The commentary served its purpose to "kick up" a needed discussion, says Henry Greely, a bioethicist and professor of law at Stanford University and one of the coauthors of the Nature commentary. He received far more e-mails about the article than for any other he's published. The aim, he said, was to argue that "enhancement is not fundamentally a dirty word."
"I think people should think of [drugs] as just one more of many different ways we try to improve our minds," Dr. Greely says. "I'm a teacher. I'm in the enhancement business. I'm trying to enhance my students' brains."
But others were disappointed with the commentary. "It's not really a piece of science. It's an editorial arguing that we should use more drugs," says George Annas, chairman of the department of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights at Boston University. He wonders why an article taking the other side of the debate didn't accompany it, and why the authors called for looser strictures on use of the drugs before more is known about them. "The way you make sure they're not harmful is you do a study before you widely advise people to use them," he says.
Critics argue more time is needed with the petri dishes and field testing before the drugs are used as mind enhancers. "The reality [is] that there is very little research to document whether [these drugs] are universally beneficial, whether they could be detrimental, what are the long-term outcomes, what are the side effects," says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a US government agency. "There's really very, very limited knowledge."