Football and Antlers

Thanks to the resurgence of antler sprays as highly questionable athletic supplements, deer antlers are still trending a month after Christmas.

For thousands of years, deer antlers have been used as a Chinese remedy for essentially everything (a quick Google search will yield a wide variety of results). While most of the antler benefits have not been scientifically proven, it is believed that these antlers contain high concentrations of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) – a protein that promotes cell-growth. As a result, many deer antler supplements have been dubiously marketed as performance enhancing wonder drugs due to speculations that IGF-1 will boost muscle growth.

The “antler issue” has been plaguing sports for a while (IFG-1 is banned in professional leagues such as the MLB and NFL), but it regained popularity recently when some high-profile football players became linked to the antlers. While it is discerning that professionals are using illegal substances, it is really alarming when Christopher Key, the co-owner of an athletic supplement supplier, informed the public that he has been selling these deer antler oral sprays to college football players, and that the usage is undetectable (he has also sold “hologram patches” to some players, apparently). According to Key, his clients are feeling more energized and winning big games left and right.

So while his spray sounds like the greatest supplement since vitamin gummies, it most likely does not work.

Oral delivery of IGF just seems…incredibly difficult, and a quick literature search did not give me any hard evidence on its effects. The same ESPN article that reported Key’s testimony also mentioned a researcher (with actual expertise) refuting the possibility of the spray working. Also, Dr. Jordan Moon calculated that there simply isn’t enough in a bottle spray to be effective – in fact, Dr. Moon believes that the athletes need to use up to at least 5000 cans of spray for it to work (it is also unlikely that the IGF is delivered 100%). Reading Key’s statements, they sound more like commercials than testaments, and Key did not mention how his spray can avoid blood tests. The reason why it is undetectable is likely due to the fact that there isn’t anything in the spray. New Zealand Medical Journal also raises more doubt on the legitimacy of the antler claims (fun fact: New Zealand is the world’s largest producer of deer antlers).

So all this sounds like another hoax (seriously, what is a “hologram patch?”), and the seller is either unethically selling illegal substances to student athletes, or unethically convincing college athletes to buy his useless spray. If Key’s clients experienced any powerful “level-ups,” it is likely due to the placebo effect. Key was quoted saying: “The whole idea is to compete without cheating. We are not bad guys.” And he is right because the  players do not have IGF-1 in their bodies.

But should these college players be punished if the spray doesn’t do anything? We still punish people for unsuccessful cheating (like copying down all the wrong answers), but this case is a bit different because we don’t know if the players know about the IGF-1. To them, they could just be another source of nutrition input, which is not that different from a family remedy of…umm…spinach pie that build muscles.

Or is it really that simple? While I doubt players really knew what they were putting in their bodies, I doubt they really thought they were just eating more carrots to improve their vision – a guy sold them a “spray” that is claimed to work wonders and not be detected by blood tests (life tip: if “not being detected”is part of the advertisement, it probably is illegal).

Obviously it is more unethical for Key to throw his deceived clients under the bus for his own benefits (it worked), but what about the athletes? Is it really “cheating” when your sketchily obtained “nutrition supplement” doesn’t provide you any advantage – and you just think it does? Most people won’t consider moms telling their kids to eat large broccoli to be an unfair advantage, so what about these undetectable nutrition supplements? If they should be punished, what are the punishments for experiencing the placebo effect?


P.S. Random, but this topic reminds me of rhino hunting

Too Much Baggage?

Image credit: Dave Herr via The Nerve

A few months ago, Planned Parenthood put the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation under fire for withdrawing their funding from Planned Parenthood’s breast health services. The decision was allegedly made to appease pro-life supporters.

Now, it’s Planned Parenthood’s turn to be scrutinized for their financial decisions. Planned Parenthood of North Texas recently rejected a $500,000 donation from our university’s very own Tucker Max (Duke Law School ’01). For those of you who don’t know, Tucker Max is a blogger and New York Times best-selling author who makes a living from being promiscuous with women and critiquing these encounters publicly. Tucker Max is a selfish jerk. But you don’t have to take my word for it, he tells you so right on his website: “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.”

Spoken like a true women’s advocate if you ask me! Tucker Max admitted he was looking for a tax break through a contribution to Planned Parenthood and wanted to get some positive press stirring before his next book is released. He also claims he was genuinely trying to do some good by giving back.

But Planned Parenthood wasn’t having it, and understandably so. I mean, just look at what Tucker Max had to say about the organization a little earlier in his career. Last July he tweeted, “Planned Parenthood would be cooler if it was a giant flight of stairs, w/ someone pushing girls down, like a water park slide.” #saywhat? On March 14, he wrote, “In South Florida. This place is awful. Shitty design, slutty whores & no culture, like a giant Planned Parenthood waiting room.”

Dear Tucker Max,
Using derogatory language to describe the clients of an organization probably won’t help you get one of their buildings dedicated for you.
Common Sense.

Nevertheless, Max saw things differently, telling the NY Daily News, “I thought they’d be very excited about it.” Max also had this to say of Planned Parenthood: “Their motives aren’t about helping women. Their motives are about what they look like to their friends and signaling they’re taking the right types of donations from the right types of people.”

Tucker Max is not alone. Planned Parenthood of North Texas has faced much criticism for not accepting the money, especially since the state of Texas has just ruled to defund Planned Parenthood.

They declined the money, and are slammed for denying vital services to underprivileged women and families. But if they accepted, they’d be helping out a notorious misogynist and condemned by feminists everywhere. The decision was really a lose-lose situation for Planned Parenthood. The way I see it though, if they took the money, at least they’d have ended up with $500,000 in the bank.

Notably, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) jumped at the opportunity to snatch half-a-million dollars and contacted Tucker Max about becoming the beneficiary. Assuring Max he could still help prevent unwanted pregnancies, they proposed using the money to purchase a mobile spay-and-neuter truck for animals. They even came up with a charming title: “Fix Your Bitches! The Tucker Max No-Cost to Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic.” PETA clearly has a different code of ethics when it comes to its marketing. (We saw this last year with the pornography site PETA plans to launch, which Eddie discussed.)

Max has declined the offer to help PETA, blogging, “There is no chance I’m supporting an organization that wants to ban two of my favorite things: Making animals dead and then eating them.” Yep, what a jerk. And isn’t it ironic how he didn’t seem to have a genuine interest in Planned Parenthood, yet was willing to give them the money, but not PETA, who has never met a publicity stunt they didn’t like?

Should Planned Parenthood have taken Tucker Max’s money, or were they right to reject the offer? Personally, I’d have a hard time turning down money from anybody, even someone I don’t like. Then again, I certainly don’t think it would be appropriate for the NAACP to cash a check from the KKK so the Klan could get a PR boost. So how bad does someone have to be before their help should be rejected? And how bad does your own situation have to be? If you’re like Planned Parenthood and desperate for money, can the ends justify the means?

Bioterrorism 1, U.S Censorship 0?

Media censorship is always a contentious issue, but recently, the battleground has moved to scientific research.

According to an Economist article, “Influenza and its Complications,” the U.S’s National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked the world’s two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature, to censor research on the H5N1 flu virus.

Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre, in Rotterdam, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been working on a strain of the avian flu that can be transmitted person-to-person and were on the verge of publishing their results. Fearing that the details of their work may be used as a bioterrorism blueprint, the NSABB asked for a moratorium on the publication of this work.

Continue reading “Bioterrorism 1, U.S Censorship 0?”

Is it Ethical to Force Morality?

Throughout history, there have been many infamous instances of people failing to act to help others.

Most recently, in Foshan, China, a 2-year old little girl was run over by a truck driver who did not stop.  Before she was finally pulled off the road, more than a dozen people walked by her body and another car drove over it.

This tragic scene was captured by a nearby traffic camera (Note: content is extremely graphic):

The murder of Kitty Genovese and Zimbardo’s Stanford  Prison Experiment similarly showcase the puzzling nature of human apathy.

What makes some people intervene and others look away?  What makes some people act morally or courageously and others apathetically?

An opinion column in the New York Times by Princeton Professor, Peter Singer, buys into the idea of a person’s morality as a function of his brain-chemistry.  Ruling out factors such as moral upbringing, circumstance, etc., Singer believes that some people are biologically wired to be more empathic and moral.

Similarly, Duke Professor, Walter Sinott-Armstrong, explores the extent to which we are morally responsible for our actions.  In an interview, he states that:

In both law and morals, we normally excuse people whose acts are not caused by their conscious choices. Surprisingly, recent research suggests that conscious choice plays a smaller role in our actions than most people assume.   That conclusion raises the disturbing questions of whether and how we can ever really be responsible for anything.

Singer and Armstrong raise an interesting question: to the extent that morality is a function of brain chemistry and not volition, should we enforce it by altering neurological function with a pill?  Would it be ethical to do so?

I believe that such a “morality pill” would be justified as a means of rehabilitation for criminals.  Although one could argue that forcing someone to be moral is unethical, I think that it is a legitimate means of rehabilitation.

Prisoners forfeit many rights upon entering prison.  The “right to be immoral” is significantly less legitimate than the right to vote, the right to property, and the freedom to eat, sleep, walk, and talk upon will‑all of which are taken away in prison.  Moreover, one of the main tenets of incarceration is rehabilitation.  Given that this “morality pill” could easily rehabilitate individuals, why not take it?

In addition, in response to an economic-determinist argument, I don’t think that extenuating socioeconomic circumstances exonerate people from their crimes.   If we can’t hold people legally or morally culpable for their crimes given their socioeconomic pressures, then there would be no need to throw the average drug dealer, prostitute, thief in jail in the first place.  I think that given the existence of prisons and rehabilitation for criminals, the pill is simply an addition which will facilitate the rehabilitation process. Although we cannot take away the socioeconomic conditions that predispose these people to crime, we can help them alter their brain chemistry to stay away from it.

What I struggle to reconcile, is whether such a pill should be administered to those who are deemed “immoral” or who show apathetic tendencies towards others, but have not broken any laws.  Should we respect their preferences?  Is the desire to remain immoral or apathetic even a legitimate one?  Or, is it a condition such as Tourette’s, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Schizophrenia that we should seek to “cure”?

As Singer and Armstrong so aptly point out, these questions need to be discussed.  At the rate science is advancing, a “morality pill” may be feasible in the near future.

Fight “Fat” with Fear

“It’s no fun being a kid when you’re fat.”

“It’s hard being a little girl when you’re not.”

This is the rhetoric used by the Strong4Life Obesity Campaign recently launched in Georgia.  According an  ABC news article, the campaign uses negative portrayals of obese children to “scare” parents into awareness about the issue.

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PETA goes explicit (more so than usual)

PETA doesn’t beat around the bush. Rather, it is generally quite outspoken and direct about our questionable animal practices. And it doesn’t shy away from provocative advertising tactics, often with the help from scantily clad women.


But it seems like the folks at PETA are kicking it up a notch. NPR reports that PETA is planning a website that will “feature ‘tantalizing’ videos and photographs” (read: pornography) leading to its usual animal rights messages. Never mind that “tantalizing” summons up images of that medium-rare filet mignon oozing with the last drops of life force, it’s easy to see why this new initiative is questionable. The obvious objection is that using an immorality to promote an ethical viewpoint reeks of hypocrisy. Moreover, from a practical standpoint, this new enticement is bound to be a turn-off for “mainstream” audience, adding further to the perception of PETA as a fringe movement.

But are there really no justifiable reasons to put naked bodies on the line for animal rights? Continue reading “PETA goes explicit (more so than usual)”