Earlier, I noted this post from Brad DeLong about his need to consume 40 ounces of Coke to get through three office hours. I was going to post something about how awful it must be to have to do three whole hours of sitting in the office waiting for students to show up and some amusing aside that even the most gifted economists are not necessarily utility maximizers. But I didn’t think that was enough for a post, so I passed.

But now I see that virtual colloquy has ensued, with Jacob Levy and Steven Taylor having weighed in on the important issue of how professors might best drug themselves. Says a Levy,

Today I sat through a four-hour meeting followed by a one-hour meeting followed by three and a half hours of office hours (the students have a paper due next week). Espressos, breve lattes, and Diet Cokes were the order of the day. The blood sugar spike from the regular Coke, even from rather a lot of regular Coke (and 40 oz. doesn’t yet begin to qualify as ‘a lot’ on a day like that) disappears much faster than the caffeine effect, and the subsequent sugar crash is harder to shake than the comedown from caffeine. I can go through eleven or twelve hours never really crashing from caffeine; I just have some more. Sugar doesn’t, as far as I can tell, work like that; you’re going to pay for the spike with crashes pretty regularly through the day even if you keep chugging. If you need blood sugar, eat something– and something that’s not all sugar.

Steven, who teaches at a place where lattes, breve or otherwise, are decidedly unavailable, merely notes that Levy is his kinda prof.

As Steven can attest, I seldom consumed more than twelve cups a coffee a day in my teaching days. Ten if you subtract the amount I spilled on his carpet. Diet sodas are useful only for their portability and, if they are your only caffeine alternative, Mountain Dew is decidedly more efficient than a cola product. Coffee is the far better alternative in a variety of ways:

  • The caffeine level is infinitely variable rather than predetermined by an evil apparatchik in Atlanta
  • Ground coffee–or even beans and a grinder–take up decidedly less space than a commensurately caffeinated batch of soda
  • Coffee–even good coffee–is far cheaper by volume, let alone caffeine unit–than soda
  • Coffee has that wonderful coffee aroma and flavor, which soft drinks ordinarily do not

Q.E.D. coffee is better.

Update (1536 1-29): Dan Drezner has weighed in as well. He quotes the maxim I mention in the comments below, “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems,” correctly attributing it to Paul Erdos rather than Albert Einstein, a different smart guy who undoubtedly consumed coffee as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brad DeLong says:

    Hey. It’s not my need. It’s the need of the professor I’m calling “Glaukon”…

    I couldn’t drink 40 oz of coke in three hours. 20 oz, yes…

  2. bryan says:

    Of course, the key is to have your own coffee maker. I’ve found that some good columbian ground can make a long, hot afternoon sufferable. And definitely not the 6 oz coffee makers. Those are for wimps.

  3. Paul says:

    God knows what these people would need to get thru the day if they had real jobs.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Paul: The life of the mind is arduous work. As Einstein once said, a mathematician is a machine for transforming coffee into formulas.

    Bryan: Indeed on both counts. Not having your own machine is, simply put, madness. And the utility of the smaller machines was never apparent. Not only are they generally more expensive to purchase than a real coffee maker–economies of scale and all that–but limiting oneself to a mere six cups in, well, unthinkable.

  5. Paul says:

    Meet a payroll with 40 people and get back to me. 😉

  6. LittleA says:

    I’m confused.

    You mean there are other beverages in addition to coffee? What is this “Coke” you speak of?

  7. Rodney Dill says:

    I’ve had three cups of coffee before I even get into work in the morning. cccannntnt[ youuu teeelllll.

  8. Moe Lane says:

    I say “Bah!” to coffee: you can have my Vanilla Coke when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Or ask nicely.


  9. chris says:

    I’m with Paul,

    “God knows what these people would need to get thru the day if they had real jobs.”

    These guys don’t have any idea about the real world of work. They are on permanent vacation.

  10. James Joyner says:


    I’m not sure what you’re comparing it to. I’ve worked in academe, the military, and the private sector. They’re all different, but all very much “real work.”

    Is doing research, teaching classes, and the like as physically demanding as, say, operating a jackhammer? No. But, then, one leaves those type of jobs once 5 o’clock rolls around. Intellectual jobs are essentially non-stop.

  11. Steven says:

    If my life is a permanent vacation, why am I so tired?

  12. James Joyner says:

    Not enough coffee, I suspect.

  13. Jon H says:

    I was terribly disappointed when “Crystal Pepsi” turned out to be a caffeine-free 7-up knockoff, rather than the product it ought to have been: Pepsi with all the caffeine, but without the tooth-staining color.

  14. Mark Buehner says:

    zljkkppppppppppppppppppppalskljkj Jolt drip.

  15. Paul says:

    WIth all due respect James, having to “medicate” yourself in order to make it thru the stress of sitting in your office for 3 hours waiting for a student to pop in seems, well, rather silly.


    BTW The Bemusement Park gets the award for best trackback title.

  16. Lucas Wiman says:

    Perhaps academic work isn’t all that “demanding,” whatever that means, but it certainly is quite tiring. It requires a lot of intense focus for long periods of time, something which few people can acheive without drugs.

  17. James Joyner says:

    archive rebuild-ignore

  18. Jon says:

    I calculated my average daily caffeine consumption once. It worked out to about 1.5 g. The shakes go away after a while. 😉

  19. Brak says:

    “Here’s an impression me on coffee…”