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Steroids vs the Smart Pill

? The trade deficit: A 20th century measure in a 21st century economy? |


| U.S. Universities Still Lead ?

March 14, 2006

Steroids vs the Smart Pill

Michael Mandel

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.

02:51 PM


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? Steroids for the Brain? from Outside The Beltway | OTB

Michael Mandel asks a provocative question apropos the continuing controversy about Barry Bonds being on the Juice,

[W]ould we be quite so horrified, I wonder, if we were talking about “smart pills” or memory pills instead of steroids? Supp... [Read More]

Tracked on March 21, 2006 03:58 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...

Posted by: Tim Howland at March 14, 2006 04:21 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 ( 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

Posted by: Darcy at March 14, 2006 06:29 PM

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

Posted by: steve baker at March 14, 2006 07:41 PM

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.

Posted by: Kevin at March 15, 2006 08:57 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

Posted by: Patrick J. Walker at March 15, 2006 09:01 AM


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.

Posted by: Mike Mandel at March 15, 2006 09:10 AM


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

Posted by: Jav at March 15, 2006 11:30 AM

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 :)

Posted by: Jay at March 15, 2006 12:04 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.

Posted by: Chris at March 16, 2006 07:16 PM


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.

Posted by: Mensarefugee at April 29, 2007 02:25 AM

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.

Posted by: andrew at May 4, 2007 02:32 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.

Posted by: nimatoad at May 10, 2007 02:43 PM

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