The unexplored merits of doping

So Lance Armstrong may have confessed having doped! If you are like me then you’d like to have a parsimonious definition of what constitutes doping to guarantee that it will not be used capriciously. You will be surprised to learn that there is no such definition and that furthermore if you attempt to find one you will encounter failures of false positives and false negatives. What there is instead is a list of substances and practices which are blacklisted. Sports doping is a sort of performance enhancement and performance enhancement is as old as life and starts with the intake of nourishment. The current practice of anti-doping controls has failed miserably for a core reason: doping is a classical prisoners dilemma. Both against a doper and against a non-doper you have an opportunity cost for being a non-doper compared to being one.

Where are we now under anti-doping controls? On the one hand forensic analytics of the spectrometry variety have improved dramatically and on the other hand doping is rampant everywhere in sports. It happens under unhealthy, shadow and risky circumstances and it is dangerous because it is untested. Moreover it has severely damaged the reputation of competitive sports (except those where controls are not in place e.g. NBA). We can rest assured that doping will never go away for a very simple reason: generalized doping is the Nash equilibrium of the game.
Here is then some science fiction which makes the case for legalizing doping! Legalization will create a new (doping) market which will be entered by pharmaceuticals which will invest into developing the best doping gear to go along with the best sportswear. Consenting adults, aware of the risks involved (the athletes) will sign deals with dope manufacturers to use their dope. Athletes will be a free supply of beta testers and their self protection instinct together with the predicament of pharmaceuticals to harvest as many medals as possible without any health incidents will moderate their greed and keep the market bounded. This is comparable to Formula 1 driving where risky individuals use cutting edge and somewhat risky vehicles to compete (being properly remunerated for it) thus improving auto parts and hence the safety of automobiles for the rest of us. Doping will become less risky as it will be done using best medical practices and what currently is mischief and mistrust will turn into new and more interesting sports statistics. Society will benefit from the newly created market because pharmaceuticals will be able to produce safe performance enhancement spinoffs for the rest of us.

Under the regime of anti-doping controls we improved forensic spectrometry which benefited certain types of lab scientists with limited societal use while legalizing doping will lead to better, healthier and more equitable sports while it most likely will produce safe performance enhancement for the rest of us.

Legalizing doping may not be as nutty an idea as it sounds at first after all!

Update Friday January 18 2013:

  1. The Nash equilibrium: “Looking tentative and anxious at times, Mr. Armstrong, who wore a blue sport coat and a lavender button-down shirt, said doping was so prevalent in professional cycling from the early 1990s to 2005, that saying they needed to take banned substances was like “saying we have to have air in our tires and we have to have water in our bottles.
  2. The “defect and dope” strategy: “Mr. Armstrong said he doesn’t consider himself to be a cheater. He said he looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and said the definition—to gain an unfair advantage—doesn’t describe his use of performance-enhancing drugs. So many other riders were also using them, he said, that the playing field was level.
  3. The source: WSJ


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