31 juli 2010

Brain Enhancement at Dana

Editor’s note: In 2008, Henry T. Greely, a professor at Stanford Law School, co-authored a commentary in Nature; it concluded that “safe and effective cognitive enhancers will benefit both the individual and society.” The article inspired an impressive number of responses from readers, and the debate has continued in scholarly journals and the mainstream media in the years following publication. Here Professor Greely builds on that momentum, arguing that only some concerns about cognitive enhancements are justified and proper attention is needed to address such issues. He contends that rather than banning cognitive enhancements, as some have suggested, we should determine rules for their use.

In December 2008, I was the first author on a paper in Nature called “Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy.”1 We argued that there was nothing inherently wrong with the use of drugs for cognitive enhancement, although issues of safety, fairness, and coercion will require attention. I received far more communications about that article than about anything else I have ever written. About one-third of them were thoughtful responses, some in favor of cognitive enhancement and some opposed. Another third said, roughly, “How much crack were you smoking when you wrote that?” The last third said, also roughly, “How much money did large drug companies pay you to write that?” (I kept waiting for “How much crack did large drug companies give you to write that?” but, alas, that question never came.) In spite of what some of my correspondents seemed to think, the article had not called for putting stimulants into the water supply. We thought we were taking an open-minded but cautious approach to the issue. So, what prompted this strong response and what, if anything, can we learn from it?

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