ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — One in five respondents to a new survey in the journal Nature say they've used drugs to boost their brain power.
"We were putting our finger in the air to see what our reader response would be. And it was tremendous," said Brendan Maher, an editor with the widely read scientific publication. "What it's suggesting is there are a high percentage of adults using these drugs."
The informal, nonscientific survey, conducted online, polled 1,400 people in 60 countries. Most of the responders, the majority of whom said they worked in biology, physics, medicine or education, reported taking the drugs to improve their concentration.
An interesting question for reporters covering the next breathless scientific news release would be to ask the scientists involved when they took their last jolt. Things like this tend to diminish the reputations of the entire field of science in general. Because, as the article points out, these drugs can lead to real problems and real addictions. Not to mention the real questioning of results of studies.
Oddly enough, the poll was taken as a result of an April Fool's joke that turned out to be somewhat less of a laughing matter, according to Nature.
The US National Institutes of Health is to crack down on scientists 'brain doping' withperformance-enhancing drugs such as Provigil and Ritalin, a press release declared last week. The release, brainchild of evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, turned out to be an April Fools' prank. And the World Anti-Brain Doping Authority website that it linked to was likewise fake. But with a number of co-conspirators spreading rumours about receiving anti-doping affidavits with their first R01 research grants, the ruse no doubt gave pause to a few of the respondents to Nature 's survey on readers' use of cognition-enhancing drugs.
The survey was triggered by a Commentary by behavioural neuroscientists Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir of the University of Cambridge, UK, who had surveyed their colleagues on the use of drugs that purportedly enhance focus and attention (Nature 450, 1157–1159 ; 2007). In the article, the two scientists asked readers whether they would consider “boosting their brain power” with drugs. Spurred by the tremendous response, Nature ran its own informal survey. 1,400 people from 60 countries responded to the online poll.
Could the results have been skewed by the people who were in on the joke? Of course. Does that lessen the negative impact here? Not in the least.