Re: Ask The Mineshaft: Alertness Drugs And The Honor Code Edition

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Both are wrong.


Posted by: Belle Lettre | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 5:52 PM
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To answer the specific question: no. They're about the same.

To answer the question of whether these sorts of things should be banned: no.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 5:59 PM
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with a rather serious proposal to include its prohibition in the honor code

Yeah, that'll matter.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:04 PM
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To further my 2, given that these drugs are generally quite safe (list of caveats), and further given that the banning of performance enhancing substances has worked so well and had so few implications for civil liberties in athletics, and given further yet that many august intellects have relied quite heavily on amphetamines to get them through the workday, and given even past that that many people are actually, you know, prescribed these things, for disorders, and given at the last that that while they work, it's not like a turbo switch for your brain, not that it'd matter if it was: who cares, really?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:07 PM
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What is honor? A word. Who hath it? Him that failed that take-home exam o' Wednesday.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:10 PM
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If a college is ready to end up debating, some time down the line, a regime of out of examination testing, they should consider putting a prohibition in the honor code. If they aren't, they should talk about other things, like educational goals and stuff like that.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:13 PM
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It's not like your life is going to be better, in any sense whatsoever, if you somehow remain "pure" in your study habits. of course, it's also very unlikely that your life is going to be better in any sense if your grades are just a notch higher.

I suppose Belle Lettre doesn't drink coffee? Or is that grandfathered in? Or is there some reasonable distinction I'm not seeing?


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:37 PM
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The only way to make this fair, obviously, is to allow the professors to use performance-enhancing drugs for grading.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:41 PM
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Pressuring is bad.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:46 PM
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7 -- For undergrad I don't really disagree. Someone linked an article by a law prof the other day about how law classes, and exams, were like preparation for real life. There's an element of truth in that, depending on what you do. I don't know what impact these substances have on recall etc.

(I'm arguing some evidentiary issues at trial tomorrow morning, and will have to be totally ready for whatever shit comes up. It's worse than school, but I'm really helped by the fact that all those years ago my prof made us all memorize not only the rules, but the numbers -- 'hey, this comes in under 801(d)(1)(B)' is a useful and persuasive utterance, if you have the elements.)


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:52 PM
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vIs there any basis for the intuition I encountered among friends, that it is somehow worse to use Adderall, et al. during rather than to prepare for an examination?

Your friends are cunts, who doubtless will comfort themselves with memories of your drug use as they go off to second rate jobs and/or second tier grad schools.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:53 PM
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Oh, I dunno. Encouraging somebody to try a safe, non-habit forming substance they already possess which is commonly prescribed to 7 year olds who seem a little spastic? It's not like cooking somebody up some black tar heroin, here. It's pretty low on the "destroying lives through peer pressure!#@$" scale.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:53 PM
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12 to 9, as I pass the spliff cut with horse testosterone and peruvian cellulite.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:54 PM
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I don't find encourage and pressure to be identical. But then I used the word swivet in casual conversation today also.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 6:57 PM
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14: I don't either, and I was assuming (based on personal experience) the more light-hearted end of the peer pressure scale. Which, honestly, seems more likely. Did our nameless undergraduate say "Dude, I want to do this, but you do it first. Otherwise we aren't friends anymore. And I'm calling your parents and telling them you're gay." or "oh man I wonder what this is like. Have you tried it? No?! You have these and you haven't tried them? C'mon, give it a shot!"? I think the latter is more likely.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:01 PM
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I probably ended up pressuring another party, through whom I acquired the drug but who had not herself taken it, into using.

Probably? You don't remember? Hope you didn't pay a lot for those drugs.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:02 PM
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Someone linked an article by a law prof the other day about how law classes, and exams, were like preparation for real life.

Ah, but using, even when restricted by the honor code, also prepares you for life: do what's necessary to get the job done, and it can't be cheating if they can't catch you.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:14 PM
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It drives me insane that the college debates stimulants as "unfair" when you've got students from rich families "competing" with other students who have to work.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:17 PM
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I'm with Sifu and Michael. If it's bad, then using it when it's been prescribed is bad too. People are using the "performance-enhancing" analogy when it's not really appropriate. Sports is recreation/entertainment and the various leagues can choose the rules under which they play. Education is education; as long as the grades represent actual learning (which is debatable, but separate from the current issue), it shouldn't matter how one got there.

IOW, even if there were a magic pill that immediately conferred the necessary knowledge on the individual (a la the Matrix), it should still not be against the rules.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:18 PM
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Taking drugs to help you study means you legitimately learn more of the material, which is good. Whereas taking drugs to help you game the test better than other students doesn't do anything good for society other than to switch around some people's relative academic standings.

I find Sifu's "neither is bad" position somewhat plausible, but if it's bad to take while studying, it's worse to take during the test.


Posted by: Dr. Zeuss | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:19 PM
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uh, "anything good for society; all it does is switch..."


Posted by: DZ | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:21 PM
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I'm finding myself far less bothered by using drugs in school than in athletics. Probably because every sport is inherently defined by a set of somewhat arbitrary rules, the breaking of which undermines the basis for competition, whereas studying and work aren't like that--there's competition, but the rules don't define the activity, they only set guidelines for ethical (or legal) conduct. But my concern is that drug-fueled attention will change expectations so much that people will feel like they need to do drugs in order to keep up. But that's more of a symptom than cause of society being fucked up, so what the hell, pop away.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:21 PM
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12: Call me a prude, but I think this is crap.

18 is, of course, very true, as is the argument about admissions and the rest of it. And I find 4 a fairly satisfactory answer to the question, and to my initial inchoate feeling that taking prescription drugs to help oneself focus on the test does seem somehow unfair (if only b/c duh, presription = not universally available).

That said, though, I still think that it's kind of fucked up to unproblematically accept a state of affairs in which the standards for "producing" and "focusing" and "performing" satisfactorily require (or are perceived to require) people to drug themselves. And yeah, I include the national dependence on coffee.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:24 PM
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22: This is roughly the same situation as in sports: either it hasn't been banned, or, if banned, can't be caught. I don't think you're distinction between the two fields holds up.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:25 PM
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I think it does!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:26 PM
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23: okay, you're a prude.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:31 PM
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I don't think you're distinction between the two fields holds up.

It does, because in sports the only metric is relative performance to other athletes/teams; it doesn't matter how fast you ran if 4 other guys ran faster. There's an element of this in education (law school class rank, etc.) but your objective output is of more primary importance.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:31 PM
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But that's more of a symptom than cause of society being fucked up, so what the hell, pop away.

Ogged wins the thread: that should be banned.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:32 PM
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25: Yeah, I think that's insane. I don't really know what I think about this. I feel uneasy about it, but I find sifu and gswift pretty convincing. But I think an ethical inquiry is the wrong place to start.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:33 PM
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I'll tell you who should knock it off, though, is all those peer-pressuring bastards trying to get [ nameless undergrad ] to feel all shamed for being curious about the world and what it takes to succeed in it. Way to enforce your own soul-destroying variant of "healthy living" on unwilling participants, [ nameless undergrad ]'s peers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:36 PM
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but your objective output is of more primary importance.

Within certain ranges--as found in not-entirely-open school or class--I think the idea of "objective output" is difficult. As Emerson points out continually, the relative performance actually does matter in many cases.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:36 PM
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27: In my experience, classes are graded on a curve. That means the relative metric is relative performance to other students.

Particularly those classes where the grades are based on spending dozens of hours memorizing things and then exactly two hours recalling things and writing them down in response to vague questions.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:36 PM
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30 is 26 continued, or something.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:37 PM
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sorry, "relevant metric", not "relative metric",


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:38 PM
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IOW, I disagree with 22, in that I'm more bothered by people's using drugs in school than in sport, since school (and by extension, work) are pretty much required activities, whereas sports aren't.

But I agree that the problem is more about the system than it is about individual behavior.

(analogy follows)

Still, though, I disapprove of upper middle class kids taking SAT prep courses and the like. It just bugs me to say "yeah, that's a systematic problem, but fuck it, I have the means to supplement the advantages I already have so I will." It seems somewhat akin to refusing to being a Marxist who refuses to give to the homeless because, after all, the *real* goal is to change the system. OTOH, SAT prep courses for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds? Bring 'em on.

In other words, I think If it's bad, then using it when it's been prescribed is bad too may be carelessly dismissive. Some people *really do* have disadvantages relative to the general population, and for those folks supplementary stuff can help even the playing field. When people who aren't disadvantaged start supplementing, it strikes me as shitty, generally speaking.

I realize that what I'm saying is unenforcable as a rule. I'm just articulating my own moral standards here.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:39 PM
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If students are taking my exams on Focalin, I'll write the exams on Lagavulin.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:41 PM
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35: better to nobly accept failure than to succeed in a system you think is unfair?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:43 PM
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College is a game where you pay a lot of money to jump through a bunch of hoops so they will give you a piece of paper so you can get your resume past the HR department trolls when you try to get a job after you graduate. If you've got a tool that helps you jump through those hoops, take it. Let it help you get the bullshit out of the way, so you can focus on learning more important stuff.


Posted by: Franklin Pierce | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:44 PM
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b is right. why aren't the rest of you?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:44 PM
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35 is bringing us right back to Pistonius, you realize. It also requires an infallible metric of "disadvantaged" or you're right back in the same mess as before.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:44 PM
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OTOH, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the students who are taking drugs to help them focus on exams are going to come from two groups: the group that blows everything off all semester long, in which case the drugs aren't likely to help a whole lot, and the group that spends every waking hour in the library, in which case they'd do just fine without the drugs.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:44 PM
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Some people *really do* have disadvantages relative to the general population, and for those folks supplementary stuff can help even the playing field.

How far does this go? What do you think about the practice of giving some students more time on exams because of ADD-type diagnoses?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:45 PM
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Rich kids shouldn't study at all, to make it fair.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:45 PM
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41: you're wrong.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:45 PM
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College is a game where you pay a lot of money to jump through a bunch of hoops so they will give you a piece of paper so you can get your resume past the HR department trolls when you try to get a job after you graduate. If you've got a tool that helps you jump through those hoops, take it. Let it help you get the bullshit out of the way, so you can focus on learning more important stuff.

This is true, except for classes that are graded on a curve, such that when one person becomes able to jump through some hoop or other, it displaces another person.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:47 PM
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41: I think it's a lot more widespread than that.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:47 PM
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43: rich kids should be encouraged to get drunk before exams; poorer students should be given free adderal.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:47 PM
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Unfortunately, Pierce is right as to the actual function of modern higher education. The real solution is to change the system; both in making the grading more accurate, and in changing the overall goal of college.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:47 PM
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37: IME, that's not the choice. The choice may be between doing "pretty well" and doing "very well indeed." I've mostly satisfied myself with the former, and I hope to teach my kid to do the same. I certainly won't be enrolling him in SAT prep courses.

40: No, the metric doesn't have to be infallible. It just has to be generally fairly decent. I'm talking (as are we all, since we're discussing social behavior) in generalities; the fact that there will always be outliers, exceptions, and mistakes doesn't make the generalization illegitimate.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:47 PM
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What do you think about the practice of giving some students more time on exams because of ADD-type diagnoses?

When it comes to things in the organizational environment guaranteed to piss faculty off, the rise of Disability Resource Centers -- and the inevitable expansion of the kind and number of people covered by their special teaching provisions -- is second only to the rise of IRBs and their claims to regulate research.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:48 PM
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27: Rank is stupid, grading on curve is stupid. But then, I skipped that whole higher education thing, so what do I know.

Guh. I hate reality right now.

I don't know what this Focalin shit is. If it's habit forming, you should avoid it OH WAIT I GUESS I'M A BIG OL CAFFEINE JUNKIE.

I don't care how you got through college. Can you write decent code? Can you commit yourself to trying to learn to write better code? Can you commit yourself to continuously look for ways to solve problems and make my studio a better place to work? Can you fix that bug that some other guy caused before he went on vacation? Can you keep learning day in day out for years on end? Can you maintain obsessive-compulsive clarity and discipline during a three-month crunch? Great, you're hired. We'll be drinking beer and whisky after hours.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:48 PM
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I agree with 38 as well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:48 PM
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41: I have a fair bit of doubt about the effect as well.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:49 PM
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What do you think about the practice of giving some students more time on exams because of ADD-type diagnoses?

I hate it, but I take some comfort in the fact that it doesn't seem to help them anyway. None of the students who was requested extra time has ever scored above the class average.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:49 PM
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42: I think that accommodations of that sort are completely fair and should absolutely be supported.

38: This is beautifully cynical, but it isn't entirely true. It's certainly part of what college is used for, but it isn't the whole story.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:50 PM
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Haven't read the thread, but I think that it keys on whether competitive advantage is in question (so it's maybe wrong) or whether improved performance is in question (so it's not wrong). Because improved performance is a good thing. The more improved performance there is in the world, the better off the world is.

But these overlap, so there are some tough calls: sppose a drug helped people to be nicer people. A good thing, right? But then, suppose these people were entered into a high pay-off niceness competition. More problematic.

Then again, suppose it was lawyers, economists, and strategic planners. They are hateful, evil people, so we don't need them to be smarter. But suppose that they are all....... some category of people universally agreed to be good, the human equivalent of puppies and kitties and fluffy clouds. Certainly we would not begrudge them any smartness.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:50 PM
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OTOH, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the students who are taking drugs to help them focus on exams are going to come from two groups: the group that blows everything off all semester long, in which case the drugs aren't likely to help a whole lot, and the group that spends every waking hour in the library, in which case they'd do just fine without the drugs.

No, I don't think so. I would have done this in any class where I thought it would make the difference between a B and a C. This is a thing which will definitely create new winners from those who would otherwise be losers, and in classes that are curved, create new losers who would otherwise be winners.

However, what this means is that people for whom Drug X works particularly well will now have an advantage, instead of the advantage going to people for whom coffee and sleep deprivation work particularly well. This may not be any worse for society.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:51 PM
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No, the metric doesn't have to be infallible. It just has to be generally fairly decent.

And how would one accomplish that? Exam times are set on a sliding scale, based on a score generated from parent's incomes, height, weight, popularity of hobbies as a child, ethnic origin, difficulty taking previous tests, and weight-of-world-upon-shoulders as measured via spinal tilt?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:51 PM
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And how would one accomplish that?

Well, to be fair, B (with whom I disagree--she's probably against programs for gifted kids, too), is talking about the principle, not policy.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:53 PM
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50: Disagreed. Disability accomodations are important. The main problem faculty have with them, if the faculty are reasonable, is when they're run in such a way that they create extra work for the faculty (e.g., you have to yourself administer a separate exam, rather than having the folks from the Center for Disabilities do it, or if there's a practice of second-guessing the results after the fact (e.g., "you allowed the CSD to let the student with the broken arm sit her exam in our office, but after she got her results she realized that the pain medications were affecting her concentration more than she realized and wants a second chance"--which actually happened to me once, and I said, "no.")


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:54 PM
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51: Good for you, HamLove. You have a job where ability to do the job can be easily and immediately quantified without any need for credentials or references. Congrats, you don't necessarily speak for anyone else.

Maybe I sound bitter here, which is odd since I was always the one who for whatever reason was very good at taking tests. I jsut get annoyed at life becoming more and more complicated. This makes it easier to jump through hoops? Perhaps, but then taking the drug is also a hoop that has to be jumped.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:54 PM
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59: if I wanted to be fair I'd be high right now!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:54 PM
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38,45: I realize they're unfashionable in these parts, but there are lots of college programs where you learn valuable skills that you can then put to use making the world a better place.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:55 PM
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60: so, as an example, there was a student at my school who was in every other way an exceptional student, but had been diagnosed with a learning disability that made it difficult for him to perform on tests. Because of this learning disability, he took his tests in a room by himself, and was given twice as much time as the other students.

62 reworked to not be a dumb joke: to the general question of "should everything always be fair", yes, I totally agree that everything should always be fair. I thought we were talking about specific actions taken in the context of the real world, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:57 PM
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I realize they're unfashionable in these parts, but there are lots of college programs where you learn valuable skills that you can then put to use making the world a better place.

There are two issues under discussion here, which can be enhanced by Provigil, in theory. One is actually learning and accomplishing things. The other is getting good grades in classes. Not necessarily related.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:58 PM
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61: You have a job where ability to do the job can be easily and immediately quantified without any need for credentials or references.

Unfortunately, no, I don't. I have a job where ability to do the job can only be proven by trying to do the job, and watching the ways in which different organizations fuck it up, and vowing not to repeat the same mistakes, and vowing to develop tools and process to avoid those mistakes, and then making new and exciting mistakes.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:58 PM
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she's probably against programs for gifted kids, too

In theory, of course not, and I'm having to think about this now w/r/t PK. In practice? My parents kept me out of gifted programs for years, and I approve of the decision, since the fact is that the programs often aren't about actual intelligence, but are rather about children who've been raised with upper middle class standards of behavior.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:59 PM
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Exam times are set on a sliding scale, based on a score generated from parent's incomes, height, weight, popularity of hobbies as a child, ethnic origin, difficulty taking previous tests, and weight-of-world-upon-shoulders as measured via spinal tilt?

To some extent this already happens, in that we decide which problematic things we'll address and which we won't. Things that fall broadly, inc. on the rich and upper middle class, we accept. Hence ADD-time additions. Things that fall specifically on less well-to-do people--like having to work--we don't accommodate.

I'm not sure trying to pin down fair gets us very far. If people at the top of the family income scale are already broadly doing it, go ahead and do it, because it's going to be OK'd down the road, anyway.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 7:59 PM
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65: The ritalin-type drugs most definitely help with accomplishing things; it's been a long time since I've gotten a grade. As for learning, I guess it depends on what you are trying to learn.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:00 PM
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65: and the only sense in which the use of Provigil would be "unfair" is the latter one, in which case you're getting into the whole nonsense of what "fair" means, and whether educational outcomes are a particularly "fair" way to judge anybody on anything.

Which nonsense, you will no doubt be surprised to learn, I am highly suspect of.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:00 PM
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I definitely remember the "ask you parents for a car for your 21st birthday" unit in my gifted program.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:01 PM
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58: A lot of the means we use to try to accomplish that are well known. For the most part, I support things like affirmative action, disability accommodations, minority student centers, mentoring programs for first-generation college students, writing centers, ESL programs, and so on. I assume most reasonable people do as well.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:02 PM
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71 to 67

And there are so many things wrong with that comment, I'm going to try again:

I definitely remember the "ask your parents for a car for your 16st birthday" unit in my gifted program.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:03 PM
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whether educational outcomes are a particularly "fair" way to judge anybody on anything

No, they're not. And I'd make the exact same argument with someone saying "well, that's the way the world works, so if you can buy a transcript, you should" as I am about the argument that that's the way the world works, so if you can improve your grades by taking drugs, you should.

If taking drugs actually improves *learning*, then fine, go ahead and do it. I won't, and I'll say that I think a system in which "learning" is *so* demanding that people regularly take drugs to do well is a fucked-up system.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:07 PM
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"ask your parents for a car for your 16st birthday"

Yeah I think whoever asked that is going to need more than Provigil come SAT time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:07 PM
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65: and the only sense in which the use of Provigil would be "unfair" is the latter one, in which case you're getting into the whole nonsense of what "fair" means, and whether educational outcomes are a particularly "fair" way to judge anybody on anything.

Which nonsense, you will no doubt be surprised to learn, I am highly suspect of.

I know. As I said earlier, the appearance of these drugs inevitably means that they work better for some people than for others. These people now have an advantage, thanks to, in effect, the rules being changed.

This isn't objectively unfair anyway. It just creates new winners and losers, just like when the rules of baseball were changed to make foul balls into strikes, or to prevent pitchers from scratching the ball or secreting bodily fluids on it.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:07 PM
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Sixteenst! Sixteenst! Sixteenst! Sixteenst!


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:08 PM
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If taking drugs actually improves *learning*, then fine, go ahead and do it. I won't, and I'll say that I think a system in which "learning" is *so* demanding that people regularly take drugs to do well is a fucked-up system.

In a given situation, some people find learning more difficult than others, all else being equal.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:09 PM
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I mean, I think the whole idea that college should be a way of evaluating people's skills and abilities that is more pure or more fair than the world at large allows is -- while laudable -- highly problematic in execution.

Not like I have a good solution, or anything. Besides, you know, carving out an exception for my special snowflake ass.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:11 PM
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If taking drugs actually improves *learning*, then fine, go ahead and do it. I won't, and I'll say that I think a system in which "learning" is *so* demanding that people regularly take drugs to do well is a fucked-up system.

They pretty much do, and agreed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:12 PM
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72: disability accommodations

Clearly we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but it seems to me that what gets defined as "disability" for these purposes is also pretty often linked to class (i.e., whose parents had the wherewithal to take them to the doctor to get this particular diagnosis). I can be "reasonable" and still wonder if we're drawing the lines at the right place.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:13 PM
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I think the obvious solution to all this is...is that a bird outside? Whoa, check out that bird! (runs outside to chase bird)


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:18 PM
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Was that an oriole?!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:20 PM
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So, (having pre-vetted my comment with any and all nearby academics) one thing that I think confuses this process is that exams per se are an almost totally abitrary way to judge people's ability; accurately recalling semi-random pieces of information about a subject you've only just learned about, without any external references, and without ever having to do it again, is quite dramatically unlike the tasks required for 99.9% of jobs out there in the world.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:23 PM
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Is it really the case that these prescription drugs are so common among undergrads? Because if so, damn, those drugs don't work half well enough, and I'm ashamed for the chemists.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:29 PM
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85: at my school they seemed remarkably prevalent, although they maybe hadn't penetrated with the squares.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:31 PM
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I know professors who've had to take three hours out of their evenings a few days a semester to sit in a room with one student with a 'disability accommodation' so said student could take an exam and still get a grade that was, at best, mediocre. I don't see this as reasonable.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:33 PM
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84: Oh fine Tweety, drag Blume down with you.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:36 PM
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86: Likely. I never saw them at my school, I think such prescription drugs are just a lot less common in the UK. Coffee was a constant companion for those people who actually went through that studying process.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:43 PM
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84: That type of exam is, as you say, not indicative of too much except for a gift for memorization. However, it is possible to write exams to also judge higher learning skills, such as problem-solving ability, and ability to synthesize unrelated facts. It is harder, and much harder (and more subjective) to grade, but it is certainly more useful. I've even seen it done with multiple choice questions, which is really remarkable.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 8:56 PM
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90: I suppose. I've had exams that fit basically those criteria, but even then everything about the culture pushes back; you have students that want study guides, and you don't have time or necessarily the people to grade something like that thoughtfully, and even in the best case sitting in a room and answering questions for three hours on a single subject just doesn't have a hell of a lot to do directly with job skills. And even when it does, it's still artifice, and still can be gamed. I just don't think -- when you're dealing with these arbitrary, single events -- that you can get around that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:15 PM
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Hard to argue with that.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:16 PM
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88: I don't know if she was really paying that much attention, and thus maybe shouldn't be blamed for my fuzzy-ass critical thinking in this thread.

Urrr! School dumb! Fight with rock! Grrraaaaah!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:16 PM
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38 -- Sure there's hoop jumping, and, as I used to always complain in law school, a lot of collection of ceral boxtops before they'll give you a secret decoder ring.

It's also, though, a time to be doing some growing up. Training oneself in the ability to learn, and concentrate, and apply learned convcepts to new information -- not a bad thing. Obviously people with medical problems that interfere in these ought to be talking to medical professionals about medical help. People who just want to cheat at solitaire, though?

As is easily seen, my reaction to this topic is as the father of an undergrad, rather than a former undergrad.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:38 PM
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People who just want to cheat at solitaire, though?

If it were solitaire it'd be a different story entirely. You aren't competing against yourself to see just how much you can learn. That's how it should be, sure. That's not how it is.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:43 PM
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what gets defined as "disability" for these purposes is also pretty often linked to class (i.e., whose parents had the wherewithal to take them to the doctor to get this particular diagnosis)

Sort of. We're talking about college students, though; certainly things like student health services, psychological services, etc., should be well-funded, student advising should be well-run, and students with learning difficulties who *haven't* had diagnoses should be helped to get them, if they need them.

Unless you're arguing that we should just do away with disability services altogether?

91: All true. That said, exams *should* assess learning, not just guessing ability or test-taking ability; saying "well, the system pushes for us to do things in a half-assed way" is just as unacceptable when it comes to the teaching end as it does when it comes to the student end (more so, even). I suppose systems are always going to push back for people to take shortcuts. The way to counter this is to reject it, not to accept it and look for even better shortcuts. IMHO.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:48 PM
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This is pretty interesting. It's been a decade since I was an undergrad (reunion registration was tonight, in fact), and I don't think this was going on then. Or at least, it was going on in very different circles, because none of the drugs being done by people I knew or that were offered to me were performance-enhancing.

That said, I think that if they had been around, it would have been a painful class issue, because I would not have been able to *afford* the black-market performance-enhancing drugs.

I also took the pseudo-moral position in college and high school that an exam was supposed to measure what you really knew, so cramming just before the exam was itself a form of cheating - if you had to stuff that much in, you didn't really know it, and were going to forget it immediately after the exam, and so it shouldn't count. Needless to say, this put me at a disadvantage compared to people who saw the rules of the game differently.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:50 PM
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Actually, I don't even really think these drugs are a shortcut. More of an enhancement. I would almost argue they should be as available as coffee. It's not "cheating" like cribbing notes or anything like that; it's just you, with a little more stamina and a few less distractions. You could sit in a cabin by yourself and hire somebody to hit an airhorn when you lost patience, and it'd be a vastly less painless way to accomplish the same thing.

Yay, drugs! Better living &c.!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:52 PM
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It's also, though, a time to be doing some growing up. Training oneself in the ability to learn, and concentrate, and apply learned convcepts to new information -- not a bad thing.

Very true. It seems, though, that the problem isn't so much that undergrads aren't willing to use the time to do some growing up, but (and I think this is part of what ogged was getting at in 22?) that the meritocracy has transformed the college years into yet another competition for the best overall numbers. It's easy enough to lecture the youngsters (not to say anyone here is doing that!) on learning for learning's sake and all that. But alot of them know that the law schools and med schools (and grad schools?) are going to admit them or not based on what the numbers show and little else. And I don't know about the rest of the world, but for the law students, it's still going to be the numbers that determine whether or not you are going to land that federal clerkship or that BigLaw dream job. In other words, it's not really "cheating at solitaire." It's trying to stay competitive in a world that is increasingly becoming a never ending competition.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:55 PM
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I would almost argue they should be as available as coffee

Yeah, I thought about this early in the argument (which is why I said that I think the cultural dependence on coffee is also a problem, in terms of what we consider "normal"). I really don't know enough about said drugs to be able to say with much certainty if they're basically like coffee or not. Certainly the fact that they're currently prescription-only presents a problem if only in terms of their *not* being widely available.

But even accepting the "adderal=coffee" idea, I'm just not all that nuts about embracing the endless race to pharmaceutically-aided perfection.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 9:57 PM
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99 gets it right.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:02 PM
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This'll teach me not to click links on reddit.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:02 PM
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Hmm. I'm out of date.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:04 PM
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Are you not capable of learning the material? Then train yourself (absent actual disability). I understand the need to get the grade; all the more reason to develop one's abilities. This is the solitaire game -- not the grade, but the acquisition of useful skills.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:07 PM
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Yeah, I'm not convinced that it's as bad as 99 says it is. I know it *feels* like it is when you're in the middle of it, but I think it's the job of us who are grownups (including us who are grownups and undergrads both, Tweety) not to just reify the "omg if I don't get a 4.0 I'll never get into med school and my entire life will be over" angst of overachieving adolescents.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:21 PM
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It's been a very long time since I looked closely at learning theory and testing, but it's a little too facile to just say, "Are you not capable of learning the material?"

Teaching and testing -- particularly the standardized stuff (SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT GRE... ) that performs the gatekeeper role -- tends to be geared toward a very particular learning style. Not surprisingly, a learning style typical of affluent white dudes because those are the people who rose most easily to the top and enjoyed the privilege of formulating the tests. For some students, "learning the material" doesn't just mean learning the material, but also learning the style of learning and testing required to demonstrate satisfactorily that they have learned the material.

Acquiring useful skills is great. But the skills are alot less useful if you don't get the grade, and don't get the job where such skills can be used.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:27 PM
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104: This is the solitaire game -- not the grade, but the acquisition of useful skills.

Part of which is learning to do what it takes. For instance, surely all of the admissions departments of the top undergrad schools surely know that a fair chunk of the applications of all but the truly top students consists of coached, trained, edited and bought semi-bullshit. But, that in fact shows a mastery of what it takes to make it in most of the world, so come on in.

Overly cynical, and the words of a weary man who this very evening had family contention over closely related matters. Like 99 there is a whole long implicit critique in my words of a society that seems intent on magnifying differential rewards based on very small distinctions rather than identifying and developing skills, talents and mastery of material and attempting to nurture and use those in the most productive manner.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:30 PM
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not to just reify the "omg if I don't get a 4.0 I'll never get into med school and my entire life will be over" angst of overachieving adolescents.

But if that's their dream, they're not wrong. They need that 4.0.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:31 PM
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108: Bull. If it's their *dream*, they'll figure out a way. Maybe they'll go to a second-tier med school. Maybe they'll go become a nurse and apply for med school in their 30s or 40s.

Which isn't to be a hard-nosed asshole and all "tough shit, kid, if you really want it you'll pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" about it. On the contrary. The point is that life just doesn't work in that make-or-break moment adrenalin-driven way.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:37 PM
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omg if I don't get a 4.0 I'll never get into med school and my entire life will be over

Their life won't be over, of course, but you really do need extremely high grades to get into medical school. You're crushing their dreams.

Also, B, on the subject of SAT prep classes for PK, I do hope you sort of reconsider. Not necessarily on the classes themselves (which are not all that useful except as a version of Sifu's "guy with an airhorn in a cabin"), but on prepping for the test by taking a bunch of practice exams. It's by far the most helpful thing to do when preparing for the SAT. I actually think most of the value of SAT prep classes is a result of them forcing the kids to sit down and take 3 or 4 full-length timed tests before the real one.

Of course, you don't need to lay out a grand to take the class; you get the same value by paying $19.99 for a copy of "10 Real SATs." Just make sure he really does them.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:40 PM
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105: It's not as bad for some of us. I'm just trying to describe what I imagine drives kids to performance enhancing drugs for tests. I don't think just saying "it's not as bad as you think" is going to help. Yeah, life goes on if you don't get into med school. My best friend didn't get into med school and is now a P.A. so she still gets to do medicine and the world didn't end. But you know, she had a single mom and a dad who stiffed them on child support and she had to work to put herself through college and would have made a far better doctor than most of the ones I've seen in the past decade, but her numbers didn't cut it. And I'm certainly not saying she should have popped some pills so that she could work harder in school. I'm just saying, knowing that numbers do mean that much, I can see why some kids might.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:40 PM
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Bull. If it's their *dream*, they'll figure out a way. Maybe they'll go to a second-tier med school.

You don't know what you're talking about. There aren't really "2nd tier" med schools in this country. Not everywhere is Hopkins, but pretty much everyone in med school has a very high GPA.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:41 PM
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Maybe they'll go to a second-tier med school.

In Mexico?


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:42 PM
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Further to 112, I would add that apply for med school in their 30s or 40s. hardly seems realistic. Another friend got into med school and from what I could tell, it's kinda hell. I mean, sure, maybe it can be done in you 304s or 40s, but if you have a family, a few little peanuts maybe, you need to be fairly willing to just never see them for several years. And then, of course, the residency. I'm sure I'm just a prematurely burnt out old fart, but I can't imagine anyone my age pulling that off.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:46 PM
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113 -- I think the Caribbean is the hot spot for 2nd tier med schools. That's where my brother's friend went when he didn't get in anywhere stateside.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:47 PM
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110: Meh. It's a long way away. I didn't study for the SATs (or, in a burst of ignorance about how the GREs work, for those either), and my life, magically, did not end.

Which, I'm certainly not going to discourage the kid from studying, and god knows I'm trying to get him to have better study habits than I ever did. But my god, people. A little resistance to the GRADES MEAN EVERYTHING AND IF YOU DON'T GET A 4.0 YOU'LL NEVER GET INTO HARVARD AND YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WILL BE MEANINGLESS!!!1!!! pressure is a good thing, already. Yes, I *understand* why undergrads feel that way. I also understand that that feeling is neither healthy nor, in fact, an accurate reflection of reality.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:48 PM
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In Mexico?

If you can't get into a first-tier medical school, the online DHA (Doctor of Health Administration) program at the University of Phoenix is clearly the next-best thing, and probably offers more lucrative career prospects anyway.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:50 PM
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114: I know a woman with a husband, a boyfriend, and a young child who just finished med school and applied for a residency last year. It can be done.

Again, I don't want to be flippant; I'm responding specifically to the "but what if it's their *dream*?" issue. If it is really your dream, then you should pursue it with all you've got. And if you for whatever reason, you don't get into med school after college--whether b/c of less-than-perfect grades or whatever else--then you should find another way to do the thing you want to do. And doing that is okay.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:51 PM
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106 -- This is all the more reason for people who don't have medical problems to train themselves to learn and take tests. As undergrads, on exams. When the stakes are substantially lower than the make or break standardized tests.

Of course the overall stakes are high. That's why you should learn how to play a high stakes game by playing lower stakes games.

107 -- So why penalize plagiarism, then? Let people turn in whatever they want, best paper gets the A. Works fine until you get to the time when the crutch isn't there, and you can't write 5 coherent paragraphs on your own.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:56 PM
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110: Practice SATs Just make sure he really does them.

Agreed, it helps. But in a sane world I can hardly imagine a more fucked up way for 16 and 17 year olds to spend their time. We really are the most stupid fucking species of animal in creation.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 10:56 PM
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then you should find another way to do the thing you want to do. And doing that is okay.

The point is that for certain careers, there really isn't "another way". Med schools want to see a shitload of A's in your science classes, and a good MCAT score. Exceptions to this are damn near non existent.

People who want to be doctors are right to stress over their grades. They're the ones who understand the system.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:03 PM
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I think the Caribbean is the hot spot for 2nd tier med schools.

My parents used to lecture at St. George's in Grenada, which was emphatically 2nd tier but apparently important enough to justify an invasion. I went with them once when I was in high school; the students I met seemed to live improbably cushy lives.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:03 PM
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I have not read the thread. GREAT!

But I think I agree with Bitch here, and my take is that undergrads have a major gigantic blindspot where they believe that graduation is the one single crossroads that life will ever offer you. Really, life hands you crossroads almost monthly, and if you're unhappy, you can try a different path. I try to tell them, "Life is a game of Plinko!" but I think I'm talking in some inaudible frequency.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:06 PM
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119: So why penalize plagiarism, then? ... Works fine until you get to the time when the crutch isn't there, and you can't write 5 coherent paragraphs on your own.

Or can't recognize a bad strawman. Answering anyway:

1) Because not getting caught at plagiarism is part of the game.
2) It really is a mix, anyone they are looking at (save for a few), are capable of getting by at the level they need. (Especially at the very top schools with their scandalously high graduation rates.)
3) They do count on, and there are in fact, plenty of truly motivated and talented people who play it straight despite all this malarkey.

Look it is no great insight to recognize that schools and colleges (and the students in them) will generally fall prey to the same ills as society as a whole. And I think the overall sense of a society with diminishing opportunity for most (wrong though that may be) and skyrocketing rewards for the few heightens these fears and reinforces these behaviors.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:11 PM
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People who want to be doctors are right to stress over their grades.

Agreed.

In general, though, there's a difference between "I want to be a doctor" and "being a doctor is my dream and if I don't achieve it I will never be happy." The *vast* majority of undergraduates people fall into the former category. (And imo, those who really truly have a vocation to practice medicine will figure out how to pursue that vocation in other ways, even *if* they don't manage to get into an American medical school, but that's a separate discussion.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:16 PM
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Of course the overall stakes are high. That's why you should learn how to play a high stakes game by playing lower stakes games

Right, but some students grew up learning how to play the high stakes game and they are competing against students who didn't. I don't know jack about these performance enhancing drugs, mind you, but what I'm reading above is that they're supposed to help improve focus and alertness -- which maybe helps level the playing field for the kid who has to learn the material and how to play the game when he's competing against the kid who just had to learn the material.

A little resistance to the GRADES MEAN EVERYTHING AND IF YOU DON'T GET A 4.0 YOU'LL NEVER GET INTO HARVARD AND YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WILL BE MEANINGLESS!!!1!!! pressure is a good thing, already.

Amen. I actually agree with you, but I do think the most significant resistance has to come from people in positions to hire or decide on admissions etc. So long as these decisions are consistently made based on who had the higher test scores, you're never going to convince students that the numbers aren't that important. Part of the joy of youth is dreaming big, and "Hey, chill out, you can have a perfectly happy life just being mediocre," -- while 100% true -- isn't going to sell.

I know a woman with a husband, a boyfriend, and a young child who just finished med school and applied for a residency last year. It can be done.

Dear God. I'm exhausted just reading that sentence. God bless her.

If it is really your dream, then you should pursue it with all you've got.

But why doesn't "all you've got" include pharmaceuticals? What makes this different from any number of other devices students might use (meditation, vitamins, listening to Mozart) in hopes of improving their focus and performance? I can understand the medical reasoning for avoiding unnecessary drugs. But I am not understanding the "fairness" argument.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:16 PM
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Really, life hands you crossroads almost monthly, and if you're unhappy, you can try a different path.

Of course. Hell, I'm the guy who knocked up my wife at 21, dropped out and put her through school, and am now deciding to not finish my education and go be a cop instead. And I'm pretty certain I'll be very happy doing so.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:19 PM
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122: I posted it here once before, but I think this picture of Grenada med students and a soldier should be one of the iconic pictures of the Reagan administration (maybe juxtaposed with a picture of the blownup barracks in Lebanon from a few weeks prior).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:19 PM
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"Hey, chill out, you can have a perfectly happy life just being mediocre,"

Heh. This is practically the mission statement of my school. "You are ill-equipped to pursue your dreams. Have you thought about Kinesiology?"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:20 PM
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Ohmigod, if you want to see the most thorough pwnage of someone in a political debate ever, watch this. It's one of those things where you feel bad for the pwnee because he's getting ripped up so thoroughly.


Posted by: Gaijin Biker | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:26 PM
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You are ill-equipped to pursue your dreams.

You need posters in your office. Like "Ambition" and "Bitterness".

http://www.despair.com/viewall.html


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:26 PM
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I can't believe that any reasonably competent person can't make top grades in a pre-med curriculum.

The only thing is, unless you've got a really affinity for it, making those sort of grades for most people will mean not doing much of anything else during undergrad. Come to think of it, that's not a bad proxy for med school


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:29 PM
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131: I've got one of those in my office.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:29 PM
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129: Ideally I think "evaluations" of competence and mastery should be broad-banded into mastery, partial mastery and fuggedaboutit. Next steps would involve moving on actual vocational practice (or learning higher-level skills) for mastery, further learning at the same level for partial mastery and either "go do something else", or "come back when you are willing to actually try" for the third. The last signal is a very valuable one, as long as it is only given when it is clearly warranted.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:30 PM
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132: I can't believe that any reasonably competent person can't make top grades in a pre-med curriculum.

For a rather fucked up definition of "reasonably competent person".


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:31 PM
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135: No, I really don't think the curriculum is that unobtainable. Most people who are going to college can make the grades if they put a shitload of work in.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:34 PM
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I can't believe that any reasonably competent person can't make top grades in a pre-med curriculum.

Competency involves picking an institution slightly easier than what you're capable of.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:35 PM
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135: erm, furthermore, my "reasonable competent person" should have had a paranthetical: coming into university with a decent high school background and the ability to study full time. That cuts a lot of people out, but it's not because they couldn't make their way through under better circumstances.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:35 PM
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I think from here on out Im going to embrace the old lady role and just start saying things like "I know you kids worry about this stuff, but trust me, you shouldnt."

In other news, if I murder my husband--who has spent the last three? hours or so futzing about with sending ONE email to our broker to try to move the fucking loan approval process that hes supposed to have been taking care of for almost a YEAR now--I expect all of you to testify that I was provoked.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:43 PM
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140: If only he hadn't taken performance-enhancing drugs to get through the E-mail 101 final.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:45 PM
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And I'm pretty certain I'll be very happy doing so.

You're going to arrest me and do things to me, aren't you, gswift? Bad things.


Posted by: SomeCalMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:46 PM
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140: I think you mean if only he hadn't had some kind of *mid-life crisis meltdown* that's rendered him incapable of fucking staying on task after he hit 40....

Grr.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:52 PM
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126: But the decisions *aren't* always made on test scores. Test scores matter a *lot*, but they aren't everything. Also, the alternative to taking drugs to score slightly better on a test isn't a life of mediocrity.

The fairness argument about drugs is that first, obviously (given that we're talking about off-scrip use of prescription drugs) it's silly to assume that the kids using them will be the kids who need to even the playing field because they don't know how to study. Second (and more important, to me), is that saying "well, if you *really* want to succeed and are willing to take drugs to do so, hey, that's cool" is just a fucked-up thing to say. I just don't buy the argument that it's in people's best interest to accept that "success" means "doing things you wouldn't be able to do without taking drugs."

127: You're going to be a cop? Can we all hate you?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-18-08 11:59 PM
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Also in other news, irrelevant to most of you because the primary circus passed through your town long ago: Bill Clinton drew a crowd of about 1000 people today in Salem. Meanwhile, in Portland, Obama spoke at the biggest political rally in Oregon history, about 72,000.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:01 AM
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Wow.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:07 AM
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Yeah, but who wants to go to Salem for a rally?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:24 AM
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since the fact is that the programs often aren't about actual intelligence, but are rather about children who've been raised with upper middle class standards of behavior

way to piss all over the educationalists who administer these programs! yay professional solidarity!


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:29 AM
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You're going to arrest me and do things to me, aren't you, gswift? Bad things.

Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to quit resisting.

You're going to be a cop? Can we all hate you?

This site's full of lawyers and academics, so I figure I won't be in the most hated profession by a long shot.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:44 AM
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Har har, D2. Most good teachers know this perfectly well and will quite happily admit it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:44 AM
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126

"... But I am not understanding the "fairness" argument."

The problem is the drugs are illegal and you shouldn't be put at a disadvantage because you respect the law.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:11 AM
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currently calling "bullshit" on: 149. Or at least, if the G&T programs are just run by lazy self-serving, class-biased lumps whose professional expertise doesn't need to be respected, why the hell should "good teachers" like Damion expect to be treated at all differently?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:14 AM
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Professional solidarity be damned. All these things are gameable if you're a nice, polite white middle class person, much less so if you're not.

What was that study again that found black patients were umpty times less likely to get pain relief when asking for it?


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:20 AM
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I was going to write a long comment, but I realised all I wanted to say was contained in The Rise of the Meritocracy.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:25 AM
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Heh at 153.

Yes, indeed.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:35 AM
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105: I know it *feels* like it is when you're in the middle of it, but I think it's the job of us who are grownups (including us who are grownups and undergrads both, Tweety) not to just reify the "omg if I don't get a 4.0 I'll never get into med school and my entire life will be over" angst of overachieving adolescents.

B, I think that you gravely understand how our educational system works. That isn't angst, that's reality, and it isn't just neurotic overachievers. If you go into school with the idea that you are going to have some kind of career, you should know what your grade target is and you should put some effort into buttering up faculty. This is especially true if you're an average, first in the family to go to college student, and especially if you're going to an unselective "access school".

Anyone coming out of my alma mater with less than a B average was going to end up about where they started career-wise. It might help them get a waitress job in a higher class of restaurant, or get a promotion to supervisor in a labor job, but that's about it.

It's not worth taking on debt to do that, just for cultural enrichment, and in this kind of case, and we're usually not talking about people with family money (maybe a few party animals whose families are carrying them).

Education really isn't a force for equality. You can rescue individuals and raise them up a notch, but the class structure stays about the same and you just move people up and down in the same hierarchy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 5:45 AM
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I think the obvious solution to all this is...is that a bird outside? Whoa, check out that bird! (runs outside to chase bird)

In my day, we took those drugs for fun.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:06 AM
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155: gravely misunderstand".

To sharpen the point a little, I have spent my life working on the theory that credentials aren't important, and that what you know is what's really important.

And now I have a weak credential (English BA from Last Chance U) and lots and lots of knowledge, and in real-world terms the credential is the only thing that counts. If someone needs or wants a person who reads poetry in eight languages, they usually want a person with a good degree first. And the more humanistic and cultural your credential is, the better the school it has to be be from. I know a guy with an anthro PhD from Oregon, and he drives bus. (Even a Harvard anthro PhD might be useless. )


And it really makes a difference how much money you make, and I know this very well from direct experience. Even people who don't think of themselves as materialistic prefer friends who can go to nice places and spend money doing nice things.

A smart person without credentials is (usually rightly) assumed to be someone unwilling or unable to jump through hoops, and nobody really wants that kind of person badly enough to make a place for them. "Team player" and "easy to work with" and "gets the job done" are a very big deal everywhere.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:09 AM
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A smart person without credentials is (usually rightly) assumed to be someone unwilling or unable to jump through hoops, and nobody really wants that kind of person badly enough to make a place for them.

Except for limited times in limited worlds, I think this is very true.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:15 AM
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If I'm not mistaken, Sifu found an exceptional window of opportunity in that regard, and is back in school because it's closing on him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:20 AM
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There seems to be quite the investment in the idea that performance enhancing drugs function as a class equalizer on some level. I sincerely doubt that use is class defined in this way, and rather suspect that it would be the opposite.

Emerson is largely right in 157 -- in addition to the Oregon PhD who drives a bus he knows a guy who barely got a BS from worse-than-last-chance-u with a low C average, and is now a partner in an AmLaw 100 firm -- but I'd add this: part of the value of the credential is that it's a rough proxy how hard you worked at improving your status, at some point. The top students at LCU can upgrade (if life circumstances permit) either during undergrad, or for grad school. That is, a top student at LCU can transfer to OU, and then, if still a top student, go to grad school at UCLA.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:27 AM
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You have these and you haven't tried them?

In the circles in which I traveled as an undergrad, a provider who didn't have personal experience of the product was to be actively suspected of pushing questionable goods.

As to taking an alertness drug to help with an exam, I really don't see a problem. Maybe I'm encouraging middle class privilege here and am teh noes a villain of class warfare but considering I got through college without my parents' assistance and have the debt to prove it, I expect I'll sleep OK tonight. When I was in college I had so many problems with attention span and maintaining any sort of focus that a couple of professors begged me to take a test that would mark me as having learning disabilities so I could get some special concessions. I skipped that test to play video games. I'm never going to condemn someone who tries to get some help focusing.

I realize it's different for people who are at more competitive schools whose futures are bound up in expectations and hopes regarding grad school, but it also seems a little ridiculous to me to judge taking an alertness drug on the basis that it's an unfair form of competition with other students. Outside of idiotic curved grading systems I don't really see a circumstance in which a grader takes points off of Student A's exam score to give them to Student B.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:27 AM
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.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:31 AM
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So how do (university) credentials spell "Team player" and "easy to work with"? "Gets the job done", I'll buy, but I would have thought they could equally imply "Nerd" and "Needs to get out more". Any social assets a person may learn as a student are specifically not mentioned in their framed piece of paper.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:31 AM
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So how do (university) credentials spell "Team player" and "easy to work with"?

J-U-M-P-S T-H-R-O-U-G-H H-O-O-P-S


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:40 AM
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Yeah. I guess a lot of employers like their trainees to come pre-lobotomised.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:43 AM
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This discussion of "Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox," (inadvertently) tells us just about everything we need to know about the class basis of these new diagnoses. E.g.:

These students may impress teachers with their verbal abilities, while their spelling or handwriting contradicts the image. At times, they may be forgetful, sloppy and disorganized. In middle school or junior high, where there are more long-term written assignments and a heavier emphasis on comprehensive, independent reading, some bright students find it increasingly difficult to achieve. Concerned adults are convinced that if these students would only try harder, they could succeed.

I know someone who was pretty well psyched when they slapped this label on her son. I secretly (and snarkily, I'll admit) thought it was bullshit, frankly.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:51 AM
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One reason I am basically on Sifu's side on this is that, without being in any competitive situation at all, I am pretty well committed to getting a legit performance-enhancing drug for myself as soon as I can get an appointment. I have some kind of depression / ADD / anxiety thingie that keeps me from concentrating, and it's really been miserable. I have no idea if there's a real diagnosis of a real disease somewhere in there, and I don't care; I just want a pill that makes me function better. If I were in college with my future on the line, I'd feel the same, except more so.

My attention span at the moment is at exactly the length of a long Unfogged comment, about 200 words. No offense, guys, but I'm not happy with that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:53 AM
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167: So you're bright and articulate, but your attention wanders and you find it difficult to achieve? See the link in my 166 for a diagnosis.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:59 AM
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Don't try to mess with my drug use, Canadian lady. Don't your elk need to be milked around this time of day?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:08 AM
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167 describes, I think pretty much exactly, how college students think about this. It also describes how I think about it. And I'm a college student! Hey, Presto!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:13 AM
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if still a top student, go to grad school at UCLA

Or a good school, even.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:19 AM
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Unless you're arguing that we should just do away with disability services altogether?

You're right, that's totally what I was saying. Fuck the baby, splat on the concrete with the bathwater.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:26 AM
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Fuck the baby, splat on the concrete with the bathwater.

Wait you fuck the baby and then throw it away? I always assumed you chucked it out at the same time as the bathwater. Genius!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:27 AM
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I don't see why there should be student health services at all. When I was young I never got sick.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:29 AM
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Also, people shouldn't worry about anything in college, because they can always figure out how to go to medical school later.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:33 AM
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Wait you fuck the baby and then throw it away?

Pedophilia! That's worth at least time and a half for exams, right?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:34 AM
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176: it only seems fair.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:35 AM
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I think situational depression (I'm completely unsure that I'm using this right. Situational unhappiness?) has very significant effects on ability to concentrate. My ability to focus has changed incredibly with my job change; and it's not that the work is all that different, it's just the working environment and the incentives have changed. Now, the reward for getting something done is that it's done, successfully, and I can move on. Then, showing up with any sort of completed work product was guaranteed to turn into some sort of complicatedly frustrating nightmare. (Don't get me wrong, I'm still getting edited, and edited with a heavy hand. That's not a problem. It was the "Here's the ham and cheese sandwich you wanted, sir!" "Mmm. Looks very nice. But at the meeting with the client you weren't told about two weeks ago we decided we needed more of a layer cake. Something in an almond flavor. Or possibly a spinach salad. Anyway, go rework it along those lines." routine that made me insane.)

I'm still scatterbrained, but the only reason I wasn't taking focus drugs before was that I wasn't organized enough and didn't have the energy to go find a doc to write me a scrip. Now, the idea that I need them seems silly. Obviously my brain structure hasn't changed, I'm just happier.

I don't know if this is a reason not to take focus drugs; if you're in a bad situation you can't change, they're probably a help. But rearranging your life is also helpful.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:37 AM
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if you're in a bad situation you can't change like crappy courses you have to do well in to graduate college, they're probably a help. But rearranging your life by finishing college is also helpful.

I think this is the crux; the thing people find these drugs useful for is doing things they don't want to do and will never have the inclination to do well, at a time when they have to do them to be able to meaningfully self-determine later.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:41 AM
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I was thinking the other day that a sales drug would be a huge hit; something like E with the euphoria/lovedupness taken out, leaving deranged energy and hypersensitivity to others. It then further struck me that a sales drug would be something like the opposite of a "smart drug" - it would make you stupid.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:42 AM
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180: I believe your higher-end sales forces use liquor, typically.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:45 AM
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Liz was scatterbrained on some kind of weird logarithmic scale, I guess. Not compared to you and me.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:49 AM
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178-9: But, but.... I plan to use them to help do things I've been hoping to do for years. I just have trouble concentrating.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:53 AM
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183: well, could work.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:54 AM
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No contradiction in what LB and John are saying. LB was able to modify her work environment and the type of work she was doing to make her happy, because she wasn't committed to doing one particular type of work. John wants to do a particular type of intellectual work, but it's possible his brain chemistry doesn't make that easy.

Related, I think it takes incredible, really abnormal levels of focus and discipline to do serious intellectual work outside of the support structure provided by academia. Basically, you have to work hard on being right without caring too much about the inevitable ways in which you'll be wrong. A lot of what academia does is provide peer support and guidance on acceptable ways to be wrong that help your work along -- there's a giant structure of methodological short cuts and tricks, and the community tells you which work and are acceptable.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:15 AM
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what projects are you working on, JE?
i think, the problem with difficulty concentrating is that gratification thing
if you work in the collective like settings, you have a boss, the deadlines, you are responsible for your part of work etc. so you procrastinate, but still kinda like work from time to time
the most difficult thing is to work by yourself, to rule over yourself, have a strict self-discipline
i 'm very bad at that, my weekends got like all continuous procrastination
if you write the comments, that instant gratification thing maybe works for you, you have an instant feedback, a sympathetic audience, a live conversation etc
if you work on a book, that would take longer to get published, recognised, praised
maybe you can write the chapters of your book as the blog comments little by little, even like here, b/c preconditioning :), just do not post it and then just copy-paste, edit-compile
sorry for the uncalled advice, though it would be interesting to have a glimpse of your work when you'd forget and post it


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:17 AM
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read is smart. Maybe you could use as all as a committment device for your stuff, John. You could post links to essays as they got done.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:19 AM
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"use us all"


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:19 AM
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:) PGD praised me and i'm all happy and now going to start to work, not browse the f. internet- distractor


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:21 AM
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I've actually been relatively proud of how consistent I've been about working on KILLER ROBOT; not that it isn't going slowly, but I seem to be making steady progress. I think it helps that the actual process of working on it involves doing things I don't have a huge amount of experience with but really want to understand better.

Which, yeah, what read and LB said.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:22 AM
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I'm still scatterbrained, but the only reason I wasn't taking focus drugs before was that I wasn't organized enough and didn't have the energy to go find a doc to write me a scrip. Now, the idea that I need them seems silly. Obviously my brain structure hasn't changed, I'm just happier.

I was thinking something similar to this. A couple of years ago, for some strange reason, I was having a very hard time focusing and had no energy. I didn't get a prescription because I was too unfocused to get that done but also because I was too proud/vain to consider the possibility that something was wrong enough to merit prescription drugs. I tried self-medicating, but St. John's Wort, Sam-E, Omega-3s did nothing for me, and the Ketel One was perhaps counterproductive.

Eventually, I broke down, saw the doc, and got an anti-depressant. I don't tolerate drugs terribly well, so I quit that after about 3 days -- but it shook my brain loose enough to recognize what I needed to do the rearrange my life. (And we all lived happily ever after... )

I disagree with Napi that credentials are such a good proxy for how hard you work (though, admittedly, he did concede "rough" proxy). I have pretty darned good credentials, and I didn't really work all that hard to get them. I was lucky enough that things came easily for me and my life was stable enough that I could focus when I needed to. But there are also plenty of people who worked much harder than I did and walked away with less stellar credentials. I've known several people who work hard all semester but, when it comes to exams, they freeze up. If medication will help short-circuit that test-anxiety, then I don't see the problem.

Yes, preferably medications should be taken on the advice of and with the supervision of a physician. That part I'm wholeheartedly behind. But to the extent some people seem to be equating this self-medicating with cheating, well, I'm just not seeing it.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:25 AM
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Basically, you have to work hard on being right without caring too much about the inevitable ways in which you'll be wrong.

This is insightful. The zany way shared work is credited in academia can make this easier if people are treated well (informal short-term credit via reputation and word of mouth), harder if people are treated badly. Internalizing credit squabbles or intra-group antagonism is fatal, but a hard to avoid.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:31 AM
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I have pretty darned good credentials, and I didn't really work all that hard to get them.

Let's stay focused on academic stuff, Di. This isnt the ass thread.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:32 AM
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I havent read the entire thread, but I will add my bit.

Often, this topic pisses me off.

I agree that one's interest in a topic or a work function can impact performance. That should be fairly obvious.

I can see a distinct difference in my daughter's ability to function depending on the medication effectiveness. When the levels are off, her brain does not allow her to function like a normal person.

We accept glasses for people who cannot read. Hearing aids for people who cannot hear.

Why is there an objection to assisting those people who cannot focus on a task properly? Or whose focus is so strong that it is an obsession?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:40 AM
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Why is there an objection to assisting those people who cannot focus on a task properly? Or whose focus is so strong that it is an obsession?

I don't know that there is; I gather that the gist of the thread is about nominally healthy people gaining relative advantage and the intersection of nominally unhealthy people when the disorder being medicated is the inability to do well in a competitive (alleged) meritocracy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:46 AM
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Why is there an objection to assisting those people who cannot focus on a task properly?

I don't think this is being debated. I thought the debate was about using medication as a performance-enhancing thing for students with healthy attention spans who find the material dull and don't want to slog through it.

My take is: I don't have a strong opinion. Sometimes you grow from slogging through something miserable, sometimes you don't and are worse off. Medication short-circuits both those experiences, and probably gives you new ones like the joy of side effects and wrath of old school teachers.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:49 AM
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Why is there an objection to assisting those people who cannot focus on a task properly? Or whose focus is so strong that it is an obsession?

For more or less all of the same reasons that some people object to steroids in sports.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:50 AM
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I think our society frequently asks us to function like an abnormal person, hence getting medication to do it is not necessarily functioning like a normal person. This is a problem with the medical model.

That's not to say that performance enhancers can't be useful.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:52 AM
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people seem to be mixing up some issues.

1. students with disabilities deserve accommodations
2. learning disabilities (are/are not) REAL disabilities
3. some non-disabled people use "disability" to game the system in unfair ways

Everyone seems to agree on 1, hence the annoyance and the whole baby/bathwater straw man.

Everyone is presumably on board, more or less, with 3 (and that this is wrong.

The issue seems to be, does the existence of crappy students in 3 who are gaming things mean that no one is legitimately entitled to LD-type accommodations? Apparently some people think so, or think that there is actually no such thing. I would bet, though, that those people have never tried to get support services or documentation for a faked disability. It's hard enough getting people to accommodate real ones.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:52 AM
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Further to what Will said. I know part of the objection in this thread is to the off-prescription use of medications, with maybe the assumption that these are kids using the meds recreationally rather than to treat a problem. Because "to do well on a test" doesn't strike me as recreational, I assume there is some underlying anxiety issue -- for which the meds may or may not actually be appropriate. But alot of people hesitate to see a doctor about these things, either because a diagnosis is so stigmatizing (OMG, mental illness!) or because people so readily dismiss it as "all in your head." I do think there is often a tendency to overprescribe (my 6 year old is really active and full of energy -- it must be ADD!) which contributes to the problem.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:54 AM
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Apparently some people think so, or think that there is actually no such thing.

Like who, pray tell, dear anonymous?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:55 AM
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I assume there is some underlying anxiety issue

These would be entirely the wrong drugs to take to treat anxiety, what with them being stimulants, by and large.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:56 AM
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Why is there an objection...

This is just stating the obvious, but brain/mind stuff gets all caught up in issues of character and willpower in a way that hearing aids, for instance, do not. And people are still sensitive about adopting hearing aids.

Also, chemicals are something of a blunt instrument being applied to a pretty delicate piece of machinery.

But I'm just answering a question that was intended rhetorically. Certainly it's a blessing to have some good choices for various brain chemistry imbalances.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:56 AM
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The issue seems to be, does the existence of crappy students in 3 who are gaming things mean that no one is legitimately entitled to LD-type accommodations?

The issue is how to define "disability." If you want to play in the NBA, an expected maximum of height of 4'8" is a disability. Standards vary by field. We don't generally mean "able to survive" by "no disability." Rather, we mean "not able to perform tasks required in this situation."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:57 AM
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See? Which is why an appropriate medical consult is so important!

My gut is that if a drug helps someone who genuinely has a problem, then if it helps someone, that person genuinely had some problem. I am skeptical of the comparison to steroids in no small part even if the drugs artificially boost your brain the way steroids boost your muscles. Steroids are objectionable in competitive sports because the point of sports is competition. Objecting to "focus drugs" on this basis seems to implicitly accept that the point of education is also competition.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:02 AM
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implicitly accept that the point of education is also competition.

As several people have pointed out--including you, I thought--the point of school is, in part, to beat the competition.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:05 AM
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And, actually, if the point of education were to learn as much as possible of the material, these drugs would definitely be a good idea, because they really do help with that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:07 AM
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Right, I agree with Tim in 204. Also, I'm not sure a lot of learning disabilities are real disabilities. To me, a disability is being physically incomplete in some way, so you can't do something that the healthy human body is clearly designed to do.

It is far from clear to me that sitting still for 12-16 years of schooling, or getting good grades while doing it, is what the human brain is really designed to do. I saw a lot of students who were just really unhappy/badly suited to college getting massive accomodations because of a supposed LD. I saw others I thought were looking for an edge.

We have a serious shortage of upward mobility routes for people who are not school-inclined, and education is a secular religion in this country.

Putting the whole discussion into a performance enhancement framework helps take the emphasis off medicalizing personality differences and shifts it toward how institutions ask people to perform.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:09 AM
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I'm not sure a lot of learning disabilities are real disabilities.

Ok, now we are at the point of what pisses me off.

"Drugs are prescribed too easily!"
"Parents/teachers are giving kids drugs instead of making them work!"

These are all great little Rush Limbaugh pithy remarks.

You are no different from Kevin James screaming about Appeasement. You know nothing about the topic.

Do you take a pill when your head hurts? Do you take any medications for allergies? Slacker!

I dont get headaches. I dont have allergies. I think you are just faking!


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:29 AM
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Look, Will, all I'm saying is that I don't have autism. Are you totally sure it's a real condition?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:32 AM
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re: 209

To be fair, there is a lot of legitimate debate about the status of various learning disorders and behavioural problems. Debate by people who are informed about the issue.

Diagnostic rates for ADHD vary wildly from place to place, for example. Not just a little, but by orders of magnitude.

One can believe that particular specific conditions are geniune but over-diagnosed, or that some conditions are 'genuine' while others are not, or that some constitute the 'medicalisation' of part of the range of normal human behaviour without being in denial about the real distress that some learning/behavioural disabilities cause.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:35 AM
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You might want a second opinion, heebie.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:36 AM
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Who wants to be fair?

It is fairly easy to define a condition that you do not suffer from as within the acceptable range of normal human behavior.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:39 AM
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I've got way more than two opinions, Will. Are you saying I'm schizophrenic?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:40 AM
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As several people have pointed out--including you, I thought--the point of school is, in part, to beat the competition.

Yeah, see, if I were taking some focus drugs I might have articulated that more clearly. I do not think beating the competition should be the point of education. But I think that competition is, unfortunately, part of the reality that pushes people to performance enhancing drugs in hopes of surviving. I'd really rather that students didn't feel a need to resort to pharmaceuticals, but I think the focus should be on why they feel that need rather than on how to catch and punish the little deviants.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:42 AM
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Drug therapy or a diagnosis of adhd is not a one step solution. There is a fair amount of trial and error and constant monitoring and modifying.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:45 AM
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You are something, heebie. Of that, there can be no doubt.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:45 AM
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213: it's also fairly easy to define aspects of normal human behavior as causes of suffering.

Anyhow, Will, I don't think people (except maybe PGD, can't answer for that "lots of learning disabilities aren't real" thing) are arguing that these medications and accomodations don't really help people with real problems that really affect their ability to be happy and productive members of society. I think that they're arguing that the existence and use of these medications makes it very difficult to construct a meritocratic system that's fair to everybody involved, especially at the margins, when the fact that a bright line diagnosis of some of these disorders does not exist becomes more relevant. I mean, the very existence of adult ADD is still a hotly debated topic, as far as I know.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:46 AM
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If taking provigil meant that I could stay alert, focused and not want to go to sleep at 2:30 in the afternoon, I'd take it. I'm also perfectly willing to take stuff to help me sleep, and sleep is crucially important for day to day functioning.

I wouldn't do it without talking it over with my doctor though. If I were to take adrafinil, which is unregulated in the U.S. and which I could import privately, I'd still talk it over with my doctor.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:48 AM
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I don't really buy the caffeine analogy. One of these substances has a long enough track record & is benign enough to sell everywhere w/o any medical oversight; the other we've decided should only be prescribed by a doctor to people with a medical condition that requires it....That said, they do sound like they recreate advantages that some people have naturally--e.g., ability to function on less sleep; adrenaline related to deadlines & exams that helps you focus. I used to be able to do that anyway during college, & throwing stimulants stronger than caffeine into the mix wouldn't have been worth the risk of the side effects for me.

I wonder if it would actually be safer to have it approved for short-term use for "I need to focus & stay awake so I can finish my damn thesis" reasons than to have a system where people have to either use it illegally or fake/half-fake ADHD. Overdiagnosis strikes me as probably a more serious problem than college students popping a few pills, as far as society requiring people to function at an abnormal level.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:51 AM
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I mean, the very existence of adult ADD is still a hotly debated topic, as far as I know.

Mostly by the same people who claim to be able to make someone not gay.

And the same people who kept saying that doctor's malpractice premiums were astronomically increasing due to the damn trial lawyers. (This has now been shown to be false.)

Don't forget about the people that think that marriage is in trouble because divorce is so darn easy.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:51 AM
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And the same people who kept saying that doctor's malpractice premiums were astronomically increasing due to the damn trial lawyers. (This has now been shown to be false.)

Really? Have the premiums been increasing just because insurance companies can get away with it, then? What's driving them up?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:54 AM
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Do you people really want to side with the insurance companies over the pharmaceutical companies?!?!?!?!?!?

Nothing is really necessary according to insurance companies.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:54 AM
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183: I plan to use them to help do things I've been hoping to do for years

You could also try "commitment bonds". Then when you don't them you can be doubly miserable. (Actually, it is a somewhat interesting idea, but probably only works with certain kinds of people/demotivation.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:55 AM
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Really? Have the premiums been increasing just because insurance companies can get away with it, then? What's driving them up?

That and inflation.

Those poor, poor doctors are just barely getting by now. Medical malpractice caps are the real injustice.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:56 AM
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221: actually, I meant clinical psychologists. But whatever, you can build me into whatever straw man you want. It seems like you're too angry to really listen to what I'm saying in this thread.

First of all, I'm damn well not saying anything from the perspective of "well, school's easy if you just try hard enough." I'm not an undergrad in my thirties because I always found school just too darn easy to sail through.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:58 AM
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"lots of learning disabilities aren't real" thing) are arguing that these medications and accomodations don't really help people with real problems that really affect their ability to be happy and productive members of society.

To be clear, saying some things currently diagnosed as learning disabilities are not best understood as a medical disability, like blindness or diabetes, does not mean they are not a real problem. Sometimes a more severe problem than a medical problem. (It's easy to imagine a situation where a personality trait like being introverted/ shy/timid is a bigger problem, a greater source of unhappiness, than it would be to have a serious medical condition like diabetes).

Nor does it mean it is solvable with "willpower", whatever that's supposed to mean. I don't particularly believe in willpower either, it seems like a judgemental mystification of the way people actually work.

I'm arguing with medicalizing personality differences. But I get that there are lots of good reasons to medicalize -- it's the gateway to drugs and to lots of research on the condition, it prevents judgement from others and from yourself, etc. Part of that is we're a rather judgemental society overall, which I think is bad too.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:59 AM
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Oh, you want to go there, do you, Will. Wait till tomorrow to get into the "malpractice crisis" -- I've got way too much work to do!!!


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:59 AM
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It is fairly easy to define a condition that you do not suffer from as within the acceptable range of normal human behavior.

Oddly enough, it is also quite easy to define a condition that you do suffer from as being within the acceptable range of normal human behavior.



Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:59 AM
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the very existence of adult ADD is still a hotly debated topic, as far as I know

The existence of adult-onset ADHD is hotly debated, with the medical psychiatric profession mostly saying it does not exist, and some advocates claiming that it does. There is widespread agreement in the psychiatric profession that symptomatic ADHD from childhood can persist into adulthood, though adults will have generally found some coping mechanisms by that time.

I was diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD, which came as an utter shock to me. I couldn't figure out what the psychiatrist was getting at with her diagnostic battery, and later I realized that she was ascertaining whether I had presented ADHD symptoms by the age of seven. Indeed I had, but I never knew it (or at least I never consciously recognized the symptoms as pathological or associated them with a disability).

I am somewhat atypical for ADHD sufferers in being very high functioning; the usual diagnostic trigger of poor school performance was never present.


Posted by: James Monroe | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:00 AM
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You could also try "commitment bonds".

Treasuries seem like a better investment.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:00 AM
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re: 213

SUre, but are you claiming that all putative diseases are genuine diseases? Or that all self-ascribed disease-sufferers are genuine? Because while that's a position to take, it's not a very persuasive one.

Mostly by the same people who claim to be able to make someone not gay.

That's just ludicrous bullshit.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:01 AM
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actually, I meant clinical psychologists. But whatever, you can build me into whatever straw man you want. It seems like you're too angry to really listen to what I'm saying in this thread.

Seems being the operative word. I appreciate your willingness to think about these issues, but I think that the issues that you raised are red herrings, often designed to harm useful discussion. (Not by you, but by their proponents.)

I just do not find your points productive, despite having some basis in reality.

They are diversions, designed for talk radio.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:02 AM
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230 describes what I was alluding to about ADHD, and also approximately describes me, sort of.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:03 AM
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Those poor, poor doctors are just barely getting by now. Medical malpractice caps are the real injustice.

Some doctors are struggling, aren't they? I assume the malpractice caps just benefit the insurance companies and not the doctors.

Are insurance companies the root of all evil in our society?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:03 AM
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re: 233

They are diversions, designed for talk radio.

Again, Will, that's just not true. There's a live debate among clinical psychologists, bioethicists, psychiatrists and any number of other people about this stuff that goes a long way beyond 'talk radio' diversions.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:04 AM
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233: They are diversions, designed for talk radio.

Really? The diagnosis of mental illness, the relative efficacy of medication, the fact that GPs who haven't been trained in psychology can and do prescribe these drugs all the time, the fact that college as an ostensible meritocracy is running up against a vast increase in the number of diagnoses of pharmacologically treatable psychological conditions, the fact that there are drugs which genuinely help cognitive function without apparent side effects, and these drugs are being restricted to a subset of the population based on poor understood clinical results: these are diversions, designed for talk radio?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:07 AM
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Or that all self-ascribed disease-sufferers are genuine?

I am not going to be the proxy for your Munchausen Syndrome!

A misdiagnose or a faked symptom does not negate the disease.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:07 AM
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"poorly understood"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:07 AM
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Are insurance companies the root of all evil in our society?

Yes, but largely because, intrinsically, they're the wrong business for the public good: risk management as opposed to health management.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:11 AM
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Really? The diagnosis of mental illness, the relative efficacy of medication, the fact that GPs who haven't been trained in psychology can and do prescribe these drugs all the time, the fact that college as an ostensible meritocracy is running up against a vast increase in the number of diagnoses of pharmacologically treatable psychological conditions, the fact that there are drugs which genuinely help cognitive function without apparent side effects, and these drugs are being restricted to a subset of the population based on poor understood clinical results: these are diversions, designed for talk radio?

Yes!! Ok, fine. No!

Now, we can talk about those issues, but that is not where we were earlier. Very few people read the fine print. They read "blah, blah, blah, adhd overdiagnosised.....too many medicines.......lazy parents......blah, blah, blah."

Of course, you and nattar are correct that the intersection of mental illness (health, disease) and expecations of normality involves heated debates between people knowledgeable on the topic.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:12 AM
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Will, you completely & unfairly started conflating "may be overdiagnosed" with "aren't real", I think. I know full well that, e.g., bipolar disorder is real because a family member has it, but I'm pretty skeptical of the skyrocketing diagnosis rate among 7 year olds.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:12 AM
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re: 238

There's a big sociological literature on 'medicalisation' and the role that self-ascription and advocacy groups play in the legitimisation of certain putative diseases as diseases. I wasn't referring to simple misdiagnosis or a faked symptom.

Anyway, the point is just that not all sceptical reactions either to the 'reality' of a particular putative disease or to particular ascriptions of a (genuine) disease to individuals reduce to simplistic tabloid crap. There's a real debate there.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:12 AM
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I mean, are you really saying that everybody's who's diagnosed with ADHD or social anxiety disorder or barely-perceptible Asperger's should just swallow what they're given, and that everybody who isn't diagnosed but still fucks things up left and right should just suck it up and acknowledge they're an irretrievable fuck up? There is no bright line, period. There are named disorders which refer to collections of (real!) deviations from the mean in brain function which cause people to be unable to function in society. There are collection of deviations from the mean in brain function which allow people to function perfectly well in society, via whatever mental compensations. Unless you're talking about a disorder caused by an actual lesion in the brain (and actually, even then) you're talking about a spectrum, and you're talking about diagnostic criteria that are (and should be!) situationally variable.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:13 AM
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There's a big sociological literature on 'medicalisation' and the role that self-ascription and advocacy groups play in the legitimisation of certain putative diseases as diseases. I wasn't referring to simple misdiagnosis or a faked symptom.

Anyway, the point is just that not all sceptical reactions either to the 'reality' of a particular putative disease or to particular ascriptions of a (genuine) disease to individuals reduce to simplistic tabloid crap. There's a real debate there.

Agreed, as long as we include insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies as advocacy groups.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:14 AM
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Agreed, as long as we include insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies as advocacy groups.

Sure. And doctors and any number of others.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:16 AM
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Now, we can talk about those issues, but that is not where we were earlier. Very few people read the fine print. They read "blah, blah, blah, adhd overdiagnosised.....too many medicines.......lazy parents......blah, blah, blah."

Please, please believe me that I do not think that, and I would be vastly surprised if anybody here thought that. I mean, this discussion is about the fine print; nobody here is arguing that broad-brush characterizations of disabled people as lazy fakers should inform collegiate accomodation policies, only that those accomodations raise difficult questions of fairness when you're talking about marginal diagnoses, and point out some highly problematic aspects of the whole concept of college as competitive meritocracy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:17 AM
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but I'm pretty skeptical of the skyrocketing diagnosis rate among 7 year olds.

Why?

Do we not know more now about the brain than we used to know?

Why the skepticism?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:17 AM
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248: we still don't know much, in the scheme of things.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:20 AM
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249:

agreed.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:21 AM
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re: 248

Dude, seriously?

Knowing more about the brain doesn't really feed in to sky-rocketing rates of diagnosis. Knowing more about the brain tends to feed into increasingly sophisticated models for the pathology of particular conditions.

What doesn't happen is that we find out that bi-polar disorder is caused by brain trait x and we suddenly rock up and start applying the bipolar diagnosis to everyone exhibiting brain trait x.

And, for what it's worth, that's not how DSM-based classification or diagnosis works. It's also generally not the case that are that many psychiatric disorders which have well-understood neurophysiological pathologies.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:22 AM
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Not that much more, no. For instance, we know close to nothing about the long term effects of putting 6 year olds on Haldol.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:22 AM
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Gary Becker's work on addiction seems rather relevant here; I am a big fan of Becker (although not his wannabes) simply because he cuts through all of this bullshit by pointing out that the question of "is this a 'real' disease" or not, while possibly of interest to the philosophers of science, is no kind of a basis to make any decisions upon compared to the fundamental question "will giving this person this drug make their life better for them? (on the balance of probabilities, and with proper allowance for risk). Economics is not a universal problem-solving kit, but on highly bullshit-intensive non-debates like this, it can be nothing short of wonderful.

(the only remaining question, of course, would be how the prescription of concentration drugs might make it more difficult to achieve an utterly illusory and almost certainly undesirable state of perfect meritocracy, but I think we can leave that to one side for ever the moment.)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:24 AM
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And I'd also add that, to clear up a few remaining corners of the Augean Stables here, that while you, I or Uncle Tom Cobbleigh might indeed think "it's a terrible old world in which people feel like they have to take drugs to study", and we might be right that it is a terrible old world, it's the only old world we've got and absent a plan for wholesale change, it doesn't seem very likely that depriving the kids of their drugs is going to help matters awfully.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:26 AM
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re: 253

Economics is not a universal problem-solving kit, but on highly bullshit-intensive non-debates like this, it can be nothing short of wonderful.

Get a grip. Really.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:27 AM
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I do think we can lay tons of blame at the feet of insurance companies, since their unwillingness to pay for long-term psychiatric care absolutely drives the medicalization process; if you can't get copay to see a psychologist weekly, then a referral to a psychiatrist who prescribes some drug, often as not in an off-label use, and sends you on your way. I mean, how many people are currently being medicated for OCD in the absence of any real consensus on an effective pharmacological treatment?

The fact that many psychiatric drugs do work, and work very well, for certain conditions shouldn't blind us to the fact that we've gone pretty far down the path of medicating behavior without a great deal of grounding in the whys and hows of it all.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:27 AM
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"is this a 'real' disease" or not, while possibly of interest to the philosophers of science, is no kind of a basis to make any decisions upon compared to the fundamental question "will giving this person this drug make their life better for them?

Exactly. But the "real disease" thing is still significant because the metaphors people use to understand themselves and others have real consequences. Also, the disease metaphor sustains the power of the medical profession as the gatekeeper to diagnoses and drugs.

A possible outcome, though, is that the kind of purely consequentialist thinking you're talking about will become more and more widespread within medicine itself.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:29 AM
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nattar, perhaps the intent of my question wasn't clear.

Skepticism is good. We should question these things. But, I wanted to know why she was skeptical.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:29 AM
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A grip (as in, a grip on an actual concrete system for answering questions, as opposed to a load of hazy and insoluble questions about Ultimate Meaning) is what I strongly believe I have in fact got here. "Is this person going to benefit from this therapy?" is the necessary and sufficient question for deciding "Should this person be given this therapy?" (subject to fairly uninteresting budget conditions which are there anyway).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:30 AM
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d^2 I think quite a few people (including me) agreed with you up towards the top of the thread, there, my position being (in summary) "hey, if it helps."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:32 AM
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"will giving this person this drug make their life better for them?

Nothing in there for the philosophers to debate.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:32 AM
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Further to 253. and 259

There's a shit load more riding on disease-status than just 'what drugs do we give this person'.

A bit of fucking glib puffery shouldn't be confused with much insight into the history of the arguments that have been going on [mostly not by philosophers, fwiw] or with what actually rides on it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:34 AM
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Also, re Katherine in 252, all drugs have side effects.

It seems to me we ought to define performance in education as the individual learning what setting will make them happy in life, and gaining the skills to function in that setting. In that sense, doing badly at something can be an important lesson too. One could see drugs interfering with that, keeping someone at a state of barely-getting-by with something when they actually should reject it and try another path. Learning your own personality is a key part of education.

I realize a lot of what is diagnosed childhood ADD goes beyond this to a situation where the kid basically can't seem to function within the institutional settings central to modern life. So it's case by case, etc.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:35 AM
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260: yes, but not having the "eyes on the prize" mentality provided by a thorough grounding in old-school Beckerism, you allowed yourself to get distracted into all this other stuff.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:35 AM
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Also, d^2, I don't think the "do it if it [ produces good outcomes ]" really does anything to answer the question(s) (about the fairness of disability accomodations, and where and whether a line should be drawn, and further about the concept of "fairness" in collegiate evaluations) we've been talking about.

I mean, if the question is "would an extra two hours and a super quiet room help you do well on this test?" the answer is probably "you bet" for a large percent of the population.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:36 AM
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264: heaven forfend one get distracted on an unfogged thread.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:37 AM
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261: are you kidding me? There's still plenty to debate in the question of what really makes someone's life better. Just because economists assume the question away and analytic philosophers seem to have dropped it doesn't mean there's not a lot there.

That's part of what I was trying to get at in 263, re the ways in which failure can be good. Crude consequentialism is likely to grab on too quickly to the standard societal metrics for success, like grades.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:39 AM
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One could see drugs interfering with that, keeping someone at a state of barely-getting-by with something when they actually should reject it and try another path.

One could also go around the cake shops knocking the doughnuts out of people's hands if one thinks they're a bit too fat to be eating them, but in general we leave this sort of choice up to the individual about what sort of unpleasant experience they want to have.

265: I would be a total libertarian about this; I would allow anyone who likes to take advantage of whatever accomodations they felt they needed, and just disclose what accomodations they got on the transcript.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:39 AM
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267: I'm going to go ahead and deduce that he was being sarcastic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:41 AM
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267 (and also 262): Crude consequentialism (and really, is there any other kind) has a pretty good track record of success though, doesn't it?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:41 AM
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268.last: I sort of like that idea, in that you could go the other way as well: "Received an A in Newtonian Mechanics despite completing the final exam in a blinding snowstorm atop Mt. Everest in the company of twenty five string theorists on Mescaline."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:42 AM
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I mostly agree with dsquared about the "is this going to help people" criterion, and I've already gone on record in favor of using medication to help high-achieving people achieve higher still, at least in areas where the product is intrinsically valuable (e.g. medical research) and not just the object of competition (sports).

However, I don't see the need to get there via Becker. I don't believe that there is any disease for which Becker is the cure rather than the cause.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:43 AM
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Crude consequentialism of what? What exactly are we maximising here?



Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:44 AM
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in general we leave this sort of choice up to the individual about what sort of unpleasant experience they want to have.

You do realize that the majority of people we're talking about here are children or adolescents, right? And another chunk are adults in an unhappy state and explicitly looking to an external expert such as a therapist to guide them?

The problem with economists no-bullshit! approach is that it's often an excuse to introduce the bullshit assumptions economics specializes in, like every individual knowing their own best interests.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:45 AM
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I don't believe that there is any disease for which Becker is the cure rather than the cause.

Abeckerism?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:46 AM
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Abeckerism?

That's really funny. Thanks for making that joke, Tweety.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:48 AM
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269: I'm considering medical treatment for humorlessness. They think it's an autism-spectrum disorder.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:52 AM
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You do realize that the majority of people we're talking about here are children or adolescents, right?

Yup. And yet still I think they're probably best placed to make their own decisions about their lives! Crazee!

And another chunk are adults in an unhappy state and explicitly looking to an external expert such as a therapist to guide them?

Yup. And yet ...

It is not as if paternalism of more or less every sort has not been tried, and it is also not as if it has been a success. Letting people have what they want, as I mention, has a pretty good track record.

273: I don't think one necessarily needs to talk about maximisation in this context; "consequentialism" here means that we are committing to make decisions based on an assessment of their likely results, rather than on any other abstract criteria. Thus I'm prepared to allow "normal human behaviour shouldn't be medicalised" as a decision rule, but only if someone can explain to me why not (and do so without using terms like "over-prescribe" unless they are prepared to also unpack these into specific bad consequences)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:52 AM
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There are a ton of questions here about insurance, long term risks, patent monopolies, poorly trained school employees and MDs prescribing drugs, special accommodations for diagnosed individuals in competitive situations, drug treatment vs. other kinds of treatment, and drug-enhanced performance in competitive situations. To say nothing of the role of competition in our way of life, including education.

The Becker Test helps with some of these questions, though not all, but the first step remains naming the test after someone else. There's got to be some pragmatist who said exactly what Dsquared claims Becker said.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:54 AM
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271: the opposite direction is actually used a lot more; every year we have a kerfuffle in the Daily Telegraph when the education correspondent discovers anew, as if he had just woken from a ten year slumber, that several top universities treat "Achieved an A* Grade in Mathematics despite attending a low-achieving school in a bad neighbourhood and having difficult family circumstances" as a premium tariff.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:55 AM
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I assume the malpractice caps just benefit the insurance companies and not the doctors.

In theory, the benefit would trickle down to the doctors, because if the insurance company can limit its exposure, it should be able to provide lower premiums. Which may all be well and good, but if you happen to be the patient who was catastrophically injured because your doctor screwed up (probably because he skated by on focus drugs instead of buckling down to study), you probably aren't going to really be so thrilled with knowing that the caps kept your doc's premiums down.

You know what else limits insurance companies' exposure and doctors' premiums? Not committing malpractice.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:55 AM
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The problem with economists no-bullshit! approach is that it's often an excuse to introduce the bullshit assumptions economics specializes in

Indeed. It's actually a couple of degrees more insidious than that, because the economists have a defense in depth for their bullshit assumptions. It goes something like this:

NON-ECONOMIST: That assumption is bullshit. There is plenty of empirical evidence that information is not perfect / competition is not atomistic / individuals don't optimize under constraint / whatever.

ECONOMIST: Well obviously no one really believes that to be true. We're working with a simplified model of the real world here. But the simplified model gives us results that are mostly consistent with...

NON-ECONOMIST: Stop! That's not true either. If you adopt alternative assumption X, your policy prescription Y based on simplified assumption Y leads to measurably suboptimal outcomes...

ECONOMIST: But we have a wealth of studies that show that policy Y is the second best to the ideal; in any real world environment, adopting assumption X leads you to even more suboptimal outcomes.

fin

At which point the economist goes back to acting as if simplified assumption X is literally true in the real world.

In the case PGD describes, it would go something like: "Obviously not all individuals know their own best interest, but if you try to substitute another arbiter for an individual's best interest, especially one that uses the power of the state, you will inevitably create unintended consequences that are worse than the consequences of assuming individuals infallibly know and choose their own best interest."


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:56 AM
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"is this going to help people" criterion

FWIW, that same criterion has been kicked around in the literature for ages [decades and decades].

Even some of the people who are highly critical of the state of current medical practice -- going all the way back to the anti-psychiatry types in the 60s -- were fine with the idea that consenting adults should be able to receive whatever treatment they wanted from doctors if it made their lives better [or if they believed it made their lives go better].

And, for what it's worth, the whole 'let people make decisions for themselves' thing seems a pretty good rule of thumb all things considered.

But it's simplistic to think that that's all that's going on. A load of shit in our society rides on disease-classification. Medical research funding, legal exculpation in the case of crimes, receipt of direct financial aid from the state to individuals, etc, etc. None of that goes away with a nice simple wave of the hedonic calculator.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:59 AM
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One could also go around the cake shops knocking the doughnuts out of people's hands if one thinks they're a bit too fat to be eating them,

Or one could go around the cake shops and diagnose the doughnut-eaters as suffering from eating "disorders," or perhaps from food "addictions," and then recommend various therapeutic measures (drugs, talk therapy, 12-step support groups) which are only meant to help people, of course.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:59 AM
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Thus I'm prepared to allow "normal human behaviour shouldn't be medicalised" as a decision rule, but only if someone can explain to me why not

You could make a pretty swell argument based on sexual selection and evolutionary pressure away from maladaptive traits, but then you'd be headed swiftly down the eugenic/Bell Curve path, and that'd just be silly.

Other than that, I think the question you're asking is not particularly susceptible to economic analysis, because the mechanisms of thinking and intellectual creativity and all those good things are so poorly understood. You might as well ask "well, why shouldn't I hit this piece of machinery with a hammer? It's not like you know what it does."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:01 AM
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I disagree about the track record of self-medication. I trust myself to do it to myself, but I knew someone once who tried to adjust her moods with pills intermittently all day long, and she was an utter mess who totally misunderstood what was happening to her and also to her kids.

She wasn't popping recreationally, either. She'd concocted a folk pharmacological diagnosis and prescription for her own mind, and she really thought she was successfully treating her self-diagnosed conditions with the various prescriptions she'd gotten from various doctors.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:01 AM
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A load of shit in our society rides on disease-classification. Medical research funding, legal exculpation in the case of crimes, receipt of direct financial aid from the state to individuals, etc, etc.

But we're dealing with a specific case here (the widespread and apparently easy use of concentration drugs by American students) in which all these things have been more or less bracketed out, aren't we? The specific "Ask The Mineshaft" question was - is there anything wrong with doing this when you can, and ought a college to make up a funny "Honour Code" (I think I need some kind of urgent treatment for my aching sides) rule whereby everyone promised not to. Or am I missing something?


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:02 AM
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Crude consequentialism (and really, is there any other kind) has a pretty good track record of success though, doesn't it?

Mmm. I'm not sure anyone would want to stand by the strong form of that statement, though I suppose it depends how you measure, and if there are any fixed assumptions about "success."


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:05 AM
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The use of "swell" in 285 should be understood to mean "glib and superficially convincing, in the McMegan style".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:06 AM
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288: look, forced sterilization worked. That's just the truth.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:06 AM
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re: 287

Well, I'm responding to the invocation of Becker/simple-hedonic-consequentialism as a magic universal acid here.

As far as the college students go, I mostly couldn't give a shit. It seems on a par with whacking loads of pro-plus or smoking 20 fags a day. Assuming that it's not just a particular group of kids who can get access to the drugs, let them do what they like.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:07 AM
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magic universal acid

Whoooah.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:08 AM
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re: 292

aka Hofmannism.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:10 AM
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278: As a policy/regulatory matter, I'm very sympathetic to D-squared's argument for libertarianism. But there's also an entire advice industry going here, that will be consulted by people even in libertarian utopia so that they can get assistance in making their own free decisions. The kind of advice that is given matters, the way psychological problems are thought about and framed matters.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:10 AM
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This is a truism, but one problem with pharmacological or genetic medicalization of behavioral and performance problems, besides delivering people over to the control of well-meaning professionals, is that it can on the one hand be used as a copout ("I was born this way") and on the other can enable everyone involved to look at other problems in the person's life.

But to reprise, I have no problem with healthy people using perforance-enhancing smart drugs in any circumstance, because smartness is an intrinsically good and valuable thing the way sprts performance is not.

I can see promoting a 72 hour speed chess marathon in which all contestants were allowed to use any drug they felt would help. It would be like watching auto racing, with the possibility of crash-and-burns feeding the excitement.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:12 AM
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and on the other can enable everyone involved to look at deny other problems in the person's life.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:14 AM
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because smartness is an intrinsically good and valuable thing the way sprts performance is not.

What could that possibly mean? "Smartness" is valuable in no small part because it leads to economic advantages. Sports performance? Pretty much the same thing. Or have you moved to B's position?

Just to be clear: I'm not on the anti-meds side.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:16 AM
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US performance in track and field has declined enormously in the last decade while other parts of the world have been improving, and no one cares because there are no real-world consequences. A comparable decline in science or medicine would have serious effects. Both are competitive, but sports is competition and nothing else.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:27 AM
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Assuming that it's not just a particular group of kids who can get access to the drugs, let them do what they like.

I broadly agree with d-squared's position here, but talk about sneaking in a bullshit assumption! Modafinil costs about $10 a dose in the US, and you need a Dr. Feelgood who will prescribe it to you. Like tutoring or prep school, it's an advantage not available to all. I don't take that to be a reason to be opposed, but we shouldn't pretend the impact will be equitable.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:29 AM
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I know one thing that happens because of Ardent Reader and people like them: Those that actually need the medication to achieve more or less normal functionality have a harder time getting it.

The way this works is simple. Condition X seems amenable to Treatment A. A also turns out to have desirable effects for people who don't have X much or at all. A becomes trendy. Concerned practitioners worry that they're feeding a fad with unknown consequences (nobody can possibly say what 20 years' worth of this stuff will do to you, yet) and try to rein in their own participation in it, getting tougher on folks whom it seems might just be wanting it for the faddish fix. Meanwhile, skinflint insurers and medical gatekeepers decide that they're not going to reward those snot-nosed so-and-so's for their junkie habit and seize any excuse at hand to cut off authorizations for prescription and payment.

Now, this is no skin off the nose of someone like Ardent Reader. They're going to get it one way or another because they're already committed to disregarding the larger context. Spoiled assholes will always get their fix.

But if you're someone who has trouble concentrating, remembering stuff under stress, and like that, adding a whole bunch of additional hostile scrutiny makes it very likely that you will mess up, omit some important information, or otherwise fail to jump through a hoop intended to catch Ardent Reader, and be denied access to the stuff that was helping you just get through the day.

This is a well-established pattern. It wasn't new back in the early '80s, when a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr viral infection a year or two before it became a fashionable thing for complainers to latch onto. For all the rest of the decade she had to take a mountain of documentation in to prove that there were solid blood chemistry, liver function, and other test data supporting her diagnosis, and still had to have a lot of that redone to satisfy any new doctor consulted. People who just wanted a cool label to excuse their mopiness made her difficult, painful life that much more difficult and painful every round of treatment. They were assholes. So are those of you who are now using someone else's important support for your own quick fix. If you can't manage without it, you deserve to fail for your own damn unwillingness to figure out any other way to study. Your desire for escape is not license to fuck up other people's lives.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:44 AM
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I note that the above screed applies only to prescription drugs being abused. I have much less objection to either heroin or caffeine use in this regard. And if I saw people using the prescription stuff recreationally join in a real effort to get it classified for over-the-counter use, I'd have much less contempt for that.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:47 AM
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US performance in track and field has declined enormously in the last decade while other parts of the world have been improving, and no one cares because there are no real-world consequences.

Or: "No one cares about track and field, so US performance has declined."

Or: "People do care about performance in track and field, as evidenced by both the use of steroids and the debate over such use, but I don't."

A comparable decline in science or medicine

How would we know? Is the cure for cancer delivery date going to slip again?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:48 AM
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So you're saying your friend was faking having Epstein-Barr?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:48 AM
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Meanwhile, skinflint insurers and medical gatekeepers decide that they're not going to reward those snot-nosed so-and-so's for their junkie habit and seize any excuse at hand to cut off authorizations for prescription and payment.

So why are these people not the problem, rather than somebody who gets value from the medication even though it's not prescribed? Because they aren't here for you to call them assholes?

I basically have no sympathy with your apportionment of blame, and not just because I enjoy me some recreational pharmaceuticals. If the real problem is the scheduling and restriction of drugs, and the skinflintiness of the insurance industry, then that's the real problem.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:51 AM
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You know what's even more fucked up? If you admit to a medical professional that you've tried a drug without a prescription, and it helped you? They won't prescribe it to you, because they're worried about "abuse potential". Now that is some fucked up shit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:53 AM
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Sifu @ 304: Right, because we're all completely free of any responsibility when we do things that generate knowable, foreseeable results. Mother Rand, we salute you.

Heebie @ 303: What the fuck are you talking about?


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:55 AM
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Sifu, I do agree 100% about your #305.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:56 AM
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306: right, and everybody who takes drugs off prescription is fucking with your life, and doing it for no possible justifiable reason of their own. Why should you try to have empathy for anybody else? You're the victim, here, not all those other slackers and fakers making the world so much tougher for you. They don't have real problems, you do.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:58 AM
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308 was angrier probably than I need to be, for various reasons not having to do with Bruce: my point is that we have a common enemy, here, and it's not people who acquire drugs illegally. It's the system in place that sets up the dynamic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 11:59 AM
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308 was angrier probably than I need to be

Because those bastards won't give you anything to even you out!


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:05 PM
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302: Track and field performance has been flat globally for at least ten years. Exactly two men's Olympic records were set in the years 2001-2008. Seven records date back to the eighties. Maybe this is because of drug testing, maybe for other reasons, but most people don't even know about it and almost no one cares. We just don't need Olympic records. T&F are pure competition.

I'll leave you to defend the idea that an if there were an equivalent collapse in science and medicine, thjat there would be no serious consequences and no one would care.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:05 PM
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smartness is an intrinsically good and valuable thing

Elitist.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:06 PM
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We can have common enemies and still be antagonists ourselves. I have a problem with people who act as though they are not part of a population. Individually, none of us matters much in terms of these decisions. Collectively, we do, and people who don't know how the populations they're part of affect decision-making elsewhere are very much part of the problem. In certain moods I'm less troubled by "fuck the needy" than I am by "but that's not me, that's just them, my usage is only about me".

I'm not affected by this one...though largely because my auto-immune problems are wide-ranging enough that I couldn't safely metabolize any of the concentration-enhancing drugs I tried, any more than I could keep safely on any anti-depressant I tried for more than a few weeks. But I'm way at the otherwise-privileged end of the curve for the seriously disabled population, and I do have friends affected by it - it's gotten harder for them to get some medications in recent years.

On the flip side, if anyone wants to charge that I lack anything like a necessary appreciation of the pressures on modern college students...I'll cop to it.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:06 PM
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I'll leave you to defend the idea that an if there were an equivalent collapse in science and medicine, thjat there would be no serious consequences and no one would care.

I'll do better: I'll assert that improvements in medicine and science have been flat for the same period. Prove me wrong.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:07 PM
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SCMT: Moore's Law. Your turn.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:08 PM
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And in medicine, cancer development and survival rates.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:10 PM
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I'll leave you to defend that idea too.

I don't actually know what the point you're trying to make is. That science and medicine are recreational like sports? That drug testing has reduced our stock of scientists? That passive entertainment is as important as medicine? Natural healing is better than allopathy?

You never cease to amaze me, Tim. I can't figure out the principle behind your off-the-wall opinions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:11 PM
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As a concession, I am prepared to re-classify non-medically-driven users of concentration enhancement drugs as useful idiots rather than attributing any direct agency to them.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:11 PM
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I don't know which of my comments from 200 comments upthread you're referring to, Bruce Baugh, but please realize that at that point the discussion was about using drugs to enhance one's grades in class, not about enhancing one's quality of life.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:13 PM
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300: Bruce, the story you recount reminds me of a Wm F Buckley column from many years ago. Buckley was complaining about all the frivolous lawsuits clogging the courts, and how access to the courts should be limited. He took this issue personally because his own lawsuit took so long to get to trial.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:13 PM
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313: but look, saying "it's your fault that things are bad for me because you should have known that your actions would cause that asshole over there to be an asshole" is so much second order bullshit unless you're willing to come to grips with the reasons people seek pharmaceuticals off prescription. Do you really think that college kids are acquiring Adderall out of a sense of bored insolence? You can privilege your problems over those of other people all you want, but then you don't get to say "we're all in this together, man!" You're part of the community, too. The problem -- the only problem -- is that recreational drug use is seen as a greater ill than letting the needy go unmedicated, and the solution to that problem is not to further demonize fucking drug users! I mean really.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:15 PM
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There's been a startling decrease in stroke and heart disease death rates since 1950. Up until not too long ago, there was no comparable decline in cancer death rates. So the improvement Bruce linked is fairly new.

The discouraging failure of cancer rates to decline before 1990 may have been because environmental causes of cancer were increasing, up to a certain point, about as fast as treatments were improving. (That's pure speculation on my part.)

When I kid leukemia was regarded as a death penalty, but it's often treatable now.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:16 PM
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Ardent Reader, how is grade improvement not enhancing your quality of life? I'm not trying to be flippant here, either - I read about the importance of grades in later steps of education and employment, and I see no reason to doubt that they are very widely true. I cheer Bitchphd's spirit of working around the standard definitions when they don't suit and wish lots more folks shared it, but I recognize that they don't. Nonetheless, you're still taking stuff that some people need to function normally for the sake of a competitive advantage, and you are part of a population of non-medical users whose existence and growth is used (just like its predecessors) to justify cutting back on access for those with the original medical need.

If you're unfamiliar with this cycle, I'll be glad to hunt up citations, after I get some rest. (Being up all night with gout + auto-immune problems sucks like hell, I note on the side.)


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:17 PM
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Cancer stats bother me a bit, but in a very ill-informed kind of way. I've read a few times that earlier detection of many cancers can change the stats without really changing the population mortality, but I don't know which numbers are affected by this and which are corrected for it.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:19 PM
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B, I think that you gravely misunderstand how our educational system works.

Do you now.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:19 PM
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The discouraging failure of cancer rates to decline before 1990 may have been because environmental causes of cancer were increasing, up to a certain point, about as fast as treatments were improving. (That's pure speculation on my part.)

Cancer is also a much more complicated beast than heart disease and stroke. Our understanding of it has really increased a lot recently; this isn't immediately reflected in treatment results, but it does make it through eventually.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:21 PM
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is used (just like its predecessors) to justify cutting back on access for those with the original medical need

Is used by dishonest assholes with agendas. Fuck, the existence of successful kids from the ghetto is used to justification for cutting inner city services. Does this mean kids in the ghetto should take one for the team and try not to succeed?

(I'm so banned.)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:22 PM
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Sifu: As nearly as I can tell from outside the population, people are using Adderall and the like because it lets them get a competitive advantage in performance for less work. So it's obviously much more appealing than the sort of thing Napi talks about (developing less chemical-dependent approaches to mastering the material) or that Bitch does (adjusting your life habits and goals in light of what you can do without the extra boost). I like free lunches myself. But only when they're actually free.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:22 PM
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"used to justify"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:22 PM
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328: so what you're saying is that you don't give a shit why people are actually using it, whether or not they have real problems with the material, whether that boost is materially helpful in their lives or not, and are willing to condemn them in full ignorance of all those things?

Got it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:23 PM
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I would like to pause for a moment of comity with Sifu when it comes to just-after-pressing-Post corrections. You make me feel much less alone on that today. :)


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:24 PM
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I was being polite, B.

You seem to be trying to play three games at once: successful professional, egalitarian helping people succeed, and liberationist telling people that success isn't everything. There's just a ton of contradictions there, because the educational system isn't to make people equal. It's to brand people as successes and failures. And individuals in the system who want to be successes need to be very attentive to their grades and to networking with teachers.

Your sneering at grade-grubbers is disgusting. Grade-grubbers understand what's going on, and you're trying to delude them.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:24 PM
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If you're curious, which apparently you aren't -- better to blame -- then you might be interested to know that these drugs aren't a free lunch of any kind, and Napî and Bitch are wildly off-base about how one might replace aids of this kind.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:25 PM
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But now I really am going to go, as I'm melting down.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:25 PM
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Your sneering at grade-grubbers is disgusting. Grade-grubbers understand what's going on, and you're trying to delude them.

I think that's too harsh, John. But I basically agree with your point...which is to say, B, I think you're underestimating/glossing over the amount of privilege that is required in order to not care about success but still become successful.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:30 PM
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Me and my trust fund upbringing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:31 PM
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336: I don't think it's necessarily economic privilege. I never realized, and still haven't, what kind of work goes into most people's success. Part of this is my class privilege, but a much much bigger part is that I was just born really good at this academic shiz, and my parents were well educated and spent time with me (which of course gets into all sorts of class vs. socioeconomic status blather).

332 might be right, though it's depressing as hell. I hope my kid or kids never have to go through that.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:38 PM
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Me and my trust fund upbringing.

The most hardcore libertarians I know became successful despite coming from very poor backgrounds, and arrived at their politics via "If I could do it, so can anyone else."


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:40 PM
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Seriously, B, you're all wrong and I've been trying to tell you why. The people I went to school with 1975-1980 were often the first in their family to go to college, and they rarely had good support. A lot of them went into debt and beat their brains out getting degrees that were basically worthless. I would meet them after they graduated and they were just baffled and stunned.

For students at that school, there were very definite rules about what you had to do if you were going to make anything of your education, and no one was telling them what the rules were. High on the list was doing everything they could to get good grades.

None of them planned to end up at the end of their schooling exactly where they had been jobwise, except in debt.

That school was good for lots of people, but not for them. And faculty never thinks of that. They talk about cultural enrichment, etc.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:41 PM
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Hell, I'm the guy who knocked up my wife at 21, dropped out and put her through school, and am now deciding to not finish my education and go be a cop instead.

Congrats, gswift! I can't find the thread, but I remember lobbying at one point for more Unfogged-types to infiltrate the police force.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:44 PM
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The people I went to school with 1975-1980 were often the first in their family to go to college, and they rarely had good support.

Just FYI, the mid 1970s were a period of a real and surprising collapse in the economic returns to education. Later, starting in the early 80s, the economic returns to higher education turned around and went way up. This was in part due to a collapse in wages for blue-collar men with a HS degree only.

Economists have written a lot about this period.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:46 PM
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B in 139:

I think from here on out Im going to embrace the old lady role and just start saying things like "I know you kids worry about this stuff, but trust me, you shouldnt."

After all, lots of people probably told George W Bush that he needed to buckle down and get serious about his studies, and look how he turned out.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:49 PM
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Long, long ago, 199 was me. But then my connection dissolved. I am far away from the internet, apparently! And now the conversation is mainly about something else.

AS USUAL.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:49 PM
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179

"I think this is the crux; the thing people find these drugs useful for is doing things they don't want to do and will never have the inclination to do well, at a time when they have to do them to be able to meaningfully self-determine later."

This is not why Erdos took amphetamines. The drugs help everybody which is why it is unfair if some students have access to them and some don't. Just the same as if some students are allowed to use calculators and some aren't.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 12:57 PM
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And for some to have financial security when some don't. And for some to have had good early education when some didn't. And so on.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:05 PM
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The article discussing modafinil were a little over-enthusiastic, I think. It's more suited for people who have to say alert and watchful for long periods of time, rather than people who need to make better decisions. It would help night watchmen or troops on combat missions more than it would help a scientist or software developer.

It's also hard to get, as some have noted, whereas piracetam is available from Amazon.


Posted by: Mr. Gunn | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:06 PM
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300: I very much doubt that anyone in the history of medicine has consciously pretended to have Epstein-Barr virus in order to be prescribed recreational corticosteroids or get bone marrow transplants for kicks. What actually happened is that a lot of people presenting with chronic fatigue syndrome were diagnosed as potentially having this virus because doctors didn't (and don't) really understand CFS. However your characterisation of these often really quite ill people as:

People who just wanted a cool label to excuse their mopiness made her difficult, painful life that much more difficult and painful every round of treatment. They were assholes

is really quite arseholeish itself, and frankly stops me from taking you seriously at all (and your friend can fuck off as well).

Even if your argument were put on a course of chicken soup and hydrocortisone and nursed back to something approaching health, it's still wrong; what you're effectively saying is that stingy doctors should be allowed to enforce their prescribing practices by using the genuinely sick as hostages.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:09 PM
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D2, please stop commenting in this thread, as I've decided to ignore it but find it hard not to click on a D2 comment.

Thank you.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:11 PM
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"You know what else limits insurance companies' exposure and doctors' premiums? Not committing malpractice."

This is basically nonsense. Studies have shown little correlation between malpractice and malpractice awards. Basically you are at risk of getting sued when there is a bad outcome independent of whether it is due to malpractice. So if you want to limit your exposure you are better off refusing to treat high risk patients and refusing to perform high risk procedures.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:12 PM
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Oh, and by the way, the comparison to sports drugs is bullshit. Academic research, software development, etc aren't spectator sports. People will be no more forced to use this stuff to remain competitive than they are currently forced to drink coffee. I think the time has come for this kind of stuff, but I rather hoped I'd find a higher level of discussion than this.


Posted by: Mr. Gunn | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:13 PM
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Later, starting in the early 80s, the economic returns to higher education turned around and went way up. This was in part due to a collapse in wages for blue-collar men with a HS degree only.

To the extent a collapse of blue-collar wages was the cause, that would seem to show that a college education became more necessary, whether or not it became more lucrative. During that same period, college education became more expensive and harder to finance.

I am specifically thinking of a.) people in low-ranking schools like mine and b.) people in non-vocational majors, above all the humanities. These two groups would get the least benefit from schooling, and the ones with mediocre grades least of all. But at every level, good grades are important. I didn't like it when I was there, but: I fought the law, and the law won.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:15 PM
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"And for some to have financial security when some don't. And for some to have had good early education when some didn't. And so on."

What's your point? Because there is a lot of unfairness in life, schools shouldn't care if students cheat on exams?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:16 PM
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by the way, a quick straw poll at work reveals that even the young gun investment bankers don't use these concentration drug things, which makes me suspect that they don't really convey all these huge abilities.


Posted by: derauqsd | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:18 PM
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a quick straw poll at work reveals that even the young gun investment bankers don't use these concentration drug things

That's because they're already coked up.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:19 PM
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Did you want to do it? Did you enjoy it? "Honor" my ass.


Posted by: W. Kiernan | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:19 PM
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Congrats, gswift!

Thanks. Don't actually have an offer yet, but I've made it far enough in the process that the odds look pretty good.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:20 PM
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a quick straw poll at work reveals that even the young gun investment bankers don't use these concentration drug things, which makes me suspect that they don't really convey all these huge abilities.

Like they'd tell you if they did! These are the same guys who stole the required reading from the university library so no one else could find it. I'm surprised they didn't tell you that valium (or Haldol) was just the ticket to get a competitive edge.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:22 PM
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Erdős believed that amphetamines made him a better mathematician. He quit using them for a month as an experiment (or maybe because a friend was nagging him) and believed that he lost a month of work that way.

My belief is that anyone engaged in productive work who works better with drugs should be allowed to do so and should do so as long as there isn't a side-effect issue. I don't think of productive work as essentially competitive even though there's often an aspect of competition.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:23 PM
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"But to reprise, I have no problem with healthy people using perforance-enhancing smart drugs in any circumstance, because smartness is an intrinsically good and valuable thing the way sprts performance is not."

"I can see promoting a 72 hour speed chess marathon in which all contestants were allowed to use any drug they felt would help. It would be like watching auto racing, with the possibility of crash-and-burns feeding the excitement."

Well speed chess performance is no more intrinsically good than sports performance. Ignoring drug use in bicycle racing led to a death rate that society found unacceptable. I don't see any reason to believe that there aren't similar dangers in a laissez faire attitude elsewhere. How come you guys suddenly become libertarians when it comes to drug use, why aren't you worried about employers ruining the long term health of their workers with short term drug enhanced performance demands?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:26 PM
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After all the testimonials for Modafinil, I just went and asked my psychiatrist for a scrip to try it out. She didn't reject my request out of hand, but she told me that the usual clinical practice would be to increase the dose of what I'm already taking (an amphetamine derivative). Hey, who am I to complain?

OTOH, I still might have to tell her that the higher dose of speed is making me have heart palpitations or suicidal thoughts or something so that she'll let me try the fighter pilot stuff.


Posted by: James Monroe | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:27 PM
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I think that drug policy in this country can never be rational until everyone who lived through the sixties has died. It's a political football.

Whatever bad effects drugs actually had, they've become a symbol of evil thoughts, evil ways of life, and evil people. I have a distant relative who had to be bullied into using insulin because he was terrified of drug-dependency. Terminal patients die in pain because their doctors don't want them to become addicted. Doctors who do give patients the medicine they need are disbarred.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:27 PM
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What's your point? Because there is a lot of unfairness in life, schools shouldn't care if students cheat on exams?

No, my point is that the advantage students apparently gain from these "focus drugs" strikes me as very similar to the advantage some students enjoy by virtue of their good fortunes in life and is no more "cheating" than having gone to a good prep school is cheating.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:31 PM
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"Erdős believed that amphetamines made him a better mathematician"

And he was probably correct. But it wasn't the case that he had no intrinsic inclination or ability to do mathematics.

"My belief is that anyone engaged in productive work who works better with drugs should be allowed to do so and should do so as long as there isn't a side-effect issue."

In the case of professional sports I would agree given medical supervision. I consider their pay sufficient compensation for the inevitable side-effects. I am less enthusiastic about truck drivers hopped up on amphetamines.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:34 PM
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I was promoting the 72 hour speed chess tournament out of sheer sadism. It wasn't the same argument as I was making about intrinsically worthwhile activities.

"Ed, it looks like Azmaiparashvili is flaming out over on table 13. He's quivering uncontrollably, shrieking, and wetting himself. Azmaiparashvili flames out relatively seldom, but perhaps his neurotransmitters didn't have time to recharge after last week's overtime match. Anyway, Konstantinopolsky will be going on to the next round.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:35 PM
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Truck drivers on amphetamines do not perform consistently better. Under certain not rare conditions, they perform much worse.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:36 PM
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"No, my point is that the advantage students apparently gain from these "focus drugs" strikes me as very similar to the advantage some students enjoy by virtue of their good fortunes in life and is no more "cheating" than having gone to a good prep school is cheating."

Except that going to a good prep school is not against the rules but taking controlled substances without a prescription is against the rules. So one isn't cheating and one is. You may think the rules are unfair but you don't get to unilaterally rewrite them.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:41 PM
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"Truck drivers on amphetamines do not perform consistently better. Under certain not rare conditions, they perform much worse."

Amphetamines used intelligently consistently improve performance. People get in trouble when they try to use them to accomplish things they would know better than to try without them. Which is why a laissez faire attitude towards this sort of thing is dangerous.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:46 PM
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James, the rules requiring prescriptions are intended to protect people from making uniformed decisions about pharmaceuticals that could be dangerous to their health. I think those rules are generally a good idea, and am 100% behind opposing off-script drug use on this rationale. But those rules have nothing at all to do with whether it's "cheating" to use the drug. The question posed by the post was whether or not a rule prohibiting that use is a good one -- I'm not convinced that it's warranted on fairness grounds, though perhaps it makes sense if intended to curtail a dangerous trend that is harming student health.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:49 PM
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Um, uninformed. Not uniformed.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:50 PM
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I don't actually know what the point you're trying to make is.

That shitty arguments of the form "Assume X is awesome and Y is not; therefore X can be distinguished from Y on the ground that X is awesome and Y is not" are not all that convincing. The idea that we have some clear understanding about what "smart" means, and how it connects to success, is an abomination that never ceases to irritate me.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:52 PM
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366: Rules are often rewritten by being ignored.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:52 PM
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371: It's like the analogy ban. There's a rule prohibiting use of analogies in a certain forum, but some commenters feel that use of analogies will enhance the effectiveness of their contributions and so ignore the ban. Slowly, over time, the rule is deprived of all force.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:55 PM
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"... But those rules have nothing at all to do with whether it's "cheating" to use the drug. ..."

You don't think it is cheating to obtain an advantage by breaking the law?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 1:59 PM
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The idea that we have some clear understanding about what "smart" means, and how it connects to success, is an abomination that never ceases to irritate me.

It's not that smartness correlates with success, it's that smartness correlates with positive social externalities. Better internet search engines, more fuel efficient cars, better understanding of how the brain works; these things are broadly useful in a way that running the 100m faster than anyone has before is not.

I happen to think that John is unduly harsh on performance-enhancing drugs in athletics and on athletics in general, but he's got a point.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:02 PM
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373: See 368. Do you think it's "cheating" if you create 10 extra minutes to study by driving home in excess of the speed limit?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:08 PM
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I'm beginning to think that Shearer's never done amphetamines (which, by the way, Ritalin isn't).


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:08 PM
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No, Tim, I'm talking about your apparent belief that there's no reason to say that we need science and medicine in a way that we don't need high-performance track and field.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:11 PM
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Shearer, they're talking about writing a new rule to to make something illegal under the honor code. It isn't cheating yet. We're talking about whether it should be classified as cheating or not.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:13 PM
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It's not that smartness correlates with success, it's that smartness correlates with positive social externalities.

Eh, maybe he has a point. I think he's assuming away a lot of the issues that you can see in sports, however: access, pernicious effects, the extent to which it ruins a system of measurement built around an assumption of no steroids, etc.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:14 PM
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I'm talking about your apparent belief that there's no reason to say that we need science and medicine in a way that we don't need high-performance track and field.

We have both at the moment, Emerson, so don't sweat it.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:15 PM
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Nah, American track and field are down the tubes. And no one really cares. I sort of do. Americans haven't been competitive in the middle distances on up for God knows how long. Worldwide the sport is just limping along.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:21 PM
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But it may be "bounding" along soon enough, thanks to Prosthetic Guy.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:26 PM
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Amphetamines used intelligently consistently improve performance.

For the first 12 hours you're awake! Performance decays significantly over the next 24-36 hours of sleeplessness!


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:27 PM
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"For the first 12 hours you're awake! Performance decays significantly over the next 24-36 hours of sleeplessness!"

Not true. See Stimulant Use in Extended Flight Operations .

"Recent laboratory studies comparing dextroamphetamine with placebos in terms of their effect on maintaining performance and alertness in fatigued military pilots have demonstrated clear benefits, confirming earlier results in nonpilot volunteers.16 Helicopter pilots who received placebos and then flew a simulator from 0100 to 1700 hours after a single night of sleep deprivation displayed significant, progressive deterioration of flight--control skills that would have threatened both safety and mission accomplishment. The problems encountered were especially severe in the morning hours (0300-1000). Even after a slight improvement in the afternoon (due to circadian rhythm), control accuracy did not recover to normal prefatigue levels. When these pilots received amphetamine on a different sleep--deprived night, decrements in performance did not occur. In fact, low--dose amphetamine eliminated the early morning deteriorations in flight skills and maintained performance at prefatigue level for the remainder of the day."


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 2:57 PM
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Flight control skills aren't the same as the ability to study or answer involved questions.

Modafinil: also not an amphetamine.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:01 PM
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"Shearer, they're talking about writing a new rule to to make something illegal under the honor code. It isn't cheating yet. We're talking about whether it should be classified as cheating or not."

It is cheating by society's rules to obtain an advantage by breaking the law. In my opinion it should be considered cheating under an honor code as well if it isn't already. The Caltech Honor Code just prohibits "unfair advantage". In my opinion at least use of illegal drugs constitutes an unfair advantage.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:03 PM
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"... The results among healthy subjects were remarkably consistent: in numerous studies using normal, nonfatigued human volunteers--including some military personnel--amphetamine improved performance by about 5 percent on most mental tasks. ..."


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:06 PM
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I'm sorry that I ever told anyone that you weren't a troll, James. You're an atypical troll, but you're a troll.

Mea maxima culpa, Unfoggetariat!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:08 PM
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in numerous studies using normal, nonfatigued human volunteers


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:09 PM
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James, see 277.

Also, from your link:

He notes that "the difference in the two situations was amazing. I don't know if the difference is dose or drug formulation or what. But there were no noticeable side effects during Just Cause; we just felt wide awake. But there was none of the nervousness--no feeling `wired' like I remember in Vietnam."12 Medically controlled use of prescription--quality, small doses almost assuredly accounts for the difference that Colonel Geisler reports.

Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:23 PM
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Are you deliberately trolling, James, or are you just all hopped up on speed?


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:24 PM
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also:

Although properly administered doses of amphetamine can alleviate significant problems in very demanding circumstances (e.g., they can sustain the performance of heavily fatigued, sleep--deprived personnel in combat), an indiscriminate, daily reliance on amphetamine may quickly create more negative than positive effects. Routine administration of stimulants under "normal" circumstances may create problems of drug tolerance, addiction, and various forms of abuse--not to mention physiological changes (in terms of sleep disruption and other side effects) that would ultimately render personnel less effective.

Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 3:24 PM
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390 392

What is your point? I am claiming that taking amphetamines once before an exam is likely to improve performance (unfairly since this is illegal) but that a laissez faire attitude is problematic because of the abuse potential.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:00 PM
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unfairly since this is illegal

Not all that is illegal is unfair.


Posted by: Matt F | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:05 PM
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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:24 PM
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Actually, I quite like football.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 4:43 PM
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These are the same guys who stole the required reading from the university library so no one else could find it.

I really hate that stuff. I'm all for competition, but when people describe Hastings as a competitive law school this is the sort of thing they mean.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 6:06 PM
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Quick two cents:
1) Exams have time limits; if you can scribble out more in the time limit, you'll generally get a better grade. I can see using it to study ethically, but it seems like too much of a head start for an exam.

2) Of course it's going to be little EmmaJacob with the drugs. Of course it's fine for kids with an actual disability (which does correlate well with having a doctor willing to diagnose it, and class, but IME, the kids needing the extra time aren't generally ending up with As.)

2a) Grades do mean something. They are not a judgment on one's worth as a person, but for a kid who doesn't have the family and social connections, they can be a very important way of getting ahead.

3) That said, I'm not sure *how* much of an effect it has, which surely seems relevant, and I'm not sure how the honor code is to be enforced. (Blood tests before exams? Reporting someone for looking focused?) As I'm generally against unenforceable rules, I can't really see how this works in the honor code (unlike things like plagiarism and cheating, where you can point to something concrete.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:35 PM
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Also, ogged is right in 22. It's not a sport.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:44 PM
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Les Quatre Cents Coups!


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:46 PM
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398

"That said, I'm not sure *how* much of an effect it has, which surely seems relevant, and I'm not sure how the honor code is to be enforced. (Blood tests before exams? Reporting someone for looking focused?) As I'm generally against unenforceable rules, I can't really see how this works in the honor code (unlike things like plagiarism and cheating, where you can point to something concrete.)"

The point of an honor code is that it is supposed to be largely self-enforcing. And there is some chance of being detected while obtaining and taking illegal stimulants.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 7:55 PM
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Largely self-enforcing, but what that means is that students are supposed to turn other students in as well as self-policing, and when that happens, there's something to point to: a plagiarized essay, a cheat sheet passed around during the exam, a fraud ring.

The other thing is we don't generally ban stimulants during exams. Coffee's fine. When I was in college, No-Doz and the like were popular. Wakes you up, kicks some of the brain cells. And if the effect of the stimulant is mostly that it can keep you concentrating longer (as opposed to aiding recall), I'm not sure how much of an advantage it is.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:16 PM
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The other thing is we don't generally ban stimulants during exams. Coffee's fine.

Heh. I brought a bag full of chocolate covered coffee beans to one law school exam, forgetting that under stress I eat anything within reach without thinking about it. An hour into the test, I realized that I'd put away about a quarter of a pound of coffee beans, and that I'd developed a tremor that was keeping me from writing legibly. I had to say I was taking a bathroom break and run up and down the stairs for a couple of minutes before I could finish the exam.

This is irrelevant to the discussion, of course.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:23 PM
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"Largely self-enforcing, but what that means is that students are supposed to turn other students in as well as self-policing, and when that happens, there's something to point to: a plagiarized essay, a cheat sheet passed around during the exam, a fraud ring."

The students aren't making the drugs themselves, they have to obtain them and that can leave a trail. Just ask Barry Bonds.

"The other thing is we don't generally ban stimulants during exams. Coffee's fine. When I was in college, No-Doz and the like were popular. Wakes you up, kicks some of the brain cells. And if the effect of the stimulant is mostly that it can keep you concentrating longer (as opposed to aiding recall), I'm not sure how much of an advantage it is."

These aren't illegal so there is no unfair advantage.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:29 PM
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You know who could really use some stimulants? Yeah, that's right, single moms with major motions to dismiss looming and a kid who remembered at the last minute that she needs to bring in a Greek food item tomorrow for her country report, sending mom across town hunting down Greek yogurt.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:36 PM
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I think that a factor for most of us, James, is that we're talking mostly about fairness in competition and the actual effects of drugs, and that the legality or otherwise is not at all decisive for us, since few of us really accept the drug laws as they are.

And contrary to what you say, nullification by disobedience is possible and in some cases desirable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:38 PM
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major motions to dismiss looming

I feel your pain.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:39 PM
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404: Not all of the drugs described here are illegal. In fact, some of the unfair advantage we're discussing is more like 166 above, wholly legal the entire way.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:41 PM
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a kid who remembered at the last minute that she needs to bring in a Greek food item tomorrow for her country report, sending mom across town hunting down Greek yogurt.

This is probably unwelcome after-the-fact second-guessing, but I would have advised sending her to school with a flask of olive oil out of the pantry and the startling, little-known fact that Greek peasants traditionally got most of their calories from this viscous plant-derived liquid.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:43 PM
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405: next time, greens are your answer; unreconstructed greek immigrants (really! I know some! It's hilarious!) are known to prowl the lawn looking for dandelion leaves (and other weeds) to boil, for hours, until they passably resemble the invasive, weedy delicacy they remember from the homeland.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:51 PM
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And if the effect of the stimulant is mostly that it can keep you concentrating longer (as opposed to aiding recall), I'm not sure how much of an advantage it is.

This, yes, and maybe aids concentration, defined as the ability to stay involved in the task at hand.

Really, not cheating.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:53 PM
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408

"Not all of the drugs described here are illegal. In fact, some of the unfair advantage we're discussing is more like 166 above, wholly legal the entire way."

My comments concerned drugs obtained and taken illegally. I think it would be problematic for a school to try to ban legally prescribed drugs taken pursuant to a doctor's orders and I doubt they would try to do so.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:55 PM
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I think it would be problematic for a school to try to ban legally prescribed drugs taken pursuant to a doctor's orders and I doubt they would try to do so.

Super, James. You've now cemented the advantage for those students resourceful, well-connected, and wealthy enough to get a pliant psychiatrist to prescribe stimulants to them.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 8:58 PM
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"Super, James. You've now cemented the advantage for those students resourceful, well-connected, and wealthy enough to get a pliant psychiatrist to prescribe stimulants to them."

Not if the student health center is equally pliant.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:03 PM
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So you've cemented the advantage for everybody but the most honest students?

You have the courage of your convictions, I'll give you that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:06 PM
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"So you've cemented the advantage for everybody but the most honest students?"

I believe it is illegal to lie in order to obtain a prescription.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:13 PM
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It's not even necessarily "most honest." Maybe "most passive." There is nothing inherently dishonest about going to the doctor with an agenda for your treatment.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:13 PM
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I'm absolutely certain I could talk one of my docs into an ADD diagnosis.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:17 PM
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418, 417 ably respond to the Shearer Robot, who does not understand simple human need for sleep or distraction, and will destroy all illegal study-entities with extreme vengeance!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:18 PM
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417

"... Maybe "most passive." ..."

Passive students will always be at a disadvantage, they won't ask questions about points they don't understand, show up for office hours, complain about mis-graded tests etc. I don't see anything unfair about this.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:21 PM
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You have the courage of your convictions, I'll give you that.

Shearer has the near unique distinction of failing to detect any irony in the adage "La loi dans sa majestueuse égalité, interdit à tous, aux riches comme aux pauvres de dormir sous les ponts, de coucher dans la rue et de voler du pain."



Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:23 PM
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418

"I'm absolutely certain I could talk one of my docs into an ADD diagnosis."

Maybe but it might involve more hassle than obtaining the drug illegally.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:24 PM
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One expects that being passive in the classroom is a disadvantage. That is not an assumption generally at work in the doctor's office.

In any case, my earlier point was that there's a lot of room between 'prescribed for a disability' and 'purchased furtively off the street' which includes off-label use, misuse, &c.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:25 PM
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James, I think you missed the point of my 417. I'm suggesting that the more proactive students will be able to get a prescription while the passive students won't know what to tell the doctor.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:26 PM
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421: not nearly so universal! Since I don't speak french, I can only assume you've just quoted the manual to a particularly mischevious rice cooker, an appliance notoriously deficient in irony.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:28 PM
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"universal" s/b "unique", alien replacement robot.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:28 PM
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A tale of an irony-free rice cooker.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:31 PM
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422: Not this doc. She's a pushover, and I have most of the 'symptoms' of ADD.

Now, can someone explain why I am having cravings for cigarettes when I've never smoked?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:31 PM
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421

Is that the thing about the law forbidding the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges? Similarly the law requires the poor as well as the rich to pay estate taxes.

Are you guys seriously defending taking illegal drugs to help on exams on the grounds that all the rich kids are obtaining and taking the drugs legally and thus you are just leveling the playing field? Suffice it to say I doubt your premise.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:31 PM
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411 -- I've only said that missing the opportunity to train oneself to accomplish the same ends -- absent medical inability -- is cheating one's self. There will never be a better, less costly time for this than late high school early college, and developing one's abilities will be useful no matter where one ends up.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:33 PM
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Now, can someone explain why I am having cravings for cigarettes when I've never smoked?

Are you clothed? Have you been drinking?

majorly stressed?


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:33 PM
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No, I'm defending on the grounds that a) I don't think it's enforceable because most of the abuse isn't kids seeking out amphetamine dealers (hence hard to track) and b) I don't think that on an exam, it's all that much worse than a shot of espresso.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:34 PM
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Cala (I was worried before, but now I know we're on track with this) gets it right.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:36 PM
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423

"One expects that being passive in the classroom is a disadvantage. That is not an assumption generally at work in the doctor's office."

Actually passive patients are often at a severe disadvantage.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:36 PM
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431: Yes, no, yes.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:37 PM
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435.2 begs the question why not?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:38 PM
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434: should they be, James? Does passivity in the face of such life events ever rise to the level of disorder? Should, at that point, the passive types get a shot in the arm, as it were?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:39 PM
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434: Not in the way you're thinking. Asking lots of questions, being an informed patient, &c., is a lot different than pushing a diagnosis on a doctor. (And neither of those cases is much like the classroom example of the passive student who doesn't go to office hours.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:39 PM
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436: Because I get hung over these days after one drink, which screws up my productivity.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:40 PM
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439: correlation not causality. Maybe you're not commenting enough when you get drunk.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:41 PM
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Now, can someone explain why I am having cravings for cigarettes when I've never smoked?

This precise circumstance is why I started smoking in college. Well, that and the adolescent hubris of being totally confident that I would never get addicted. Bizarre. I attribute it, though, to hardcore exposure to secondhand smoke in my childhood.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:41 PM
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Are you guys seriously defending taking illegal drugs to help on exams on the grounds that all the rich kids are obtaining and taking the drugs legally and thus you are just leveling the playing field?

No, we are pointing out the irony of your implacable opposition to using said drugs for performance-enhancement purposes combined with your indulgent attitude toward those who take them with the permission of a physician--which permission is laughably easy to obtain for certain classes of students. The predictable consequence of your policy prescription is that the rich and well-connected will be able to enjoy the advantages of performance-enhancing drugs with no fear of disciplinary consequences, while others will not, and you seem to find that outcome perfectly just.

In other words, we are amusing ourselves over the fact that you are being so true to form.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:41 PM
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432

"... most of the abuse isn't kids seeking out amphetamine dealers ..."

So what are we talking about if not amphetamines and similar illegal stimulants?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:41 PM
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443: it's impossible to define that question until you define what you might mean by "amphetamine dealer".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:44 PM
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I never should have dropped my poor little rice cooker into a still feisty debate.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:45 PM
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Actually, office hours is a way better example for where I want to go than performace enhancement from prescription drugs. People who are too shy/passive to take advantage to avail themselves of office hours ought to take the opportunity to change this aspect of their behavior. Train themselves. It just might make the difference between a worthless LCU degree and one that helps realize those dreams. And even if it doesn't, the education is better for it.

I'm not sure what one would analogize to drugs in this scenario -- you know, if there wasn't a ban and all -- but taking a pill that would replace the short-term benefit of office hours is a bad idea.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:45 PM
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441: Wait, you can get have withdrawal from secondhand smoke?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:46 PM
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442 -- Is not the honor code suggestion a recognition that the less advantaged can never win a pharmaceutical arms race, and so no one without a genuine medical condition ought to be allowed to use them?

Not that it would necessarily work. Although there are schools where things like honor codes are taken pretty seriously (or were 20 years ago, anyway).


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:49 PM
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444

"it's impossible to define that question until you define what you might mean by "amphetamine dealer"."

It wasn't my term but I assume it means the person you go to to obtain amphetamines illegally.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:50 PM
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446: there are, indeed, widely prescribed drugs that deal with this sort of "social anxiety disorder". Nobody complains about them.

427: cheater.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:50 PM
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I'm just trying to make myself feel better about my lack of performance enhancement.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:51 PM
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449: right, I assumed. The phrase, in that context, is of course virtually meaningless.

(To cala, too.)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:53 PM
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447: Oh, I'm sure it's more of a psychological thing -- perhaps standing on the cusp of adulthood, I was seeking the comfort of my youth while embracing the symbol of adulthood so regularly flaunted by the grownups in my life. Or something like that. But you know, for all the stories of kids choking on that first, nasty cigarette because they wanted to be cool? That first one was really good...

And, um, I think I should drop out of this tangent before I talk myself out of being a quitter...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 9:57 PM
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450a -- Sure. Is everyone too passive to take full advantage suffering from a medical condition the best answer for which is medication? That some undoubtedly are, doesn't at all mean that all are.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:00 PM
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452: Agreed. I should ask some undergrads, but I get the sense that most of the college stuff is pretty small-scale: roommate's prescription, a couple pills here and there, which doesn't make it more legal, but a lot harder to track.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:03 PM
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455: it is, definitely. By some (e.g. the government's) definition, though, those people are "amphetamine dealers".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:04 PM
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Right. I was talking in terms of enforcing an honor code; it's not like there's this shadowy ring of dealers easily busted (in Shearer's BALCO analogy.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:07 PM
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457: aye, no. Everyone's a dealer.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:10 PM
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442

"No, we are pointing out the irony of your implacable opposition to using said drugs for performance-enhancement purposes ..."

I am not implacably opposed to performance enhancing drugs (or recreational drugs for that matter). I think our current drugs laws are irrational. However I think it is unfair for students who obey the law to be put at a disadvantage when taking tests.

"... The predictable consequence of your policy prescription is that the rich and well-connected will be able to enjoy the advantages of performance-enhancing drugs with no fear of disciplinary consequences, while others will not, ..."

I doubt this is in fact the predictable consequence.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:10 PM
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Cala e-mail me! See inph0z! Special this time only! Fuck a spam!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:11 PM
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457

"... I was talking in terms of enforcing an honor code; it's not like there's this shadowy ring of dealers easily busted ..."

You are still involving other people and if most students respect the honor code you are putting yourself at risk.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-19-08 10:16 PM
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de-bowdlerised ...

"La loi dans sa majestueuse égalité, interdit à tous, aux riches comme aux pauvres de dormir sous les ponts, de coucher pisser dans la rue et de voler du pain."

luckily none of you lot speak french so nobody will be shocked.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:36 AM
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462: Once again, d-squared adds value while I sleep. I'm delighted to know the original text of that quote.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:27 AM
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the students who cheat most are in law and finance and other areas where the ability to prudently cheat right up to the limit of the possible is a valuable and necessary skill.

Also in oil geology. When my brother was in grad school the oil geologists always sat alone, because they didn't trust each other, no one trusted them, and they had nothing but contempt for scientific geologists and non-oil resource geologists.

My brother is a water geologist, which is the lowest and most contemptible kind of geologist. No millions to made in a free good.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:35 AM
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And also, premed students cheat like crazy. Contemplate that when the anesthesiologist comes to put you under, if you ever happen to be facing necessary but highly risky surgery.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:39 AM
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the students who cheat most are in law and finance and other areas where the ability to prudently cheat right up to the limit of the possible is a valuable and necessary skill.

I have a hard time imagining exactly how one could cheat on most law school exams.

If 464 is just one of those "lawyers are liars and cheats" rants, please ignore. I'm a bit punchy from being in the office all night (but with a nap on a couch) trying to finish a brief.


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:45 AM
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Idealist, I think it's yet a step removed: students who cheat intelligently are more likely to go into law. Note lack of evidentiary support. Easy play to prejudice.

I didn't stay up all night, but I have to argue over FRE 404 at my trial in a day or too, so maybe every problem looks like a nail.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:52 AM
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OK, I'll teach you people something. Rule 404:

Character Evidence Not Admissible To Prove Conduct; Exceptions; Other Crimes

(a) Character evidence generally

Evidence of a person's character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except:

(1) Character of accused - In a criminal case, evidence of a pertinent trait of character offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or if evidence of a trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime is offered by an accused and admitted under Rule 404 (a)(2), evidence of the same trait of character of the accused offered by the prosecution;

(2) Character of alleged victim - In a criminal case, and subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 412, evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the alleged victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the alleged victim was the first aggressor;

(3) Character of witness - Evidence of the character of a witness, as provided in rules 607, 608, and 609.

(b) Other crimes, wrongs, or acts

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident, provided that upon request by the accused, the prosecution in a criminal case shall provide reasonable notice in advance of trial, or during trial if the court excuses pretrial notice on good cause shown, of the general nature of any such evidence it intends to introduce at trial.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 5:55 AM
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Don't open the door, Napi!!!


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:00 AM
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premed students cheat like crazy

IME, the stereotype of premeds is not that they cheat per se, but that they sabotage the competition in order to get the coveted position at the top of the grade curve. The particular stereotype was most widespread among the premeds themselves, suggesting that it is confined to a distinct minority of premeds.

Contemplate that when the anesthesiologist comes to put you under

IME, medical lore holds that anaesthesiologists are the second most misanthropic specialty, exceeded only by radiologists.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:03 AM
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Sorry Will, but this thread's only chance to get to 1,000 is to take off on that reference to 412 in 404(a)(2). Isn't it just a tool of the Patriarchy?


Sex Offense Cases; Relevance of Alleged Victim's Past Sexual Behavior or Alleged Sexual Predisposition

(a) Evidence generally inadmissible.

The following evidence is not admissible in any civil or criminal proceeding involving alleged sexual misconduct except as provided in subdivisions (b) and (c):

(1) Evidence offered to prove that any alleged victim engaged in other sexual behavior.

(2) Evidence offered to prove any alleged victim's sexual predisposition.

(b) Exceptions.

(1) In a criminal case, the following evidence is admissible, if otherwise admissible under these rules:

(A) evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior by the alleged victim offered to prove that a person other than the accused was the source of semen, injury, or other physical evidence;

(B) evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior by the alleged victim with respect to the person accused of the sexual misconduct offered by the accused to prove consent or by the prosecution; and

(C) evidence the exclusion of which would violate the constitutional rights of the defendant.

(2) In a civil case, evidence offered to prove the sexual behavior or sexual predisposition of any alleged victim is admissible if it is otherwise admissible under these rules and its probative value substantially outweighs the danger of harm to any victim and of unfair prejudice to any party. Evidence of an alleged victim's reputation is admissible only if it has been placed in controversy by the alleged victim.

(c) Procedure to determine admissibility.

(1) A party intending to offer evidence under subdivision (b) must --

(A) file a written motion at least 14 days before trial specifically describing the evidence and stating the purpose for which it is offered unless the court, for good cause requires a different time for filing or permits filing during trial; and

(B) serve the motion on all parties and notify the alleged victim or, when appropriate, the alleged victim's guardian or representative.

(2) Before admitting evidence under this rule the court must conduct a hearing in camera and afford the victim and parties a right to attend and be heard. The motion, related papers, and the record of the hearing must be sealed and remain under seal unless the court orders otherwise.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:05 AM
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466: Obviously the people designing law exams need to raise the cheating bar pretty high, or ithe test won't test for anything. Only the most talented lawyers figure out how to cheat on their law exams. It's probably one of those kinds of short-term profit things too, since if an entrepreneurial examineee cheats successfully either the exam is changed, or else everyone else learns to cheat too.

I understand that lawyers are pure as the driven snow and are, in fact, all dedicated to making the world a better place through the strictest ethical behavior. In this they resemble Mennonites and Quakers. Nonetheless, if I were going to try to make a living at something I knew was unethical, I would pay special attention to hiring a sharp lawyer. (And a sharp finance person too, Dsquared).

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps the lawyers I tried to hire would be shocked and rush from the room the moment they realized that while my plan promised enormous returns, it was evil and wrong.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:11 AM
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Haven't had any drugs yet this morning, so cannot make heads or tails of all that gobbledygook in 468 and 471. if only I had trained myself appropriately as an undergrad.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:16 AM
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Perhaps the lawyers I tried to hire would be shocked and rush from the room the moment they realized that while my plan promised enormous returns, it was evil and wrong.

"Evil" and "wrong" are not the relevant criteria. "Illegal" or "unethical" are. A good lawyer diligently searches out the subset of A that lies outside the intersection of A and B.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:21 AM
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Don't open the door, Napi!!!

Still scarred by that "Isn't it true you are a slut and a whore?" interrogatory, Will?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:22 AM
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"Isn't it true you are a slut and a whore?"

It only takes one time, after all.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:27 AM
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A friend of mine took an ethics class which he summed up thus: "What's ethical is what you can get away with".

In our world, ethics is a fifth wheel. Or a dead-weight loss, like Christmas. Or costly signalling, like a peacock's tail. Or an upfront investment to be recouped later. Or an irrational delusion. A smart, prudent person can get through life successfully with no ethics at all.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:30 AM
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When defending against carpal tunnel cases, one must ask certain delicate questions about what kinds of repetitive moments the plaintiff does on a regular basis.

Oddly, nobody has raised the evidentiary bar to past sexual conduct.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:32 AM
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You guys are too cool to be trolled. Unethical people usually are.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:34 AM
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If you want the thread to get to 1000, you can always discuss rape cases of the acquaintance variety. Everyone agrees that they are in the bed voluntarily together, engaging in some kind of sexual activity.

Who do you believe?

What evidence does it take for you to believe one over the other, beyond a reasonable doubt?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:38 AM
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A smart, prudent person can get through life successfully with no ethics at all.

But such a person would need to understand some system of ethics, as prudence would demand that in everyday life they generally acted in accord with it. How would this actually differ from being ethical?

I ask in the context of a bunch of loud mouthed pseudo-religious types who gum up the internet by arguing that if you don't believe in a punitive deity, you will inevitably devote your life to an orgy of crime. If fear of punishment is allowed as an ethical driver, why is social convenience not equally?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:40 AM
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481: Sure. There is only one rule; and that is that there are no rules. And that's a rule!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:43 AM
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ethics is a fifth wheel

You mean the crucial component that attaches the trailer to the truck?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:50 AM
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In our world, ethics is a fifth wheel. Or a dead-weight loss, like Christmas.
The cultural Darwinist in me rejects this thesis. The empirical literature on the economic advantages of high trust societies points to a plausible mechanism by which ethics comes to hold the place that it does. The formal system of justice is too crude and too slow to carry all the weight of facilitating commerce possible. A system of ethical norms fills in the cracks.

Or costly signalling, like a peacock's tail.

The literature on iterated positive sum games suggests that credible signaling is a powerful tool for promoting cooperation. A universal feature of capitalist development is the race between formal institutions evolving to fill in the gap and ethical norms eroding or commerce extending beyond the boundaries within which the informal bonds of trust obtain. So you will always see prominent examples of brazen bad-faith behavior, but this does not make ethical norms worthless or illusory.

Or an upfront investment to be recouped later. Or an irrational delusion. A smart, prudent person can get through life successfully with no ethics at all.

Ah, the free rider problem. Once again, though, you can't ignore the evidence that the most successful societies have evolved shaming and shunning mechanisms for free riders. And the economic advantages of a high trust society are such that they can tolerate a pretty high level of free-riding and still be better off than societies where the operating assumption is that people deal in bad faith.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:54 AM
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You mean the crucial component that attaches the trailer to the truck?

No, the left over wheel that you throw in front of the trolley car to stop it so you can beat and rob the passengers.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:56 AM
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How would this differ from being ethical?

A prudent person knows which ethical rules are enforced and which not. He begins by looking at the law and how it is enforced. He then looks at the various less formal communities (families, neighborhoods, congregations, friendships, voluntary associations) which expect, demand, or hope for more than minimally legal behavior. He calculates how much net benefit these communities will give him, tries to minimize their leverage on him, and leaves them while he's ahead and when he no longer needs anything from them. While he's in these communities, he loudly publicizes anything he gives more than the minimum.

It is said that someone like this will suffer feelings of guilt, but a careful reading of Gary Becker, Robert Nozick, Ayn Rand, etc. will eradicate these feelings.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:56 AM
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Shorter KR: We rule, because everyone American has a chance to be Ken Lay.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 6:58 AM
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The empirical literature on the economic advantages of high trust societies....

High trust societies are plums for the taking. You don't cheat other cheaters.

So you will always see prominent examples of brazen bad-faith behavior

Brazenness is not prudent.

Once again, though, you can't ignore the evidence that the most successful societies have evolved shaming and shunning mechanisms for free riders.

Stodginess, conventionality, uptightness, provinciality, moralism, judgmentalism, etc.

And the economic advantages of a high trust society are such that they can tolerate a pretty high level of free-riding and still be better off than societies where the operating assumption is that people deal in bad faith.

There's a sweet spot there, where everyone else is playing by the rules and you prudently rip them off, but not so much that they notice.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:02 AM
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484: Actually KR, I think that is a pretty good analysis, aside from there being a bit of a Panglossian, "Just So Story" aspect to it (which also haunt biological evolution explanations). And I suspect you agree with that caveat.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:03 AM
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What evidence does it take for you to believe one over the other, beyond a reasonable doubt?

I'm probably going to get pilloried for this, but in a criminal court, it's awfully likely that the evidence would be insufficient to convict. If the act were videotaped, or if there witnesses to testify that they overheard the victim telling the defendant to stop, or if there was clear-cut physical evidence of a struggle (facial lacerations, finger bruises on the arms or shoulders of the victim).

Barring that kind of corroborating evidence, the most likely set of facts would be consistent with reasonable doubt:

Mild physical injury: She likes it rough
Victim ran home and cried: She regretted it afterward

As awful a crime as acquaintance rape is, you can't alter the burden of proof, which our system of justice has set deliberately high for the prosecution.

In the context of a civil suit, or a university disciplinary proceeding, I would be comfortable with a different evidentiary standard.



Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:04 AM
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A system of ethical norms fills in the cracks.

In the early modern period Quakers were unusual in their refusal to swear oaths. As a result, whereas other people placed low value on mere statements of intent in business, and if obliged to swear spent a lot of effort interpreting the oath to their own advantage, Quaker businessmen developed a reputation for delivering on their proposals without making it a big deal.

In consequence, Quakers were highly regarded as good people to do business with, and many of them became extremely rich.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:04 AM
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Fifth wheel: A wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism

Wittgenstein, PI, #271

Samuel Butler's "Erewhon" described a society with two kinds of money -- regular everyday money, and a higher form of money which could be used in churches on Sunday mornings, but nowhere else.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:06 AM
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There's a sweet spot there, where everyone else is playing by the rules and you prudently rip them off, but not so much that they notice.

I find nothing to disagree with in that statement as an empirical matter, as long as "sweet" is not read to imply endorsement.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:06 AM
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488: There's a sweet spot there, where everyone else is playing by the rules and you prudently rip them off, but not so much that they notice

Yes, similar to an Evolutionary Stable State that incorporates a percentage of cheaters.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:08 AM
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Such a high bar for a system of ethics! If one person fails to be ethical, that proves ethics to be worthless.

We will endeavor, in the future, to nerve-staple the evildoers.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:14 AM
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I'm actually pro-ethics, but it doesn't seem to be very prevalent except in the sense of minimum standards. Ambitious, successful people often are less ethical than the norm. I know a lot of people around here who are both ethical and altruistic, but they're bumpkins and don't get ahead in the world.

Quaker slave traders were trusted by their customers, but treated their slaves the same way everyone else did. In the long run, though, Quakers also led the anti-slavery movements.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:20 AM
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Further to 490, the unfortunate consequence is that, even as we tell our sons "no means no" and "if she says no, it's rape", and even as we tell our daughters "your consent to make out does not give him a license to rape you", we can't neglect to tell our daughters the hard facts: when you get into bed with a guy, there is a very real risk that he can rape you with impunity.

Like a lot of other cautionary messages to young people, it's hard to convey that one without seeming moralistic or scare-mongering or a tool of the patriarchy or whatever. Analogy ban violation pre-emptively acknowledged, but if I were an African American father, I would be careful to explain to my children that, while they have every right to mouth off to the police, as a prudential matter I advise them not to do so.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:20 AM
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re: 494

There was a lengthy article in Behaviour and Brain Sciences a few years back, with an evolutionary model for sociopathy which made pretty much that point. It was, iirc, a pretty good article too.

http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/OldArchive/bbs.mealey.html

A while since I read it, though, so don't blame me if it turns out to be rubbish!


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:22 AM
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495.1: It is interesting though how much of the "action" in politics and folk ethics is focused right at this margin. I think it comes from both the fact that continual reëvaluation of one's own "strategy" is prudent in a mixed strategy environment, and that "cheater" detection and response is another key component.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:23 AM
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My sociopath brother in law has been very successful, and my guess is that he's worth three to five million dollars (from an initial investment af perhaps 20-30,000 form his parents.) My sister deserves a third or so of that, based on the divorce settlement he cheated / intimidated her out of. There's no legal recourse, but he isn't completely indifferent to his children's opinion of him. On the other hand, he's pretty manipulative and might use bribes turn his kids against their mother.

He's been slightly uncool at times so he hasn't gotten way scot free in the eyes of the community, but the money is still his and he can retire somewhere that people don't know him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:28 AM
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496: I know a lot of people around here who are both ethical and altruistic, but they're bumpkins and don't get ahead in the world.

I think "born to pay full price" is the operative language.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:29 AM
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but it doesn't seem to be very prevalent except in the sense of minimum standards

And quite right too. If society becomes prescriptive of behaviour much beyond this, you start entering Falwell country. Of course there are middle ground issues, such as the desirability of maintaining a high tax base to finance a welfare state, but I don't, for example, regard Gaijin Biker as a moral pariah because he disagrees with me on this. I regard him as a political imbecile, certainly, but that's a different argument.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:33 AM
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It is interesting though how much of the "action" in politics and folk ethics is focused right at this margin.

So true. I thought about this a lot in the heyday of Rove and Tom DeLay. Whatever qualms a squishy liberal might have about their behavior, the fact is that they were successful. And history will view them no worse for it, because by the time the history books are written, their shocking innovations will be commonplace. Is the historian's opinion of LBJ any worse because of the Daisy ad? Of course not! It's fondly remembered as a seminal innovation in negative advertising. The attenuation of historical memory of the Willy Horton ad is already well underway.

I think it comes from both the fact that continual reëvaluation of one's own "strategy" is prudent in a mixed strategy environment

Thank God the Dems are finally starting to wake up to the fact that there is no value--no value at all--in decrying a particular attack as shameless or unfair and expecting the public to sympathize.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:35 AM
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ttaM, that author works a long bicycle ride from Wobegon on a bike trail.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:35 AM
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498: Science imitates Plato? The best of all is to appear honest and trustworthy while in fact being deceitful, for whom among us wouldn't fuck the queen if we had the Ring of Gyges? (Translated freely from the translation.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:38 AM
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To me, it's ethical OK to be gay, etc., but not OK to cheat my sister out of the divorce settlement and throw her into poverty after 18 years as a housewife. But the law didn't protect her since he had better lawyers.

It was really a disaster when people agitating for changes in sexual rules decided that they had to destroy ethics itself, but that's what happened. ("Call off your old tired ethics".) They formed a coalition with the Gary Becker type cynics. (A lot of pop ethical thinking also seems dominated by fragile people who are afraid of being judged and resentful of being told what to do).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:44 AM
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I don't, for example, regard Gaijin Biker as a moral pariah because he disagrees with me on this

Especially since he's so thoroughly failed to put his money where his mouth is that he lives in a country with vastly better social welfare systems than the one he was born in.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:46 AM
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for whom among us wouldn't fuck the queen if we had the Ring of Gyges

That's the central plot conceit of Hollow Man, as well. In both the passage from Plato and Hollow Man, sexual temptation rather than greed or vanity is the gateway to transgression, which I find an astute observation about the human condition.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:47 AM
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After the "Hamas loves Obama" flap, Obama very wisely went on the offensive and expalined that Bush and McCain were making a lot of noise to cover up the fact that their Middle East policy was a deluded failure. Counterattack is the only effective response.

Senator Barack Obama responded sharply on Friday to attacks on his foreign policy, linking President Bush and Senator John McCain as partners in "the failed policies" of the past seven years and criticizing them for "hypocrisy, fear peddling, fear mongering..... "George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for," Mr. Obama said at a midday forum here, listing the Iraq war, the strengthening of Iran and groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden's being still at large and stalled diplomacy in other parts of the Middle East among their chief failings..... "If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America," Mr. Obama said, "that is a debate I am happy to have any time, any place."

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:48 AM
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re: 505

Her model isn't quite that. But, iirc, she argues that it's likely that sociopathy would evolve and be sustained at constant but fairly low levels in a population in a manner analogous to the various standard Hawk/Dove type models in evolutionary 'game theory'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:49 AM
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507 is an interesting inversion of the "Love it or leave it retort", but just as flawed as the original.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:49 AM
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Born to pay full price

It's painful talking about American wars around here, because if people here believe in a war they end up fighting in it, and sometimes even if they don't. There are still a lot of hard feelings about Vietnam, after thirty+ years. I know three guys my age whose lives were almost ruined, and an Iraq vet recently committed suicide-by-cop about three miles from my house.

It's very hard to tell good people that they've trusted their lives to evil people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 7:54 AM
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511: if I thought GB was motivated to meaningfully enact political change anywhere I might agree.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:01 AM
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429: Similarly the law requires the poor as well as the rich to pay estate taxes.

Um, no.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:11 AM
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Um, no.

You don't think that had to be meant as a joke? Doesn't make any sense otherwise.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:15 AM
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514: With all due respect to Shearer, who does occasionally have interesting and valuable things to say, the assertion that rich people just can't get a fair shake in the United States of America doesn't merit a response, because the party making the assertion is either trolling, or is beyond the reach of reason.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:17 AM
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All Shearer meant, I imagine, is that should a poor person die with millions of dollars in assets, they too will have to pay estate taxes. Pretty uncontroversial, and an exact analogy with Knecht's moon language phrase.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:25 AM
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505: for whom among us wouldn't fuck the queen if we had the Ring of Gyges?

Or, per Sean Connery's character in The Rock:

Losers always whine about their best ethics. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:59 AM
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Heebie @ 303: What the fuck are you talking about?

That made me happy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:08 AM
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Heebie's right!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:13 AM
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A lot of pop ethical thinking also seems dominated by fragile people who are afraid of being judged and resentful of being told what to do

Dead thread, but this is a good observation. Emerson's hidden conservative side.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:53 AM
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488

"... You don't cheat other cheaters."

Actually many typical cons don't work on honest people.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:10 AM
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514-517

What Tweety said.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:14 AM
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506

"It was really a disaster when people agitating for changes in sexual rules decided that they had to destroy ethics itself, but that's what happened. ..."

No wife was ever cheated before the sexual revolution? Seems unlikely.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:17 AM
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Shut up, James. You're not paying attention.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:34 AM
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