhanced super humans are unfounded. Unless, of course, there's something scary about arming soldiers to the teeth and then keeping them awake for three days:

[The study]involved tests of the effects of caffeine on performance for a group of Navy SEALs, following 72 hours of intense training activity with almost total sleep deprivation. A variety of metrics were used, including computer-based tests of reaction speed and mental acuity, psychiatric self-assessment surveys, and marksmanship tests. The test was to determine the optimal caffeine dose to ameliorate the effects of fatigue and stress.

The authors of the report do their best to avoid openly condoning the use of amphetamines without a prescription, with disclaimers like this one:

The use of supplements, primarily to ameliorate sleep deprivation and to improve physical performance, is report[ed] to be common among US military personnel. This behavior is a cultural norm in the US and is recognized, but not endorsed, by the US military. For instance the PX at most military bases stock popular supplements.

But as Saletan points out, it's tricky to condemn amphetamine use when it works so well. This is one instance where the military is a little behind the curve. Attention deficit medications work much better than caffeine does when pulling an all-nighter, as reason contributor Juliet Samuel explained here.

Still unable to dismiss your fears of a military state maintained by superhuman mech warriors? Me too.