Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The week ahead: A preview of forthcoming attractions...

The last few weeks have been dominated by the aftermath of the Chicago Marathon. First we ran a series looking at the post-race media coverage, and the conception that dehydration was mainly to blame for the medical problems experienced by 1% of the field (an incredibly small number, when you think about it!). This fed into our latest series on Fluid Intake during running, which looked at the misconception that any level of dehydration is bad for performance and temperature, and that thirst is a bad guide to your fluid needs.

Well, our attention now turns towards the next big city marathon - New York. We've already run a short, "news" post on the main contenders for the race (which you can read below). And in the days ahead, we'll build up more, looking at the likely contenders, tactics and so forth.

We'll also use this 'gap' to run a couple of interesting 'filler' items, including another look at Pose Running, and a study that found that Pose training reduced running economy in a group of athletes! We recently ran an entire series on Pose and missed this study, which was brought to our attention by one of our readers (thank you Doug)! So look out for that in the coming days. And then also a follow up to the Fluid Intake series, for later in the week. But more on that closer to the time...

Our NEXT SERIES, incidentally, will be on MUSCLE CRAMPS - MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS, which is a logical follow-up from the fluid series. We're not exactly sure when we'll run that - it depends on the NYC Marathon stories, because we're first and foremost a sports science news site. But it's on the way...

Musings of science and the concept of a blog

And then as an aside, I was trawling through some discussion forums where our series on Fluid Intake was discussed. For the most part (I'm relieved to say), people discuss the concepts openly and with interest, which was always our intention. We believe that we've presented the facts accurately and correctly, but as scientists, we recognize that knowledge is constantly evoloving. So we'd be foolish to state with 100% conviction that what we say is correct and will be for the next 100 years! Because science is meant to evolve - there's a saying that "50% of what we know is wrong. The problem is, we don't know which 50% it is!".

So here at the Science of Sport, our goal is to present the facts as they ARE currently. And of course it's our interpretation, but we encourage people to read the arguments and then make up their own mind - apply your minds, listen to people with authority and WITHOUT incentives (that is, people who are selling a product based on "science"). And we firmly believe there are times when only one conclusion is correct - the fluid intake story is one such case.

Anyway, what struck me is the number of people who are quite critical either because:

  1. This is a blog (as opposed to a website or scientific journal, I presume?)
  2. We should rather be publishing the research in scientific journals
I was amazed at these perceptions. To deal with the first one, because one is presenting information in a blog, does not mean the accuracy of the data is any less relevant. If we spent $10 a month converting the site to a proper website, would the content suddenly gain meaning?

And then on the second one, of course the data must be published in scientific journals! If it wasn't, it would just be snake-oils and pseudoscience! And again, I must repeat, I would encourage people to read the posts, and then you would see that we have both published our research in journals. We're both scientists - I'm at UCT, Jonathan is in Chicago, where we are academics, doing research. The problem, as it were, for science, is that newly acquired or created knowledge is incredibly inaccessible for most people. So what source, other than a scientific journal, do 99% of the athletic population have to rely on? The answer is websites that promote drinking to prevent thirst, salt tablets, pretzels and myths about dehydration and heat stroke...

The gulf between science and practice - building bridges

I (Ross) also have marketing management qualification and do part-time work in management of sponsorships and marketing around sports properties. And the HUGE gulf that is immediately obvious to me as a result of marketing is the gulf between the creation of knowledge and its translation and interpretation for 'non-scientists'. There is a need for information that is not being adequately met - this is a marketing gap. Just as I would request an accountant or financial analyst to help me understand Wall Street figures, stock profiles, P:E ratios and liquidity reports in income statements, so too would people require the same service when it comes to analysing and using knowlege to improve and understand sports performance.

It is my experience that in every profession, there are those who hold onto their expertise as a weapon, lording it over those who do not possess the access or desire to search out the answers from first principles. And to suggest that we restrict ourselves to publishing in science journals only misses the point by a considerable distance. Our goal is to publish data, find published data from others, and then bring it forward to grow science. Any other approach belongs in an ivory tower.

So our objective is to translate that information (all of which is published, by the way, though not just by us) and then make it available in an easy-to-read, entertaining manner. This is done without compromising the integrity of the information presented, and when occasionally we do succeed at stimulating debate, then we've certainly achieved something.

So that's our mission - to make science accessible, to comment on sports news and bring you insight that goes beyond what you'd read in the local paper, and to stimulate debate. If you'd like scientific journals that do that, well, keep searching!

Join us for the week ahead!!



cassio598 said...

I'm interested that you're upset about people complaining about where and how you're publishing this information. I love reading your blog, but as a physicist, I'm concerned that you never CITE anything here! I'm sure it wouldn't be that difficult to add citations, and I think many of us would reading the actual studies your posts are based on. Just a thought.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Cassio598

Thanks for the feedback! The addition of references is something we've thought of and kind of vacillated over. We try to weave the names of authors in where we can in such a way that it flows as a story (like a newspaper article would), because we're mindful that we're trying to be a news-site, bringing science into a relevant context. And to a new market. The concern, I guess, is that the over-addition of references creates an "encyclopedia/journal article" feel to the posts, which we'd like to avoid, but you're right, there is a balance and we may have erred on one side of that.

I imagine that is a 50-50 decision, and we will certainly take up your advice and do that more in the future. But we are also, as I've said, mindful of steering clear of over-'journalizing'. But yes, we'll cite more often moving forward.

Thanks and keep reading!

cassio598 said...

I can understand why you wouldn't want to interupt the flow. Nothing does that like a big chunck of citation. In your fields, do you use in-text citation, or end notes? Speaking from experience, end notes don't really interrupt the flow at all, they just tell you that there's something to be looked up if interested.

You know, something you could do is create a master bibliography, either somewhere on your blog or on another website, and simply cite that with end notes. It would reduce clutter in the posts, but would still allow those who are interested to go looking for the articles.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again Cassio598

The reference format depends on the journal you are submitting to. More and more, journals are moving from the "end notes" to the "in-text" format, but there are still some who use the End-notes. Most notably, Nature, which is the pinnacle for the biological sciences, uses end-notes.

But more exercise physiology and physiology journals go with the intext methods.

I think what we will do in the future is try our best to weave the references into the text, because I agree with you that a block of references is not going to do much for flow!

So instead, what we'll do is try to use "personal" references by using the names of the authors in the text, and then providing a list of references at the end, as you've suggested. I think that keeping the list specific to the article will make it easier for people to search for those articles they are interested in.

Thanks for the input though, I think your advice will help the content in the future!


Unknown said...

I think end notes would work out fine. Stating your qualifications more clearly would help as well. While it may be bad form to throw a "PhD" around, it's important to let people know that you know what you are talking about before they decide to read. This is especially true in a blog because "anybody can start a blog".

The funny thing about all this is that most of the people who hang out on that board are there because they put such great stock in Hal Higdon's advice. And they do so for good reason. He's a former elite runner, running coach, and prolific running author. Plus, he's a really swell guy. But Hal doesn't write scholarly articles and he dispenses his advice on an ordinary forum!

The real reason people got so upset has nothing to do with the format of your blog. In "The Emporer's New Clothes", the little boy who cried out that the King is naked was a hero. But in real life, that's not the case.

You take a runner who has been chugging sports drinks or popping salt pills for years because she thinks it helps her run faster. It is taken as an article of faith. Then you blow the lid off like you did. A crisis of faith ensues. The natural reaction is to attack the messenger.

I consider the folks that derided your blog to be my online friends. Even I was blown away by the close-minded reaction. But looking back, it shouldn't be that surprising.

Just call it like you see it. If you are right they will see the light.