Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

October 5, 2007

…in the immortal words of Mark Slackmeyer. Marion Jones, track megastar and Olympic golden girl is the latest to confess. The ‘roids in this case of course, seeing as how she’s a sprinter and a jumper. Actually “the clear” of Barry Bonds and BALCO fame. And according to NPR today, she was using the Barry Bonds “I thought it was flaxseed oil” excuse, combined with the “I just panicked when the investigators showed me ‘the clear’ and I recognized it as what I had taken”. We’ll have to see if this is the line she takes in court! Oh yes, there is supposedly jail time at stake here in addition to medal stripping and competition banning. Don’t hold your breath. No doubt this spectre of jail time is going to ensure that Jones has to maintain the “I didn’t know it was a banned substance” lie.

The sanctions are all very well but the very suggestion that there is a possibility of jail time for Jones reminds us that in the vast majority of cases this is not at stake. (And it probably isn’t really a possibility for Jones, let’s be real about this.) So this brings up the obvious point about costs and benefits to cheating to win. Marion Jones won. A lot. Let me rephrase that…A LOT! And she made some serious bank. Yeah, yeah, Olympics are for amateurs and all that. BS. She made bank.
This brings us to the latest cycling dustup in which Paolo Bettini won the World Championship cycling road race for the second time in a row. Leading up to the race, Bettini was under fire for refusing to sign the UCI anti-doping pledge; specifically over the promise to return a years’ salary if issued a 2-yr doping ban because he’d supposedly said he had no problem with providing a DNA sample, the other most troublesome clause.

I don’t buy the Bettini exception. Not that this proves he’s a doper, although, as I said I’m off the Believerz bandwagon and I assume most of the superstars are doping or have doped in the past. I’m sympathetic to the point that the testing and conviction process is completely Mickey Mouse and doesn’t prove a damn thing until we get a confession. No, not even with the Floyd ‘n Tyler show. (I can believe it to the Nth degee, but this doesn’t mean it has been proven. There is a difference and an important one.) The point is that effective anti-doping rules must deal with the incentives to dope and as we all know the drive to excel is driven in part by a desire to “make it” financially. It doesn’t have to be for superstardom either, remember all these sad sack domestique confessions we’ve been hearing? They did it to keep their damn jobs, not to win a race. Those types face the decision, “Do I refuse to dope, fail to perform and get fired? Or do I dope, maybe get caught but probably not, and keep my job to support my family for another season?”. Putting the “and lose my last season’s salary” part in there is critical.

As always, there’s a lesson for scientific research ethics in here. Not to insult your intelligence but until we shift more toward’s Bill Hooker’s “shun the cheaters” mode, nothing significant is going to happen. The superstars (the PIs) have to pay a steeper price, not just the retraction of a paper or two but the witholding of all future grants, possibly even recovery of salary for defrauding the NIH. The academic domestiques, of course, already face the sad situation of the cycling domestiques. Except their ongoing salaries and financial situations are already dismal enough that there isn’t much to lose. So a threat of paying back the previous grad student stipend might not be sufficient, I mean they’re on the edge of bankruptcy anyway, eh?

One Response to “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!”

  1. […] 11, 2008 When we last visited with Ms. Marion Jones, she was in the dock for lying to investigators about sports doping. Well, she just got 6 months in […]


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