There’s a fascinating sports debate
currently happening in the US
blogworld, sparked by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the popular books The
Tipping Point
and Blink.

Having read the recent book, Game Of
Shadows
, Gladwell has been following the allegations regarding the alleged
steroid abuse of San Francisco baseballer Barry Bonds and other athletes.

He has come up with the somewhat startling
theory that one way to uncover drug cheats is to disregard drug tests. He says
that even when athletes return clean tests, jaw-droppingly great performances
should be subjected to “forensic economics” testing.

In short form, it works like this: the
boffins rate an athlete’s performance over the course of their career and then
look for statistically unsupportable improvement. In other words, a baseballer
like Bonds, who had been hacking away at standard levels of achievement for
years, would be tried and damned on the sheer statistical fact that he improved
a little too dramatically to record-breaking levels in his 36th to
39th years – a decade after anybody else was in their prime among
the all-timers.

Gladwell spreads the theory around. He digs
back to the late 80s to examine the success of US
sprinter Florence Griffiths Joyner, who won Olympic golds with astonishingly
unexpected performances, yet never returned a positive drug test.

His theory has sparked a fierce debate on
his blog, with readers suggesting that the testing procedure is too murky.
Lance Armstrong got better and better and better but there is a lot of evidence
to prove he trained his body and lungs to have greater capacity over time.

Also, if Bonds was stripped of his batting
records, they say, what of the men below him, like Sammy Sosa? Is he guaranteed
“clean” or will the stars of the forthcoming hit show “Forensic Economics CSI”
be called up again? And where will it stop?

(Our favourite line, by the way, is when
Gladwell says, yes, justice demands innocence until proven guilty, but this
debate isn’t about legal matters – it’s about sporting records and therefore
can reasonably stomp on such fundamental rights.)

To read the whole debate, or to get
involved, click here.

Peter Fray

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