Friday, March 02, 2012

Urine, MVP, Science, Protocol, Testosterone and How We Know Truth - Part 2 (Or "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt")

We can read the newspapers (watch tv) and take each new story as an isolated story and then go on to the next.  Or we can take each story and try to figure out how this story adds to everything else we already know and whether it tends to confirm or raise doubts for our beliefs.  But we have to be careful that those beliefs don't cause us to accept the facts that support what we believe and to reject those that don't.  Extricating 'the truth' is rarely easy.  That reality helps liars greatly.

This story about Ryan Braun's positive drug test and subsequent overturning of the results on appeal offers us potential lessons for a lot more than just other stories about drugs.

It also offers us lessons for evaluating politicians and car salespeople.  And friends.

And it also provides lessons for the whole endeavor of figuring out 'the truth' in general, or even pondering what 'the truth' even means.

I offered six basic points that don't seem to be in dispute in the previous post.

The drug test said his testosterone level was higher than any other baseball player tested, ever.

He denies taking drugs, claiming something went wrong with the testing.  And the appeal board agreed that the delay in sending in the sample for testing violated protocol and his 50 game suspension was overturned.

The New York Times had a long article which goes into details about the testing process.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Laurenzi [the tester] denied tampering with Braun’s urine sample and said that he acted professionally when he took the sample home for the weekend instead of sending it immediately to a laboratory.
“I followed the same procedure in collecting Mr. Braun’s sample as I did in the hundreds of other samples I collected under the program,” Laurenzi said. “At no point did I tamper in any way with the samples.”
Laurenzi also said that in taking Braun’s sample, along with those of two other players, to his home for safekeeping, he was again following standard procedure. That procedure was in place because it had been determined that it was better to keep the samples in a secure location rather than leave them in a FedEx office where they could have been tampered with or not properly stored.
“The protocol has been in place since 2005 when I started with CDT and there have been other occasions when I have had to store samples in my home for at least one day, all without incident,” Laurenzi said.
Many collections are done at night because that is when most games are played, although when Laurenzi collected Braun’s sample on Oct. 1, a playoff game between the Brewers and the Diamondbacks began just after 1 p.m. Laurenzi said he completed his collections at Miller Park in Milwaukee at about 5 p.m., which is also the deadline for giving FedEx shipments to stores in the Milwaukee area that could be flown out that night.
  Laurenzi said that after arriving home, he put the samples in a Rubbermaid container in his basement office that, he said, “is sufficiently cool to store urine samples.” No one other than his wife had access to the samples during that time. All three samples were kept in the same sealed, tamper-proof package.

Braun has never asserted, either in his case before the arbitrator or in his news conference last Friday, that the samples tested in a lab in Montreal bore any evidence of having been compromised. One person with knowledge of the Braun case said a union representative on Braun’s behalf was present in Montreal for a critical moment in the testing process, and never raised any concerns about the sample.

Kent Covington at Braveswire - what appears to be an Atlanta Braves website - lists pros and cons for believing Braun and adds information I haven't seen elsewhere:

Beyond the sincere tone, Braun made a compelling case for his innocence. Here are the key points of that case:
1)  He was 27 years old, entering the prime years of his career with a long-term guaranteed contract, and even if he were inclined to use PED’s, he would not have had sufficient motivation to take such a risk.
2) Braun had passed 24 prior drug tests, including multiple tests during the 2011 season.
3) The fact that MLB said his testosterone levels were three times greater than any other test result since testing began made those results far less believable.
I must say, this is a persuasive point. Of all the juicers MLB has tested in recent years, with hundreds of positive results… Ryan Braun’s testosterone levels were THREE TIMES higher than anyone they had ever tested? That is a bit hard to believe. Especially given the following point.
4)  He did not gain muscle mass, a single pound of weight or so much as a tenth of a second on his run time on the basepaths (which is routinely measured and documented by team officials) between his last negative test and the test in question.
Another compelling point.
5) There was an improper 44 hour delay in the delivery of the sample to a FedEx drop-off location. Braun suggested this was a window of time in which someone could have tampered with the sample.
From a legal standpoint, this is likely the argument that resulted in the dismissal of MLB’s case against him. This part of Braun’s argument will be less compelling to fans, however, most of whom remember OJ Simpson getting away with murder (figuratively speaking, of course) based on a technicality.
Overall, Braun was convincing and believable in his self defense.
Then again… a compelling case can be made on MLB’s behalf as well:
1) The league certainly has zero motivation to falsely accuse one of its MVP superstars–with a squeaky clean image–of being a juicer.
2) The sample in question was triple-sealed and its packaging showed no signs of tampering.
3) Perhaps the reason why Braun had not gained any weight or apparent performance advantage was that he had just started using PED’s when the test was administered. This is also the simple counterpoint to all of Braun’s prior clean tests.
When all is said and done, I believe we all have an ethical responsibility to assume Braun’s innocence. The 44-hour delay in the delivery of the sample is more than a small technicality. It is unlikely that anyone would have had both motive and opportunity to fabricate Braun’s positive results or that an egregious error could have been responsible for a false positive. But “unlikely” is a long way from impossible.

Covington adds several interesting pieces of information
  • 24 previous tests with no positive results,
  • three times higher than any other test
  • no noticeable muscle mass or weight gain 

So, if he had 24 other negative tests, does that mean that this is the first time he's taken something, or just that he took things now and then and was lucky he wasn't tested.  Can a random fix give you power for a day? 

Nowhere have I seen the actual testosterone levels.

A report at medicinenet says  the average testosterone level for men is in the range of 270 to 1,070 nanograms per deciliter. (This report also talks about the effects - both positive and negative of heightened testosterone levels in men.)

USDoctor has a long post on the many ways to enhance testosterone and benefits and problems of each and how long they last, though it doesn't get into detection of drugs.

So while many, myself included, tend to lean toward assuming Braun probably feels that he can just deny in the face of it being difficult to prove he took something, there are some other possibilities that I haven't found discussed that could be out there.

1.  Someone put something into his food.  According to the USdoctor site,
"Oral testosterone may dramatically raise the testosterone level, only to have it drop a few hours later."
This would be consistent with the very high level and subsequent negative test. But then again, he could have done this himself.  It would have made it easier to evade detection in the earlier tests. 

2.  There also could be problems with the testing equipment or the person reading the test.  There is no evidence provided for this and usually such equipment is calibrated regularly.  I don't know what procedures there are to document all this and how reliable they are. 

What truths even exist and how can they be known?

Facts are things that potentially can be proven true or false.  Here are some key ones from this story:
  • Braun either did or didn't have higher testosterone levels
  • Braun did something or not to cause this
  • Someone else did something or not to cause this
  • There was tampering or not of the sample
  • The sample was unintentionally or not contaminated
  • The testing equipment was or was not functioning properly

Is Braun telling the truth?
  • He could be knowingly lying
  • He could be deluding himself into believing
    • he did something but it was ok to do it
    • what he took was legal
    • since everyone else does it, it's ok
  • he really has lost connection with reality on this and  believes he did nothing
There are a lot of ways one could push this story along.  Why do we even care if sports figures take drugs?  Why are records important?  Why are we spending time on this story (and others like it) instead of reading more about Iranian and US relations and whether Iran is truly a threat or whether this is another push by war profiteers to get us into another war? 

Or we could pursue the whole idea of truth and how we prove it and why it's important.  But this is only a blog post and I have other things to do today.  I only have enough time to raise questions, not answer them.

What is it about humans that we find ambiguity and uncertainty so troubling?  Brainy Quotes credits Bertrand Russell with this thought:
The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice.
And they also credit Russell with this:
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Experience is a good thing.  But it's better if one learns from experience.  This is just a story about a ball player whose drug test came out positive.  For some, it's just another interesting story to be pulled out and laughed over.  For others, it's one more piece of the giant puzzle that helps us understand life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.