Steroids for the Brain?

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? 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?

A fair question. If, indeed, they came “with the same sort of side effects as steroids” I would not. Would I have in my teens and early 20s under that sort of pressure? Maybe.

Hat tip: Virginia Postrel

crosspost to OTB Sports

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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. akdfjo says:

    After hearing his pathetic explanation for invading Iraq (“The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That’s where al Qaeda trained”), I would demand that Bush take a mega-dose of those pills immediately!

  2. legion says:

    Here’s an important question to chew on as well… Would we reward our most intelligent young adults with multi-million dollar contracts before they’re old enough to drink? Or with full-ride scholarships at the most prestigious universities? (I know there are academic scholarships, but I suspect most schools’ athletic funding far outstrips that given for academics – at least at the undergrad level). Not to mention the general societal influence – a vast amount of that pressure to perform athletically comes from parents who want little Johhny to grow up & be a superstar. Not many parents press their kids to grow up & win the Nobel Prize…

    And on a side note, would this mean that they’d have to put little ‘*’s next to the Nobels given to people who won them while on the brain ‘roids?

  3. McGehee says:

    And on a side note, would this mean that they�d have to put little �*�s next to the Nobels given to people who won them while on the brain �roids?

    LOL. I assume you’re talking about the non-“Peace” Nobels, right? You know, the ones that have already earned their asterisks in the last 15 years or so?

  4. John Burgess says:

    I suspect college students would opt for the “brain-‘roids”. When I was in school, exam time was big business for those selling speed. Week-long cram sessions were fairly typical, with little sleep throughout the week. And you could usually count on a couple of people bouncing off the walls as they suffered melt-down in the middle of the exam period.

    Sort of “I’ll only do it until I need glasses.”