Steroids vs the Smart Pill

Posted by: Michael Mandel on March 14

Steroids build muscles and physical endurance. Politicians and journalists generally do not rely on muscles and physical endurance to do their jobs. That makes it much easier for the politicos and pundits to be horrified at steroids.

But would we be quite so horrified, I wonder, if we were talking about “smart pills” or memory pills instead of steroids? Suppose that a pharmaceutical company was selling a pill that would improve your memory by 30% or your IQ by 30%, with the same sort of side effects as steroids. Would you be willing to take them for 3 or 5 critical years in your career? What if you knew that everyone else was taking them? What if you knew that the Chinese or the French were taking them? And would you be willing to give your kids these pills in, say, the junior year of high school, to increase the odds of getting a good score on the SAT?

The real problem with steroids: They enhance Old Economy capabilities, not New Economy skills. They make us better factory workers, not smarter knowledge workers.

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Reader Comments

Tim Howland

March 14, 2006 04:21 PM

Actually, I figure the real problem with steroids is they make you A) very strong and B) very aggressive / borderline crazy. Consider Lasik surgery for baseball players- it makes them much better fielders and hitters, but it isn't illegal- arguably, his lasik surgery gave Bernie Williams an extra season or two.

If there were hypothetical smart pills that increased your IQ (or better, your EQ), but also made you into a paranoid schizophrenic, I suspect they'd have the same issues as steroids do...

Darcy

March 14, 2006 06:29 PM

Ah, the stereotypes.

A) A friend of mine takes a "steroid" because his natural testosterone count(?) is low. He's not what I would describe as very strong.

B) This _may_ be a symptom when the drug is abused beyond any reasonable levels (easy to find arguments for both sides), but I'd like to see any evidence of this occurring when the drugs are used in moderation.

Yeah, we've all heard the one about the guy trying to have sex with the vending machine. I also recall the government trying to tell me that Marijuana makes you crazy, and can even cause you to kill people! (see: Reefer Madness). The point is, the same thing is occurring with Anabolic Steroids. Abusing them (or Marijuana) is not good, but there are many pratical, health-improving uses (hmm..like Marijuana) for the drugs. Whether it is ethical to use Steroids in sport is another question.

The author makes a good point. I don't advocate teenagers shooting Winstrol in their parent's basement, but what about the positive aspects of the drug (increased lean muscle, lower BMI, faster recvoery from injuries)? If all (most?) side affects can be countered when the drug is taken with precaution (under supervision of a MD), what is the problem?

If the drug has the possibilities of being a benefit, why are we so afraid?

**Sorry for the single paragraph, I couldn't properly format

steve baker

March 14, 2006 07:41 PM

Fascinating question, Mike. I think most of us would be sorely tempted. How about you?

Kevin

March 15, 2006 08:57 AM

Hmm, the analogy is inapt for several reasons:

- Steriods make your hair fall out and your nards shrink. People with high IQs suffer these effects already, naturally.

- Athletes have fans (who get pissed when they think they've been "had", by cheating). Geeks don't have fans. Nobody cares.

- Steroids don't make you stronger, exactly: they allow you to recover faster so that you can work out more intensely and frequently -- the athlete still has to lift the weights, as they say. Not really an analogy there to a geek-pill.

- In any case, I don't think pro athletes represent the "old economy" just because they are physical. Pro athletics is a much bigger business than it used to be, and in a world of Arena Football, Beach Volleyball, and the WNBA, I'd guess that employment in the pro-athlete sector has only grown.

Patrick J. Walker

March 15, 2006 09:01 AM

When I was 25, I was immortal. I would likely have taken the smart pill. At 40, I have discovered my mortality, and I would likely admonish 25 year olds who take smart pills, running on about the side effects, etc.

The curious thing I find about the many steroids stories in the papers is the propensity for older athletes to allegedly use them as career extenders. Perhaps the abuse is not the steroids, but rather the wealth, power, and fame resulting from superior performance . - pjw

Mike Mandel

March 15, 2006 09:10 AM

Steve,

I don't think I'd take anything now...but there might have been moments in grad school where a little extra pep to the brain would have been nice.

Jav

March 15, 2006 11:30 AM

Mike,

What about coffee? Paul Erdos once commented that mathematicians are machines that convert coffee into papers!!

Jay

March 15, 2006 12:04 PM

Steroids increase the ability of athletes and if unchecked, its use would become a prerequisite to becoming a professional athlete. So in the long run no one would have an advantage and everyone would have health problems. Overall this is a negative effect.

The smart pill however, even if it did have the same negative effects, would have a huge positive effect on society and would accelerate our development. Besides, we would be 30% more likely to get rid of any side effects :)

Chris

March 16, 2006 07:16 PM

Has anyone heard of Ritalin abuse? Based on the other students at my school, a large number of people take Ritalin to help them cram or work on problem sets or papers for long periods. This is especially common at the top schools. (By this I mean less than 5% of the kids). Ritalin is an ADD medication and is supposed to boost your concentration. I don't know if it actually helps, but people seem to think it does. The standard way these kids get the drug is to go into the student health clinic and sign up for a learning disability test. Then during the interview with the physician they just act distracted and agitated. Presto, free Ritalin.

Mensarefugee

April 29, 2007 02:25 AM

Well,
Depends. Take it when youre 25. Feel the effects at 40 and admonish youngsters not to take it (in particular your own kids).

But, do you pay your own increased medical bills at 40 ala capitalism, or get everyone else to pay it ala socialism?

Of course the health detriments arent completely covered by medical care, but I just wanted to point out that incentives, trade-offs and bell curves still apply.

andrew

May 4, 2007 02:32 PM

No comparison to a "geek pill"

ritalin and adderall are our "geek pills"

they dont make you smarter, they
make it easier to focus and study material
like the SATs and college curricula. It
also allows someone to be more productive.

unfortunately, like steriods, there are
side effects. these drugs speed up the
heart and increase stress on the body
and the mind.


nimatoad

May 10, 2007 02:43 PM

You brought up an awesome point! This argument may help many realize other people's point of views, instead of just disagreeing with it for no reason.

Jonny

June 2, 2007 03:14 AM

I highly agree with your point.

grant

March 31, 2009 12:21 PM

Google Nootropics. No such side effects. Has been used in Europe for a while now. Increases memory, cognitive function, connectivity between left and right brain hemispheres...etc etc just read about it. There is a good Wiki on it. I've been taking them (age 21) for about a year now, works great for a college student, works great during meditation, over all pleased with it.

Troublesome T

November 12, 2009 07:53 PM

Of course people would take the brain pill. Its a survivalist world out there. Who ever has the biggest stick wins, but in our day and age the 'stick' could very well be construde as that of the mind. So whom ever has the bigger/more potent brain will win out. So if someone takes the pill....wouldnt it stand to reason everyone else would take said pill just so that they would be able to compete like they once could? never mind the side effects people in general only care if it will affect the 'now' not what lays beyond the next bend in life.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.

 

About

Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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