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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Games of the XXIX Olympiad

Beijing 2008

The 29th Olympic Games are here! And for the next 16 days, we'll do our level best to provide insight, analysis and coverage of the action, both on field (or in pool) and off, where the science aspects are numerous!

The time-zone differences between Beijing and SA and the USA make our lives a little difficult, so apologies upfront for delays and timing mis-matches between our event previews, recaps and stories, but we'll certainly try to keep pace with the action from Beijing.

The Opening Ceremony gets us underway in a little under 24 hours' time, but for today, I thought we'd do an opening ceremony of our own here at The Science of Sport. Below is a video I put together with some highlights from the Games past - it's been placed in YouTube for those who wish to view it at its source. If you get this post as an email subscriber, and you can't play the clip for some reason, click here to visit the site.

That kicks off our own Games - the next 16 days will bring plenty of time and opportunity for discussion and analysis. For today, let's enjoy the Games and hope that heat, pollution and doping don't steal the headlines in Beijing!



Clyde said...

Hey guys, before things get crazy and we get the first doping busts, please tell us what you think of this article in Nature.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Everyone,

The link in Clyde's comment above has been cut off inadvertently.

You can find it here on the Nature website.

Kind Regards,

Owen Anderson said...


I think the article is strong - and points out major problems in the testing system. The specificity and sensitivity are unknown, and they should be known before the testing (and possible resulting disqualification) can proceed according to sound scientific principles. A really telling statement in Berry's article was: "Therefore, Landis's false-positive rate for the race as a whole would be about 34%." In other words, there's a very reasonable chance that Landis was innocent. That's just crazy. As the editorial points out, research needs to be done with dopers and non-dopers in competitive situations which mimic the events in which the athletes are engaged before evaluation of urine/blood samples can really be done scientifically.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Clyde

THanks for giving us the link to that article. Very interesting...

I'm cautious about interpreting too much into it, though it raises some very relevant principles. The first thing to bear in mind that statistics can be as powerful as you wish them to be, and Berry's own article demonstrates this when he plays around with that probability equation to show how the chances of a positive test can swing wildly from 999 in a 1000 to 1 in 1000!

He's right in theory, but it's interesting that he chose that extreme a number to illustrate it, because if you consider that in fact, Landis was one sample out of maybe 10 taken on that day, then the P value would be 1/10 and the chances of a positive suddenly become a lot stronger - there's 99% chance of guilt. I know it's just his analogy, but I feel that his argument is deliberately "magnified" to make the point, which kind of betrays his agenda here. That's crucial, of course.

However, despite this, he raises some provocative points. I believe the key point in the whole argument revolves around WADA's failure, or reluctance to publish and make available the testing that they do - WADA has set itself up as this "clandestine" organization, which takes criticism very badly and which is running the battle against doping like a small-town sheriff intent on running any other expertise out of town.

I believe that in order to improve the standard, WADA should be embracing this kind of information, rather than deflecting it, or attacking it (both of which are happening).

But, I still believe that this article has as its agenda a bit of a theoretical go at WADA and the testing as a means to push a point on behalf of Landis. I think we've seen recently, with Oscar Pistorius, how "science" can be applied to just about any problem to change the argument and make a point - it's very rarely black and white, even this kind of science. My area is not stats, but I strongly suspect there is a counterpoint to this argument, and we're obviously not seeing it. But the athletes are clever, they know that all they have to do is cast enough doubt on the system to change verdicts (like Pistorius) and that's partly what is happening here.

And so while much is true, it's also interesting to speculate just what the P value would be in Landis' case? Perhaps we're moving to an era where people will have to start trying these guys like they do in prosecution cases, and relying on more than simple tests, which statistics seem to indicate are sometimes flawed.

I need to read it again, digest some of the stats and then I think this would make a good post at some stage. At the moment, I just think of that saying "lies, lies and damned statistics".

Thanks again!

Dean said...

The phrase you're thinking of is "lies, damned lies, and statistics" attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. For those unfamiliar with this phrase, it's basically describing how even accurate statistics may be used to support inaccurate arguments. Sometimes statistics are only as good as their interpretation - as you said, far from black and white.

Fantastic montage video too, by the way! Keep up the great work.

Jim Biancolo said...

Love the video, nice work! Can you please tell me what the music is?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Dean

Thanks for that - adds to the point nicely, and I didn't know who was responsible for the quote!

Jim, the music is "Promontory" from the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans.

It's a beautiful track.

Thanks a lot, enjoy the Games!

walkaboutdave said...

Absolutely enjoyed the video montage and the music made a great background. Even though I'm no longer in the exercise science & sport community professionally, I still get shivers on the back on my neck when I see and recall those moments. Absolutely top notch, bru.

Question though...at about 3:17 of the video...the 16th-24th? Huh?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Walkaboutdave

Busted - I made a mistake! Amazing, I put that video together, paid attention to every tiny detail in which clip to put in, which music, etc. and then I got the date wrong...! I don't even know what I was thinking...!

Sorry about that - I'll change it as soon as I can!

Thanks for the tip, glad you enjoyed it other wise!