I’m not being as productive this week as I could be, because I am trying to keep up with the Floyd Landis doping trial/arbitration taking place this week at Pepperdine University. I’ve been silent on this topic since October, when I wrote about Floyd’s “wikipedia defense” and the wisdom of crowds (back in July 2006 I wrote about public and media innumeracy and lack of understanding of statistics here and here).
Since I last broached the subject in October, events have been a combination of fiasco, farce, and soap opera. The French lab that did the testing, Laboratoire National du Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD), has a substantially higher rate of positive results than the other 29 labs certified by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to perform such tests, but they claim strongly that this rate is not because of false positives. LNDD was running the tests using software on an old OS-2 computer that did not keep good log files, and the lab techs were in the habit of overwriting trial run files instead of saving every single run as a separate file. Then the hard disk on which some of the data were saved was mysteriously wiped clean of all files. Then the Landis legal team asks for more complete, electronic, data on the mass spectrometry tests on the urine samples, and the WADA/US Anti-Doping Association refuses to give them the higher-resolution electronic versions because they were concerned that the Landis team would tamper with the data (even though they were just a graph, not the underlying data). The LNDD logs demonstrate a shoddy chain-of-control protocol. WADA may be trying to use a test threshold that differs from the international standard and does not take into account experimental error in determining the positive/negative ranges. The USADA offered Landis a reduced suspension if he dished them dirt on Lance Armstrong and what he put in his body when he was still racing.
And yet, there is still a suspicion that the fix is in. No athlete has ever successfully defended against accusation in a USADA arbitration procedure, and the process for choosing the panel of arbiters and the arbitration procedure itself (a process that did not allow the parties a discovery process) is consistent with the hypothesis that this proceeding is really a kangaroo court. US and world anti-doping governance is, in my opinion, horribly opaque and unfair to athletes, in part because of its dismissal of the probability of false positives and its wilingness to ruin careers by committing Type I errors (rejecting when you should fail to reject). I’m suspicious that this is the case, although the first three days of testimony have shown that if the arbiters are indeed interested in scientifically-supportable conclusions, they should be skeptical about the WADA/USADA accusation and the LNDD testing procedures (however, in athlete doping cases, there is no presumption of innocence as there would be in a typical legal proceeding). In brief, I’m pretty convinced by now, after following this story for nine months, that the world anti-doping organizations and labs are emperors without clothes, and that Floyd is right (and courageous) to call BS on them.
One other really remarkable aspect of the “wikipedia defense” and the role of the Internet in creating community and information is the wonderful role that Trust But Verify is playing in disseminating information about the trial. Neither a journalist nor a scientist, Mr. Brower has been an enormously valuable information repository since the fall; TBV is the Floyd Landis doping allegation portal, with his own informative analyses, links to media articles and to the discussions at the Daily Peloton Forums and elsewhere. Other contributors have joined TBV to comment on specific legal and scientific aspects of the case. When all is said and done here, TBV will be a crucial chronological record of this case, and may be an important source of information in what I hope will be a dramatic overhaul of the governance of athletic doping regulation, enforcement, and testing.
TBV has taken vacation this week to spend long days in the press room at Pepperdine, providing “play-by-play” on the hearing as it evolves. This is a labor of love, of the sport, of the scientific method, and of a quest for truth. He is joined by Bill Hue, a trial court judge (and cyclist) in Wisconsin, who has also taken the week off of work to observe this proceeding; Mr. Hue is providing “color commentary” and offering key insights into legal procedure. This is my public shout-out of gratitude to them; without their efforts, this process would be much less transparent (regardless of who did what). Their dedication has provided a forum for analysis and discussion that reduces the innumeracy and opacity that allows bad governance institutions to persist, and I am truly grateful to them.