View Full Version : "The Doping Dilemma": April Sci Am

March 23rd, 2008, 04:40 PM
Great article on doping (and an accompanying editorial on the Hyper Games) by Michael Shermer in April Scientific American. (Issue can be purchased online; only a couple of paragraphs of free content.)

Author parses doping in terms of game theory, particularly prisoner's dilemma, and looks for solution in the Nash equilibrum: no player gains by changing strategies (i.e., shifting to doping from playing clean). The author has a list of practical ways to reach Nash equilibrium, so that payoff for playing fair is greater than payoff for cheating. Some are draconian: one strike and you're out, forever. Some are common sense: increase testing of all players (by independent parties), especially just before and after competition, and penalize entire team if one member tests positive. Some are the carrot: establish cash awards for scientists to develop tests to detect currently undetectable drugs (detection tests are about 5 years behind dopers' ingenuity). The author pursued cycling himself and notes that at a certain point, the peloton taking drugs is a matter of economics, of keeping their job. There is a nice discussion of Greg Lemond falling to DNF status in early 90s, when drugs were heating up, after winning Tour de France in 1986, 1989, and 1990.

The one-page accompanying editorial, "Let the Games Begin! Nothing beats the excitement of honest, steroid-powered competition," recommends the Hyper Games as a way of getting around the "hypocrisy" of "purity of the sport" when competitors today look for every advantage: surgery, use of space-age materials, running shoes, boxing gloves, nutritional aids, shaving before meets. Let competitors use any available means, including genetic enhancements, to pump up performance, and let the Hyper Games begin!


Chris Stevenson
March 25th, 2008, 09:58 PM
An interesting article. Although it should have, I never considered the parallel between doping and the PD.

But too much seems to depend on the ability to narrow the gap between the cheaters and the enforcers (ie, decreasing the 5 year detection gap). Offering greater incentives may narrow the gap but I don't believe it will ever come close to disappearing. Drug testing is by its very nature reactive, not proactive. And unless the gap is very narrow indeed, I fear the other solutions will ultimately fail.

I suppose an alternative is storage of blood samples for subsequent testing but I don't know that it is practical to do it on a large scale (that would be a LOT of samples, especially with testing at the frequency the authors advocate). And even then I bet that the cheaters will just invent something that cannot survive a long storage process.

Leonard Jansen
March 27th, 2008, 10:48 AM
Wow! Right up my alley. I've got to get this issue.

Thanks for the heads-up.


March 27th, 2008, 11:23 AM
"Some are draconian: one strike and you're out, forever."

Gosh, I'd call that realistic and sensible---

March 27th, 2008, 06:56 PM
How do we keep inocent people from one strike & out policies?
If you have a bad cold & take some OTC meds, are you a doper?

March 27th, 2008, 09:36 PM
I would be sick to my stomach if they ever started letting athletes just go crazy and use drugs if they wanted.