Some Welcome Perspective on Sports Doping

Here is a very interesting and, to my mind, useful letter to the editor of Sports Illustrated, written by Brandon Gaut of Irvine, Calif., whose home page is here:

As a scientist and a sports fan, I believe the current doping scandals compromise science as much as sports. The tests are performed by entities motivated by and funded to achieve the goal of detecting cheaters; their objectivity is suspect. Also, it is a scientific fact that there will be positive tests even when there are no cheaters. From my perspective, the puzzle is not the occasional prositive test, but why there aren’t a great many more. The system is broken, and I fear it is not always due to cheating athletes.”

This is yet another example of why I believe that letters to the editor are one of the most worthwhile parts of any publication.

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  1. Mack says:

    It’s good to see someone else who thinks that readers’ letters are the best part of many magazines and papers. I’ve felt the same way for years.

    I couldn’t care less about doping ‘scandals’ though, or sports in general.

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  2. Mack says:

    It’s good to see someone else who thinks that readers’ letters are the best part of many magazines and papers. I’ve felt the same way for years.

    I couldn’t care less about doping ‘scandals’ though, or sports in general.

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  3. akatsuki says:

    I guess it would just depend on how their incentives are structured. I personally believe (admittedly unfounded by any true evidence) that sports are rife with doping. One could also argue that the agencies are actually more interested in making a show of catching people and not actually doing it to try and preserve the integrity of the competition.

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  4. akatsuki says:

    I guess it would just depend on how their incentives are structured. I personally believe (admittedly unfounded by any true evidence) that sports are rife with doping. One could also argue that the agencies are actually more interested in making a show of catching people and not actually doing it to try and preserve the integrity of the competition.

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  5. 110phil says:

    Are false positives based on characteristics of the sample? That is, if my test shows a false positive, if they repeat the test on the same urine sample, will it still show positive?

    If the answer is no, that would explain why there are so few false positives — they just test the same sample several times.

    But if the answer is yes, then, indeed, this is a very insightful point. Why *aren’t* there more false positives? What is the false positive rate for a steroid test?

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  6. 110phil says:

    Are false positives based on characteristics of the sample? That is, if my test shows a false positive, if they repeat the test on the same urine sample, will it still show positive?

    If the answer is no, that would explain why there are so few false positives — they just test the same sample several times.

    But if the answer is yes, then, indeed, this is a very insightful point. Why *aren’t* there more false positives? What is the false positive rate for a steroid test?

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  7. blaisepascal says:

    110phil:

    It is my understanding that, yes, the false positives are characteristic of the sample. That is one reason why confirmatory tests are usually done using different techniques.

    For instance, the recommended protocol for employment-based drug testing is to use an ELISA test (which is a relatively inexpensive antibody based test, and has a relatively high false-positive rate), followed by an expensive, but highly accurate, gas-chromatography confirmation test if there is a positive.

    For sports, I understand that they often take multiple samples for retesting purposes.

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  8. blaisepascal says:

    110phil:

    It is my understanding that, yes, the false positives are characteristic of the sample. That is one reason why confirmatory tests are usually done using different techniques.

    For instance, the recommended protocol for employment-based drug testing is to use an ELISA test (which is a relatively inexpensive antibody based test, and has a relatively high false-positive rate), followed by an expensive, but highly accurate, gas-chromatography confirmation test if there is a positive.

    For sports, I understand that they often take multiple samples for retesting purposes.

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