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I feel bad piling on the "good guys" in the sports doping spectacle but sometimes, you need someone to point you to the mirror.
Here are the breathtaking first sentences from an article in Canada's The Globe and Mail about the scarcity of positive doping results in Sochi 2014:
At the midpoint of the Sochi Games, not yet marred by a single case of doping, the IOC’s top medical official said its efforts to catch drug cheats were so successful they had scared them all away.
A week later, after the disclosure of a fifth doping case on the final day of the games, IOC president Thomas Bach cited the positive tests as the sign of success.
If you have been reading this blog, you already know the people in the anti-doping business set themselves a really low bar. The title of Chapter 4 of Numbers Rule Your World (link) contains the phrase "timid testers" for a reason.
The statement by the unnamed "top medical official" is the more shocking. If there are no positive test results, and such is considered an accurate portrayal of the doping situation, then we must believe that there are no dopers. Apparently, this official believes no athlete that has been tested doped. Not a single one.
In the article, the reporter continued:
Who’s right? To [IOC president] Bach, it doesn’t much matter.
“The number of the cases for me is not really relevant,” Bach said. “What is important is that we see the system works.”
Now, it's Bach's turn to display his ignorance of the statistics of anti-doping. As I explained years ago in the book and also on this blog, the proportion of tests that come back positive is one of the most important numbers to look at when judging the success of an anti-doping program. So far, we know that six out of 2,630 athletes tested positive, meaning the rate of testing positive is 0.23%. (Much less than 1 percent is the norm in all large international events.)
What does that mean? If one percent of athletes doped, then we should expect 26 positives if the tests were 100% accurate. Since they only caught six, at least 20 of the 26 dopers passed the test. Yes, that means over 80% of dopers passed. (And I'm only assuming one percent doping, and not allowing the possibility of false positives.)
This leads me to the as-yet unrecognized scandal. Lance Armstrong, Ryan Braun, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, etc. etc. None of these confirmed dopers were caught by steroids tests. In fact, all of them boasted at one point or another that a long string of negative test findings proved that they were innocent.
Rather than gloating about the "success" of anti-doping measures, they should try explaining how the most notorious dopers in sports were repeatedly given a clean bill of health.
I am a supporter of anti-doping. I just want some discussion of the false negative problem.