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Addiction by design

A new report released by the US Surgeon General last month reminds us that cigarettes are designed with addiction in mind. Tobacco companies infuse tobacco with ammonia so that the nicotine crosses the membranes in the lungs faster, reducing the delay between inhalation and pharmacological effect. They add flavourings like chocolate and vanilla to the blend, knowing that smokers will be more likely to smell something in their food that they associate with smoking, and to feel like lighting up. These tricks are a source of moral outrage for many of us; it seems as though the tobacco companies are exploiting weaknesses in our biology to make us buy things we would not otherwise have bought, and to do things we would not otherwise have done (or would not have done so much). And tobacco executives have often denied engaging in these kinds of tactics.

All this makes for an interesting contrast with the case of video games, in which addictiveness is universally held to be one of the hallmarks of an excellent game, in which games can win awards for being addictive, and in which a developer can unabashedly boast of putting the most addictive systems into their games.

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Oxford Debates — Performance-Enhancing Drugs Should be Allowed in Sport — Moderator’s Opening Statement

Oxford Online Debates

by Roger Crisp

Taking drugs to improve one’s sporting performance seems, on the face of it, a paradigmatic example of a wrong action. It combines two activities usually considered shameful: the use of banned substances, and cheating.

But on closer inspection the issue is more complicated. The use of some drugs, such as nicotine or caffeine (both of which might enhance performance in some cases), carries little or no stigma, and the charge of cheating would be inappropriate were the drugs in question explicitly permitted.

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Should we be afraid of virtual reality?

authors like
Susan Greenfield and Roger Scruton have raised worries about the rise of virtual worlds such as Second Life, which
they fear might have a negative impact on human relationships, as people
increasingly spend their lives hidden behind an “avatar”. The movie Surrogates
, recently released, precisely pictures a future humanity that lives
as it were by proxy: the story takes place in a world where people stay at home
and send remote-controlled “surrogates” – androids that are typically younger
and better-looking versions of themselves – out in the world to do things for
them. In the same vein, American futurologist Ray Kurzweil
predicts that within a quarter of a century, virtual reality (VR) will rival the real
world: “If we want to go into virtual-reality mode”, he says, “nanobots will
shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go. Virtual sex will
become commonplace”. However, far from sharing the worries of people like
Greenfield and Scruton, Kurzweil believes this is a prospect we should look
forward to.*


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Pandemic ethics: Mild flu and Tamiflu – the patient’s dilemma

In recent days there have been reports of a jump in the number of cases of H1N1 influenza (swine flu) in the UK. There have been 29 deaths associated with pandemic influenza in the UK, and there are 652 people in hospital in England with the flu. Faced with the prospect of primary health care services becoming overwhelmed, the government has set up a telephone hotline to allow those affected by the flu to access antiviral drugs (for example oseltamivir or Tamiflu) without needing to see a doctor. But there are also suggestions that not all patients with flu-like symptoms should be treated. Patients with mild or vague symptoms of the flu, without other medical conditions that put them at particular risk, may not be given medication.

This sets up a problem for patients who develop mild flu-like symptoms. Although there is only a small chance of them becoming seriously ill or dying from the flu it is possible that early treatment with anti-virals would reduce that risk. (Antivirals were only effective in trials if given in the first 48 hours of illness) Should they demand treatment from their doctor in the hope of avoiding a serious complication of influenza? Should they exaggerate their symptoms? If the doctor refuses, should the patient self-treat with medications that they have obtained privately (for example over the internet)? There is a form of the classic prisoner’s dilemma involved in such questions.

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Tennis and Sex

Once a week I thrash around haplessly on the tennis court.   This week, I’m also a tennis spectator.  While the global economy implodes, at least one event appears to be untouched – the 2009 Australian Tennis Open.    Andrew Murray’s defeat yesterday means he can’t now net the eye-watering AUD$2 million first prize for the men’s single title.   The women’s champion will earn….well, exactly the same, AUD $2million.

After a long running campaign by various groups, all the Grand Slams tennis tournaments now offer   equal prize money to both sexes:  Wimbledon fell into line in 2007.  The argument was that just as no distinction should be made between women and men in the office, so there should be no distinction drawn on the court.

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