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.

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