Cognitive enhancement for scientists?

As our knowledge of the functional and pharmacological architecture of the nervous system increases, we are getting better at treating cognitive and affective disorders. Along with the ability to modify cognitive and affective systems in disease, we are also learning how to modify these systems in health. "Cosmetic neurology," the practice of intervening to improve cognition and affect in healthy individuals, raises several ethical concerns.

Anjan Chatterjee, Cosmetic Neurology and Cosmetic Surgery: Parallels, Predictions and Challenges Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. Vol. 16. p. 129-137.

Despite ethical concerns raised (have to be on UCD computer to download full text) about safety, coercion, distributive justice, personhood, and other values, a 2008 Nature article reported that 20% of an informal survey of 1,400 people run by Nature reported taking neuroenhancing drugs. Another article in The Atlantic suggested that scientists, entrepreneurs and others should use performance enhancing drugs, since "coping with the various world-historical dangers we face will require the greatest possible insight, creativity, and innovation."

More mundanely, our case study for the today regards Prof. Hunter.

Prof. Hunter has a prescription for modafinil from his physician, based on the now FDA-approved indication for coping with jetlag. For example, he recently visited three cities in Europe in 5 days to work with scientific collaborators and serve on a scientific review board. Modafinil makes such short, intensive work trips far more productive by keeping him alert and at high cognitive function while he would normally be asleep.

However, before a recent trip, Prof. Hunter had a site visit from N.I.H. as part of the review of a P41 Center application. There was a $5 million Biomedical Technology Research Center application hanging in the balance. The scientific review officer has told Prof. Hunter that he will get questions and a final agenda from the review panel by 10pm, for the review that starts at 8am the next morning. Yes, it sounds crazy, but check the instructions to the review panel linked in the email below. This is what Prof. Hunter told his collaborators on the review:


I received the instructions for the site visit team. We will review these to understand what they will be trying to accomplish with their visit. I have a call tomorrow with the Scientific Review Officer about the agenda, and will keep you all updated.

One key take-home from this is that the "pre-site visit meeting" will happen the evening of Nov 2. I am told that we will get questions and a final agenda by 10pm on Nov 2. We are planning a (hopefully brief) teleconference at 10pm Nov 2 to relay the information to you and make any final assignments or adjustments before we convene at 8am Nov 3. (Yes, I know it's crazy).


Prof. Hunter is wondering whether he should consider using Modafinil for this site visit. Since no jet lag or shift work is involved, this is an off label, cognitive enhancement use. In addition, more than 20 collaborators are also involved; should Prof. Hunter suggest that they talk to their physicians about getting modafinil prescriptions for this use?

You are to produce a written recommendation to him about these questions. Please read all of the articles linked to above, discuss arguments both for and against, and come up with a specific recommendation.







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