Earlier this week we posted an article by sports scientist Robin Parisotto of his analysis of biological data provided by the cyclist Lance Armstrong during his comeback for the 2009 Tour de France. Because the subject of his analysis was Armstrong, the article generated a lot of interest, such is the nature of the news business these days that when a "celebrity" is involved readership figures go up.
It also generated a rebuttal from Dr. Michele Ferrari, an advisor and friend of Armstrong and a target of the USADA charges of being a part of a doping conspiracy involving Armstrong and his teammates. Both Armstrong and Ferrari refused to contest the charges before sports arbitration panels. Ferrari saying that he was never informed of the charges. USADA responding that copies of the charges were presented to his lawyers and delivered to his home. In response to Parisotto's conclusions, Ferrari wrote a detailed response on his website that you can find HERE.
This back and forth between sports scientists demonstrates the intricacies of the process of of attempting to prove guilt or innocence in a doping case. It features the often uncomfortable relationship of the scientific and legal community. Lawyers gravitate toward arguments, "proofs" that are convincing and short on ambiguity. Scientists start with a theory and try and prove it right or wrong. They deal in more probabilities than seeming certainty.
Why does all this matter? While philosophers and ethics experts have a grand time debating the need or efficacy of them, sports are defined by rules. One of those rules is that athletes are not supposed to be able to impact the outcome of a sporting event by cheating, breaking the rules. Using biological and/or pharmacological means to attempt to enhance one's performance is one of those rules.
So when an athlete, such as Armstrong, is charged with a doping offense sports scientists are often on different sides arguing if, in fact, a doping violation was committed. As doping techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, the science for detected what is being done has become more complicated. Thus we have debates like the one here where one scientist takes issue with another over what the data collected means. The fate of the athlete depends on the outcome of that debate.