You don't need experience teaching at the college level to figure out that students don't go to office hours until immediately before (as in, the day of) and after exams. This phenomenon gives rise to one of my favorite awkward/terrible moments in academia. In the last hour before an exam a parade of frenetic students pass through the office to deliver unintelligible bursts of words at a mile-a-minute, pupils unnaturally dilated and extremities restlessly twitching. Let's just say the studying to Exam Day Adderall Abuse ratio is lopsided in favor of the latter.

Adderall is amphetamine combined with Dexedrine, the wonder drug that brought you such hits as Charles Whitman in a bell tower. That its effects are so similar to methamphetamine should not be surprising. As any high school or college student can tell you, it's a pretty potent performance enhancer that makes focus and concentration easier (at low doses). Not only is it readily available from peers but doctors give it out like candy irrespective of the fact that it's basically speed. There isn't a lot of careful drug-seeking behavior necessary; I'm pretty sure people between the ages of 13 and 21 just have to say "I have trouble concentrating in school" and they'll be full of uppers in no time.

Is taking Adderall or Ritalin or whatever before an exam cheating? Well, it's performance enhancing. It's not "natural." So inasmuch as you think Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, or Floyd Landis are cheaters, I guess the students are too. We get a lot of mileage out of belittling high-profile steroid cheaters like Mark McGwire, but we have little trouble ignoring other kinds of drug-related cheating.

Admit it, when the Atlantic blew the lid off the drug-addled world of classical music (seriously, your average violinist or cellist pops beta blockers like Pez before auditions and performances) you didn't get indignant and label them all cheaters. It seemed kinda funny, right? The idea of performance-enhancement for playing the tuba was just too silly to serve as the basis for moral outrage. Don't hold your breath waiting for Congress to grill the Boston Pops in the name of fairness and setting a good example for our youngsters.

We really do have a problem in this society with the win-at-all-costs mentality and subjective morality; like all drugs, Americans are willing to do some significant rationalization for the ones upper-middle class people use. Mr. McGwire's media moment last week cast our hypocrisy in high relief. Like many Americans I believe he and the other glandular freaks of baseball are cheaters, but perhaps we should enforce a little consistency in applying that label.

(Recommended reading/viewing: The Cheating Culture by David Callahan and the 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*)

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27 thoughts on “NPF: CHEATING”

  • There is simply too much drug-taking in society. In high-school athletics there's kids buying those gigantic jars of whatever-the fuck it is cream. Muscle this and muscle that. Should high-school wrestlers and football players give this much of a shit at that age? Were sixteen year-old athletes taking this much garbage twenty years ago, or is all of this relatively new? Also, can we stop ingesting disgusting amounts of Red Bull on a daily basis? I think our culture is as wound up and as they need to be.

  • Your post brings up many good points about the current academic situation in this country.
    ADD medications are, without a doubt, incredibly over-prescribed, and dangerously under-monitored. They are, as you said, essentially speed.
    I have ADD. I wasn't diagnosed with it until my later years, but I always struggled in school, despite being considered a "gifted" student. Even knowing that something was up, however, I was diametrically opposed to seeking medication for it. I thought it was all a big scam; something cooked up by the pharmaceutical companies to sell more pills.
    Eventually, I came to a point (after much deliberation with my therapist, who is also a "no medication unless you've tried all available options" kinda guy), that I should at the very least go to a psychiatrist, and see what happened.
    Wow. I more or less had to go in there and just say "Yeah I have ADD give me pills" and bam, I had myself a Concerta prescription. That's all it took to get a schedule II controlled substance. It was actually pretty scary. The shrink even said "You know, you could probably sell those for a lot of money…"
    I've been offered ludicrous sums for my medication by friends and fellow students of mine, who snort it then take 12 hour study marathons in the library.
    Anyway, the point of this whole ramble is that I think it's frightening how little regulation there is on such medications.
    I do believe there is ADD, and ADHD (I used to call it "laziness" in myself, but when you sit ATTEMPTING to write a simple paper for 5 hours, that you KNOW you can right, to no avail… something's off), but the number of people who actually have it are a mere fraction of what's diagnosed.

    There needs to be more careful diagnoses of disorders such as these, and severely limited prescribing of these medicines.

    I doubt either will happen though, considering the model of American health care, and how much money these medicines most likely make for pharmaceutical companies.

  • Part of the problem with baseball is that the players were swearing over and over that they weren't doing exactly what they were doing, which matters a lot. No one cares if orchestral players, dancers, models, actors, famous musicians, bodybuilders, 7-11 clerks, and even librarians use drugs as long as they aren't at the same time pledging their undying loyalty to body purity and fairness and total sobriety.

    Baseball's mess was a story where a guy cared about his image so much that he was willing to lie to cover up the truth, a sports press that was willing to look the other way but suddenly had a moment to say "Oh really, Mr. McGuire?", the story became bigger and bigger, and it all comes back to someone answering "no" to a question that could have been laughed off. People worrying about The Olympic Spirit (which I thought always had Cheating as an ideal, but I guess it's all about some bizarre notion of "Fairness") and the notion that Junior on the Jayvee squad might be trying too hard for Varsity added a lot of angst to baseball's PR problem, but it was mostly a matter of one guy lying and Congressional Hearings with sworn testimony that made it hard to ignore this Very Important Issue. Meanwhile, there are more 300-pound guys on every team than there were in the entire NFL thirty years ago, but there's nothing other than good nutrition responsible. And training. And I'm putting all my money on the Raiders to win this upcoming Super Bowl, too.

    As for college students, if that's the way they want to burn themselves out, that will probably catch up with them later. Hopefully such stupid behavior will result in poor grades, but cheaters often prevail. Do I worry a lot about that? Not too much, since the average worker in a company is the same way, and only the tests matter to too many supervisors.

  • " Charles Whitman in a bell tower"
    I thought it was more "on top of" than "in", but that's a minor quibble. I thought you were too young to remember that…
    Anyway, there it is; and we're still a ways from the Asian model, where fear of failure leads kids to do things like stick the head under a pile driver. Culture evolves too; generally over the protests of us old fogies who just don't understand modern life and can't shed our outdated old-timer's notions. I sometimes feel bad about placing my kids at a competitive disadvantage by teaching them to think rather than cheat, but you never know – it might somehow be of some benefit down the road. Or perhaps I've read too many morality fables.

  • Are classical musicians competing for titles? For some reason I like to think of dueling orchestras, but there is no competitive scoring, if you'll pardon the pun, and no life-or-death stats that govern the career of a musician. There are no winners or losers.

    Besides, we associate drugs with artistic creativity: alcohol and opiates for writers, hallucinogens for painters, dope and coke with musicians…not enhancing their performance, but unlocking their creativity.

    I don't know what Art is, but I know a home run when I see one.

  • Mark McGwire (his farcical Cooperstown do-over gambit and all) is dead to me, DEAD TO ME, and I say that as an obsessive Cardinals fan.

  • I don't know, Ladiesb. There are winners and losers. I'd say the competition for six-figure positions in orchestras is pretty intense, and performance enhancers could affect auditions.

  • This TED talk:
    was amazing. the most gut wrenching part of the talk for me was the discussion about the little girl who was sent to the doctors office for beibng fidgety, and the counselor's reaction. That would almost NEVER happen today. The kid would be on Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, Risperdal, or some combination before their ass warmed the seat. I'm an Emergency Physician and I see it every day. I can't imagine how this next generation is going to function when the biohemistry of their developing brains have been relentlessly tweaked throughout their lives. Will they ever be able to function off them?

  • Ed, I'm laughing, but I never lost at Trivial Pursuit due to ignorance of concert statistics, and it will never be a category on Jeopardy!, not even the home game. Baseball is particularly stats-driven and players are gauged by stats. Assessment of musical performance, even in terms of professional audition, is not statistical, and in no way quantitative to the layman.

    I have heard baseball fans wax poetic about their sport, but I have never seen a music fan stat a concert. A pitcher and a cellist may both be highly skilled in a technical effort that is both mental and physical, but orchestrated music is cooperative, to create art, and baseball games are competitive, to create wins. A violinist might be improving his own performance, but that improves everyone's performance, or at least doesn't bring everyone down with a flub. This logic may apply to sports as well, but when no one loses, who complains?

  • Aslan Maskhadov says:

    This Adderall drug seems interesting, but I think I would have preferred real meth. The ability to concentrate better is nice, but what good is it if it doesn't also come with a sense of god-like confidence?

  • I'm going to have to go with Ed on this one, LadiesBane. Just because musicians are not in a competitive sport does not mean that they're not in a competitive business. If you suck at your job, you get fired. They're not taking performance-enhancers recreationally.

    The violinist who isn't popping pills and gets stuck busking on the street corner might complain.

  • Most classical musicians who perform regularly in orchestras are hardly upper middle-class. They may be wonderfully talented, but wage- and working conditions-wise, they're skilled workers at best. In California, many of them drive up and down the length of this enormous state to get enough gigs with various orchestras to eke out a living.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Matthew and others:

    The classical performers are using B3ta Blockers, which slow heart rate, and help relieve them of the audition jitters. Those are hardly "performance enhancers". So it really just depends on how badly they get stage-fright as to whether a talented musician would want to use them.

    [those meds] do not directly affect a person's mental state; taking a beta blocker before firing a pistol is not like taking a Valium, or tossing back a shot of Jack Daniels, because [those meds] do not alleviate anxiety so much as block the outward signs of anxiety.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Huh… Ed, your blogger software seems to not like the words "beta blockers" in a sentence. Problems with spam much?

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    Well, never mind that last comment. That was weird. The first time I tried posting, nothing went up so I assumed that there was a spam block against those words.

    Ok, I'll shut up now. :-/

  • Are you actually arguing that reducing the outward signs of anxiety – shaking hands, for example – is not performance enhancing?

  • Gingersnapper says:

    I've always believed that professional athletes should be allowed to take whatever performance-enhancing drugs they want: steroids, amphetamines, beta blockers, whatever. LSD, opiates… also I think they should have all sorts of experimental surgery like muscle implants, limb lengthening, wings, springs in their feet, etc. That would make sports MUCH more entertaining.

  • Gingersnapper–I'm with ya. I'd also like to see these add-ons for classical music, while we're enhancing performances!

  • As a recovering classical musician, I can attest that beta blockers are (or were, at least) used by many players. However, your argument, in my opinion, is lacking two very important contexts. 1.) The Boston Pops, to my knowledge, does not have a Federal anti-trust waiver, so any form of drug use among it's members is between the organization, it's members, their union and not COngress. And 2.) Art is not athletics. Yes, both require a mastery physical skills that can be enhanced by the use of certain drugs, but the means and the ends are hardly the same.

    "You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few tunes." – Bill Hicks

  • I don't know. I suspect that regular drug use probably ends up exacerbating the symptoms you're trying to quell – artificially inducing concentration or calmness or what have you makes it very difficult to learn how to summon up those mental states on your own.

    That said, I think that if we want people to exceed themselves academically or artistically or athletically, we either have to:

    A) Allow them the time, training, time, effort, and time to get to that level.
    B) Accept that if they aren't given the luxuries of A), they're going to short-cut for the results.

    I honestly think that we're too focused on getting everything squared away in our lives before the ago of thirty. It might have been necessary once upon a time, but with rapidly increasing life spans and ever-improving medical technology that is increasing one's useful lifespan at the same rate, taking your time isn't nearly as bad as it once was. You can work until you're 65 or 70 and still have, potentially, 15 to 20 years of retirement and globe-trotting. Today's Baby Boomers are expected to live until they're 92 on average, and they're expected to be ambulatory and self-sufficient and healthy until 85 on average (a startling but true fact).

    Why put our young people under so much pressure to succeed and exceed by their mid-twenties if they can expect to be around and leading fulfilled lives past the age of 100?

    The few people naturally predisposed to brilliant physics discoveries by the age of 23 will continue to do so, and we wouldn't be pressuring those who aren't predisposed to operate at that level to take drugs to try and fake it.

  • If students really need to take speed to do well at the undergraduate level, they are probably beyond help anyway.

  • There is simply too much drug-taking in society. That's true but it's more correct to say that there's far too much drug-taking in American society.
    Despite tough anti-drug laws, a new survey shows the U.S. has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world.

    could offer some explanation to the US current financial woes.

    Everybody is aware the amphetamines, the drug most associated with aggressive behaviour is policy in the US armed forces.

    How ironic that the two things that will drive you nuts quickest, guns and drugs, are so integral in the US social fabric.

  • There's also a difference between the musician's beta blockers and the athlete's steroids, etc. that no one has mentioned. The beta blockers enable the musicians to do what they are capable of doing, whether by reducing anxiety, increasing focus, or whatever mechanism. The steroids enable the athletes to do things they otherwise would not be able to do.

    This difference is not subtle, and can functionally provide a difference between cheating and not.

    Similarly, the students. Whatever they are taking doesn't give them the equivalent of an open-book exam when other students are in closed book mode. It helps them do what they are able to do.

    That said, I am highly suspicious of pills at all times. Mucking around with your basic body chemistry moves you quickly into an unknown area.

    I think our culture's desire for magic bullet answers to complex questions enables a pill-popping society, and this is a consequence.

    As an aside, I once heard a young lady commenting on her little brother's ADD. "Mom gives him a cup of coffee in the morning, and he's fine." Caffeine is about as good as Ritalin, and has fewer side effects. But big pharma doesn't get a cut. Pity.


  • It's interesting to see the moral reaction to occupational drug use. Classical musicians – OK it helps them play to the best of their abilities and that's what we want to hear. Baseball players – Not OK it's cheating! Long distance truck drivers – I HOPE that guy driving that big truck behind me is at least drinking coffee! College students? well if college is all about learning than maybe concentration aids are OK. If it's about competition than maybe they are not.

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