Steroids and the Lost Data of Self-Experiment

Over at the Quantified Self blog, Gary Wolf has a fascinating interview with a person calling himself "Phineus" about steroid use and performance tracking among serious athletes.
200902271506 GW: How common is this sort of self-experimentation among athletes?

Phineus: Among athletes that perform in any strength-, speed-, or endurance-dependent sport at the highest levels, at least 80 percent use "drugs" of some type. I use this term very broadly, because from a training perspective a drug is a drug is a drug. The usual distinction between a nutritional supplement and a drug is not a biological distinction, but a legal distinction.

GW: The ones who get caught using banned drugs always say "I didn't know what I was taking!"

Phineus: Pro athletes who claim ignorance are using the only defense they can. "I thought I was injecting flaxseed oil to get bigger." Right. That would be like a NASCAR driver claiming he knows nothing about fuel or tires. His job requires he know the vehicle, and being a top professional athlete requires understanding exactly what you put in your body to get performance out of your organic machine. It could make the difference between a 7-figure or 8-figure income. Carl Lewis tested positive for performance enhancers - stimulants - the same year that Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids and had his gold medal revoked. How did Carl Lewis then inherit the gold by default? Lewis had a more developed defense - herbal tea consumption - and the term "inadvertent use" was used to dismiss the charges. Athletes know exactly what's banned -- the lists are beaten over their heads ad nauseum because sports franchises and amateur federations dislike the labor costs, PR headache, and revenue loss that scandals can produce.

Steroids and the Lost Data of Self-Experiment

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  1. “The usual distinction between a nutritional supplement and a drug is not a biological distinction, but a legal distinction.’

    It is a legal distinction based on a pharmacological and biochemical distinction.

  2. Many men use patches or a cream for hormone replacement. There have been no long range studies of same. The supposed benefits are strictly anecdotal The doses are small in comparison to what athletes use. At a minimum they can cause fluid retention and high blood pressure. Even small doses can lead to prostate cancer. Contrary to what you’d suppose, steroids can make a man impotent.
    Once upon a time the cops in Oakland, CA played match maker between a body builder and a stripper. Every night the body builder would stand before his mirrors and flex. In bed, nothing. His bride got an annulment.

  3. Near the end of the article, it mentions that HGH can cause some body parts to enlarge, heads, hands, internal organs. Could the enlargement be targeted locally?

  4. What it comes down to is this: Some millionaire playing baseball who dopes up is just pathetic. Because when world records were set back in the day with crappy equipment, crappy medicine and soot filled air… Well, you had to be amazing to set those records back in the day.

  5. amateur sport (as typified by that corrupt drug-fest, the Olympics) should just give up on pretending. It’s all about money, real professional sports should permit absolutely anything. That’s what spectators want, gladiatorial,life and death circuses. Any drug, any body mod, anything that works.

  6. It’s all about money, real professional sports should permit absolutely anything. That’s what spectators want, gladiatorial,life and death circuses. Any drug, any body mod, anything that works.

    They already allow LASIK eye surgery for superhuman vision, and already requite extreme diet and exercise regimens. Anabolic steroids merely have a peculiar socially constructed taboo.

    I’d also like to refer to something Teresa said awhile back that I agree with:

    What’s unique about this show’s message is it tells girls that these things can be bought. The “natural aristocracy of beauty” isn’t natural. Granted, poor girls can turn up beautiful, and rich girls can be homely; but to the extent that effort can change appearance (and it can do quite a lot), rich girls have a big advantage.

    The athletes who perform exceptionally well “naturally” are merely an accident of genetics. Their bodies happen to produce more testosterone, HGH, EPO, or whatever. Now, once we see gene doping become popularized, that line will be blurred forever.

    The social taboo for HGH, anabolic steroids, etc. seems to parallel those of breast augmentation and shows such as The Swan: that science and money can combine to make you better than you are “naturally”. c.f. fundamental attribution error

    Time to watch GATTACA again. And remember what Syd Mead said:

    The fashionable ideology that “artificial” lacks the inherent goodness of “natural” is an appealing, but hopelessly simplistic notion of the intellectually chic. Artifice is the result of a deliberate intent to make. Nature also “makes” things, using a set of basic building blocks common throughout the universe. Exchanging infinite time for deliberate design, nature has ingeniously built plants, planets, galaxies and unimaginable constructs which seem to structure the universe itself. What we call “natural” is simply the result of whatever set of rules nature has followed in fashioning our observable reality. On planet Earth, nature has manipulated the common elements to fashion everything from bacteria to the molten core of the planet. Discoveries in the “nano” technologies of bio, molecular, and micro engineering will re-edit the nomenclature of “natural” versus “unnatural”, blurring if not erasing the line of distinction between “machine” and “organism”, “natural” and “unnatural”, “God-given” and “man-made”.

    c.f. transgressive fiction, morphological freedom

  7. to me, the only “natural virtue” that “natural” has is that over the long term it has ensured survival so far. Not that artificial is “bad”, just that keeping your eggs in multiple baskets (including the battered but still working old one) is good policy. The very first people who got radial keratotomy to fix shortsightedness had significant failures. Decades later with laser it is much safer. What if everyone had gone for the first tech?
    Thalidomide seemed like a good idea, a generation of maimed children followed. Now it’s rehabilitated as a breast cancer drug. I guess what is really important is informed consent. I don’t think people driven by fear and greed and loneliness make good, careful decisions. On the otehr hand, I really despise the hypocrisy of the Olympics, “amateur” sports leagues and so on. At least pro-wrestling makes no bones about being fake. Ultimate fighting is a bit wussy too – if they meant it, only one man would leave the ring.

  8. Ultimate fighting is a bit wussy too – if they meant it, only one man would leave the ring.

    Ha, yeah… no eye gouging, no biting, no small-joint manipulation (i.e. breaking fingers)… what a bunch of pansies. :p

    But I see your point about how Thunderdome would actually become who can cause the other person’s trachea to collapse first.

    The very first people who got radial keratotomy to fix shortsightedness had significant failures. Decades later with laser it is much safer. What if everyone had gone for the first tech?

    I have exactly this concern for the first brainjack. Actually, what really worries me is that version 1.0 won’t be upgradable to version 2.0, but only “fresh” brains could get newer equipment. I imagine though that people with disabilities will be at the forefront of testing such technologies, as with the cochlear implant or limb replacement.

  9. mmph, that brings back a memory; first year university, this guy in the study hall I favoured who always wore a little tuque on an obviously shaved head. After a week he abandoned it and we saw a matchbox sized unit mounted on the top of his head. I think The Terminal Man came out around this time. I suppose he was resident at the teaching hospital attached. I’ll never forget his eyes.

  10. most of Steroid critics tend to forget what they were created for. Doctors use them to stimulate body growth all the time. They are not evil/toxic/poisonous/addictive. Yes, they have side effects, but so do Aspirin for example.
    random googled Aspirin side effects:
    Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); black or bloody stools; confusion; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; hearing loss; ringing in the ears; severe or persistent stomach pain; unusual bruising; vomiting.

    Steroids can work for your benefit if you take them under doctors supervision. Unfortunatelly society decided for you that its BAD(tm), just like Cannabis and sodomy :)

  11. Well, it is a decent comment. Maybe he just didn’t know we don’t do that.

    NY Mortgage Broker, we don’t do that. Please put your link on your profile page. Threads are for conversation. Stick around.

  12. I’ve never understood this argument. As a curvaceous and attractive young woman, people would say I was ‘pretty’ and I was supposed to say ‘thank you’ … instead I said ‘I know’ (i’m kinda aspergoid)

    Now that I’m older and fatter, people don’t say that, but I don’t really care, because this is what that always sounded like to me:

    “Congratulations on the accident of your genetics!” or worse, “Your value is in that which you cannot choose rather than the product of your work.” What an insult!

    I think that steroids are something of a dead end in performance enhancement, because little evidence exists for things that ‘fix’ deficiency can ‘boost’ people within the ‘normal’ range — but if people FREELY choose to experiment on themselves, it’s up to them.

    Unfortunately, most athletes do it to ‘keep up’ with their opponents.

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