Housekeeping Post February 2014

1. Today marks this blog’s first birthday. Hurrah!

2. I will be in the Bay Area from March 1 to sometime between March 13 to March 16 – I don’t have my flight out day yet. Some of you I obviously want to see. Others of you I don’t know yet but probably would want to see if I knew you. If there are any rationalist community parties or meetups planned then, I will go to those and can meet people there – does anyone know the social schedule for that time period? Is anything sufficiently interesting going on March 14 or 15 that I should make sure to get the last possible flight home?

3. I asked for people to help Ozy with zir thesis on romance novels and got like a dozen volunteers including one professional romance novel writer. You are good people.

4. My ability to get journal articles is extremely limited. Somehow my friends who are freshmen in tiny liberal arts colleges have better access to major medical journals than I do working from the medical library of a large and well-funded hospital. Does anyone with good journal availability want to lend me some of their university library remote access information so I can continue to discuss interesting medical and psychological articles on here? You can email me at [EDIT: Taken care of. Thanks, everyone!]

5. I’m done with the Less Wrong Survey for the year and have moved on to a survey for r/nootropics. If you are interested in and have tried nootropics (brain-enhancing drugs, eg gingko biloba, modafinil, piracetam, etc) please take the survey to help me gather information on what kind of effects people think they get from them.

13 thoughts on “Housekeeping Post February 2014

  1. Avantika

    I have access to most major biology journals, though perhaps not to pure medicine ones. Unfortunately I can’t give you access, but feel free to mail me asking for papers. It isn’t inconvenient. Only keep in mind that I’m 13 hours away from your time zone, so you may not get an instant response.

    Here is the list of journals to which I have access:

  2. Moshe Zadka

    If you go to a rationalist-style meet-up, and advertise the date, that might make the co-ordination problem easier. I’ll be happy to make the schlep 🙂
    [With the caveat that weekends are harder, so if there is something on 14/15, I’m not sure I can be there.]

  3. Sieben

    I think it’s unlikely a drug flying under the radar can increase your cognition or performance substantially. Think about the productivity increases that businesses could obtain if they merely provided this drug to their employees for free (some would take it on their own). There’s no hell-hole sweatshop where the workers are working 18 hours a day hopped up on modafinil. Or maybe there is. But it seems like there isn’t.

    One drug that kind of fits this description is caffeine, whereby most major corporations provide this drug for free to all employees. This points to caffeine being the best and safest option for cognitive enhancement, but is also the answer that no one wants to hear because we already knew all this.

    1. Douglas Knight

      Militaries have used amphetamines since WWII, during which they figured out some things about the tradeoffs. They have recently switched to modafinil.

      Investment bankers use amphetamines extensively, but their definition of productivity isn’t relevant to many other industries.

      Companies in America don’t provide drugs to their workers because it is illegal, even piracetam. Sweatshops in China definitely should experiment with modafinil. I doubt that they have even tried, but I doubt I would know about a trial, whether it succeeded or failed. Sweatshops in India should experiment with accounting.

      Yes, 500 or 1000 years of experience with caffeine shows that it is safe in all dimensions. 100 years of experience with amphetamine suggests that they are safe, but there isn’t much opportunity to see the effect on longevity, particularly because of the secretive use. 15 years of use of modafinil tells us a little about the safety, but is simply unable to tell us about the long term effect.

      1. Sieben

        WRT the military’s use of modafinil, this is not something that the military encourages its personnel to use under circumstances resembling a normal lifestyle. So either they’re turning down a significant productivity boost by not promoting modafinil use for their 9-5’s, or it doesn’t exist.

        “Sweatshops in China definitely should experiment with modafinil. I doubt that they have even tried, but I doubt I would know about a trial, whether it succeeded or failed.”

        Hmm… I would think that “Sweatshop Forces Exploited Women to take Amphetamines to work 60 hours straight” would make instant headlines at the Huffington post. “I didn’t want to take the pills, but they said I’d be fired if I couldn’t make quota. So I did. They made me feel dizzy and I started throwing up.”

        I agree that there probably isn’t an industry that systematically drugs up its employees to improve productivity (outside of armies recruiting child soldiers), but I think it’s probably because the effectiveness is low. Publication bias explains the gap.

        With respect to all this stuff being safe, I’d like to clarify that the criterion for “safe” has always been compared to the baseline average person, which nowadays is pretty sad. It’s totally plausible that a certain drug causes benefits in the average person but actually has negative side effects in elite individuals who have a lot more going for them. Most people don’t exercise, so what if the drug would gimp your athletic performance by 10%? Or what if it made you less likely to change your mind (something no one does anyway) because it made you more confident? These issues aren’t going to show up in studies. I know this is kind of an ultra-conservative view to take, but we’re talking about drugs no one really understands.

        1. Douglas Knight

          I do think that we have enough evidence to conclude that amphetamine makes you less likely to change your mind, which is one of those aspects that make it performance enhancing for bankers.

    2. Eric Rall

      It used to be common practice for professional baseball teams provide their players with amphetamine pills (“greenies”) if they wanted them. The pills were generally obtained on legal prescriptions, often written by the team doctors. Teams backed off the practice after a drug scandal (mainly focused on cocaine, but amphetamine use came under scrutiny as well) in the mid-80s.

  4. Douglas Knight

    nootropics survey suggestion: add a note for vitamin D that 1000IU = 0.025mg. or a note saying that you want IU, not mg.

    journals: have you tried libgen?

  5. Dave

    Fwiw I’ve had a lot of luck emailing paper authors and asking them for a copy of their paper. These were mainly social science and linguistics papers, so it’s possible the medical folks are more picky.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      1. I feel bad about wasting scientists’ time
      2. I feel bad about asking them for a favor if I’m going to rip the paper apart later
      3. This is a Trivial Inconvenience that will make me less likely to get papers
      4. If I want fifteen different papers for a review, I don’t want to email fifteen scientists and wait for them to get back to me.

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