December 15, 2008

Sensible enhancement policies

AdderallPractical Ethics: Why boost brains? is my comments on the Nature article Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy by Greely et al. Overall, I agree with them. Enhancement is here, it should be accepted, but it needs to be studied much more so that we can avoid spending too much on placebo, minimize risks and figure out how it can fit into our social norms. That will require professional societies to consider their own policies, and maybe some legislation to avoid for example discrimination.

A fun reference I found last week is IQ in early adulthood and later risk of death by homicide: cohort study of 1 million men, which demonstrates that among swedish males having intelligence above average reduces the risk of being murdered to 27% of the risk among the lower 11%. Why this is so is a bit unclear, but clearly intelligence is health promoting. It reduces injuries and bad driving too.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether enhancers can achieve the kind of long-term improvements that would affect average intelligence. Things like avoiding deficiencies during childhood, a stimulating environment and nutrition certainly help (and should be aimed for). But it seems that given the accumulating evidence that low intelligence is a really bad thing, that we morally ought to research ways of improving it a lot more than is currently done. Maybe the impetus will instead come from expanded research on enhancement of the healthy and smart - but the biggest real benefits of an "IQ pill" are likely to accrue to the cognitively worst off. Most enhancements seem to give bigger boosts to the worst performers than the best performers, and societies that gain overall from enhancement will have more resources to spend on helping.

Posted by Anders3 at December 15, 2008 05:06 PM