But What Do We Really Know?

by Rant on April 24, 2007 · 18 comments

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis, Tour de France

It should come as a shock to no-one who’s been following the Floyd Landis case that results from tests of his other B samples from the 2006 Tour de France were leaked to L’Equipe. And it shouldn’t really come as a shock that the story coming from that part of the world includes allegations that some of Landis’ other samples showed the “traces” of synthetic testosterone. And doubtless, the news has gladdened the hearts of those who are convinced that Landis was doping.

But what do we really know? From the stories, we’ve heard that:

  • L’Equipe has a very good source at LNDD and that the source repeatedly leaks information about test results
  • L’Equipe’s source claims the results show testosterone use in other stages of the Tour, but no actual proof is offered to back up those claims
  • Testing performed over the last week, according to Landis’ lawyers, was done at the direction of USADA’s outside counsel
  • USADA’s observers and lawyer had full access to all aspects and phases of the testing, while Landis’ observers were denied access to crucial parts of the analysis
  • LNDD, under the direction of USADA, are able to come up with “evidence” against Landis that supports the LNDD’s conclusions from Stage 17
  • The Arbitration panel, though ruling that an independent observer must be present for any testing performed, had no independent observer at the testing
  • News of Landis’ supposed results has already circled the globe

What we don’t know is this:

  • Whether or not the reports in L’Equipe and other newspapers are true
  • If the reports are true, we don’t know what exactly the results were or whether LNDD’s conclusions are, in fact, correct. If they are similar to the results from Stage 17, it may be arguable whether or not there is any evidence of synthetic testosterone in Landis’ system during the Tour
  • When (or if) Landis’ defense team will be provided with the test results
  • Whether the arbitration panel will allow the results as evidence, given that their own order that an independent observer be present was ignored

If you’re a true believer in Landis’ guilt, you should find this story just as disturbing as would someone who is a true believer in Landis’ innocence. Now, that may not seem very obvious at first blush, but it’s true. Word of these results being leaked looks pretty damning right now. But it’s intended to.

Since USADA was in control of the testing, their failure to show up for ongoing testing on Sunday suggests that they knew what the results were going to be and did not need to stay around. Figuring that those results would soon leak to L’Equipe, USADA walked away, knowing that any complaints by Landis’ defense team would be overshadowed by the leak.

And also, because USADA was controlling the actions of LNDD throughout the last week, one could easily make the case that USADA knew that the leaks would happen and condoned them. Or worse, that USADA prompted the leaks in the first place, as a way to circumvent the rules against commenting about an ongoing case.

Questions have been raised about why Landis’ team didn’t speak up until now, or why the didn’t just walk away. Well, I can’t answer the first question. But on the second question, the answer is that walking away wouldn’t have done them any good. The tests would still have gone on. So it was in their interest to stick around and observe as much as they could.

For those who believe Landis is guilty, the stories reinforce that belief. But take a good look at what’s happening before jumping on that bandwagon. There are some huge red flags being raised, if you take the time to understand what’s going on.

First of all, LNDD’s procedures and interpretation of the Stage 17 results are some of the major issues in the Landis case. Testing additional samples at this particular lab creates a conflict of interest, at the very least. By reporting results that back up their previous work, they may be trying to shore up their own image — not only with the public, but with WADA and other members of the anti-doping community. Worse, if reports are true, these tests have used so much of the samples that additional testing at other labs will not be possible. The best thing would have been to test these samples at another anti-doping lab, like the one in Lausanne, rather than LNDD.

Second, if what Landis’ observers say is true, USADA’s outside counsel running the testing of the additional samples creates an environment where the “scientists” may conjure up the results he asks for, whether the data is real or not. Without any independent observation, whatever transpired in the lab is going to be a game of he-said, she said.

Third, these tests are something that current anti-doping rules bar the Landis side from getting. By the rules, Landis would not have been allowed to request these tests, because the infraction he’s fighting allegedly occurred on Stage 17, not any of the other stages. So the results from those other stages would not be allowed in as evidence.

All of which means there’s an inherent unfairness in the system. The prosecution can go to any length to obtain evidence, while limiting the evidence that the defense can present. I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to defend myself with the deck stacked against me like that.

Fourth, true science does not hide from openness. Quite the opposite, it flourishes in an open environment. So the idea that Landis’ observers were barred from any aspect of the testing should be disturbing, no matter which side you’re on. When the observers aren’t present, there’s the possibility of shenanigans. And we’ll never know for sure, whether the books were cooked — just by the mere fact that the observers weren’t allowed to observe.

Fifth, without independent observers representing the arbitration panel, we will never know for sure if LNDD’s processes really follow international standards, or for that matter whether lab personnel actually follow LNDD’s written procedures (assuming they have some). And we’ll never definitively know whether the testing equipment was properly set up and properly used. The only thing we know is that LNDD can come up with consistent results. But we don’t know if those results are actually correct.

Set aside your beliefs about Floyd Landis for the moment and just look at the five concerns listed above. Other than reports leaked to a French sports daily or two, which we can presume were done to make the lab look good and Landis look bad, we don’t know whether or not what we’ve heard is true. There are reasons the lab may be spinning this story that have less to do with one particular athlete than they do with an ongoing pattern of mistakes and malfeasance at the lab, itself. LNDD is fighting to save their reputation at this point. They may fight dirty if they have to.

Think about how you would want to be treated in this situation. Would you like the presumption of innocence or guilt? If you’re ever accused of something, I suspect you’ll come to appreciate the presumption of innocence.

Here’s the thing: No-one accused in this system has any way of getting a fair hearing. It’s pretty much that simple. And regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, that should be a huge concern to all.

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michele April 24, 2007 at 4:55 am

Thank you yet again Rant! I have been terribly bummed the last 48 hours. I think you have provided some objective and sound analysis. I really appreciate your efforts and approach to this issue…I never miss your articles…thanks again. I must close though by saying I am not terribly optimistic at this point…truth, fairness, and objectivity seem to have been completely lost in this terrible miscarriage of justice.

Steve Balow April 24, 2007 at 5:18 am

Excellent perspective Rant! Like Michele, I look forward to your excellent coverage and thank you for your efforts! Also, like Michele, I have been bummed over the last day as the same-ol-same-ol story unfolded. What really depressed me was the way the press reported the “news”. A friend who knows of my interest in the Landis case said he saw the story “More Trouble for Landis” in an elevator news display as he left for the day on Monday. And, I don’t know if you had a chance to see the comments to the DiSimone story — they may provide an insight into the way the public perceives the case. Regardless of the balance and pro-Floyd tone of the DiSimone article, the first 9 comments (from 8:21PM to 11:56PM) were vehemently anti-Floyd. After midnight (12:52AM) the first pro-Landis comment was re-posted (the comment accuses ESPN of unfairly deleting the original post). What enc ourages me is that the next 7 comments (stretching up to about 7:50AM) are (1) pro-Floyd, (2) well reasoned (versus the “Shut the hell up” nature of the original anti-Floyd comments) and (3) several show a professional background (i.e., chemistry) that gives the pro-Floyd comment additional creditability. Let’s hope that “cool heads” maintain their vigilance and their activism. Today I am going to visit the offices of my Congresswoman, Melissa Bean. My hope is that I will have the chance to both present what I find troubling about the Landis case and ask their advice about how to make the voices like mine heard. I will let you know how it goes.

trust but verify April 24, 2007 at 6:12 am

Regarding USADA’s not showing up Saturday and Sunday, it seems to be emerging that this was nasty gamesmanship. Apparently, based on an “equal access” clause in some agreement, USADA’s absence “justified” LNDD refusing access to Scott and Davis. I fail to see the logic, but there it is. By leaving, and leaving instruction, USADA got one more twist of the knife in.

TBV

Sean Gillette April 24, 2007 at 6:32 am

You know, I think that everyone may be looking at this wrong. If you are of the belief that Landis is innocent, this can be used against the prosecution. The way that I see it, LNDD have not “proven” to me that they can produce repeatable results. The rules state simply that the science behind the tests is infallable and cannot be challenged. Well, if LNDD has now produced “traces” on exongenous testosterone in samples that had previously been declared negative, doesn’t that refute the whole idea that the testing is “infallable” and the science cannot be challenged? If that were indeed the case, wouldn’t these backup tests have produced the exact same results as the initial tests? All this has proven to me is that any lab, anywhere can manipulate results in any manner they see fit. As much as my dream was always to ride in the Tour someday, at this point after seeing all of this I’m actually happy I ended up as a working stiff and a Cat 3 weekend warrior.

Sincerely,

Sean Gillette

Rant April 24, 2007 at 6:56 am

Michele and Steve,
Thanks for the props. Most appreciated. And Steve, good luck visiting your member of Congress’ office.
TBV,
It’s a foul form of gamesmanship, to be sure. Fair is foul and foul fair, eh?
Sean,
Interesting take on things. But the A samples were not put through the same battery of tests that the B samples were. What LNDD has proven is that they can consistently get the same kinds of results using the same kinds of tests. What they haven’t proven is whether their interpretation of the results is correct. And at this point, too, I’m glad I never got beyond Cat 3. I’d hate to be subjected to the same kind of BS that Floyd Landis and a host of other athletes have been subjected to.
– Rant

just bitch slap me please April 24, 2007 at 7:03 am

Ah but the times in which we live….
“Fourth, true science does not hide from openness. Quite the opposite, it flourishes in an open environment. So the idea that Landis’ observers were barred from any aspect of the testing should be disturbing, no matter which side you’re on.””
So it ain’t so, Paw!
We have a government that has hid from science for the past 6 years, and have encouraged every lobbyist willing to earn a buck to attack science at every juncture. So it is surprising that we have yet another gov’t agency, USADA, that believes science is to be manipulated until you get the answer you were looking for?? I don’t think so. It is a culture of lies and deception and mistrust that fuels the kind of gamesmanship that went on in france over the weekend, and will continue thru this trial. We all know by now that these types or tests that find “trace” amounts of illegal substances are on the edge of reality and highly, highly susceptible to experimental and interpretative manipulation. (I’m thinking of going on a tofu diet and see how out of whack my synthtic T levels could reach).
ONE CAN ONLY HOPE that the arbitration three (or at least two of them) will see through this forced farce and cry foul on the testers. One can only hope…..

Sean Gillette April 24, 2007 at 7:59 am

Rant,

Yes, you are correct and after putting a little bit more thought into it, I do understand that the original A samples never underwent the carbon isotope test. What I would like to see, however, is what the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is on these B samples and compare that the original samples. Indeed, LNDD’s ratio was so far skewed between the two tests from stage 17, it backs up my original point, that I believe there is a legitimate challege to the science behind the tests and hopefully one the arbs will consider, even though they technically can’t. Technically speaking though, they can’t consider a B test only as evidence against Landis, and we all know how that is turning out. I admittedly lean toward innocence in this case and may not be providing the most unbiased opinion out there, but anybody out there willing to do the research must certainly be able to see the very serious errors and disregard to basic human rights that are happening here, whether one leans towards guilt or innocence. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of us will be able to see what the ratio on these new tests is until May 14th, and that includes Landis’ defense team. Of course, that might actually be evidence which would support Floyd’s case and none of us would actually expect evidence that was anything less than damning to be leaked by the LNDD now would we?

Sean

Rant April 24, 2007 at 8:39 am

JBSMP,
Don’t get me started on science being manipulated by politicians. My dad and I used to talk about that quite a bit, especially in the last 10 years of his life, when he was living in the Washington, DC area and working at the Dept. of Energy! The way our government has ignored or interfered with science over the last 6 years is obscene, to be polite about it. And, yes, the kind of gamesmanship we’re seeing with USADA is all too similar to the games played in other quarters. I certainly hope that at least two of the arbitrators will see through USADA’s charade.
Sean,
Strange as it may sound, I don’t know if the T/E ratio test was performed or not. What will be interesting to see is whether LNDD determined the amount of free testosterone before running the tests. One of the Landis defense team’s arguments is that the B sample exceeded WADA’s cutoff of 5% free testosterone or epitestosterone. That being the case, the original B samples shouldn’t have been tested further and no infraction should have been reported. It will also be interesting to see just how quickly (or not) the Landis defense team gets any documentation related to the tests of last week. Given how slow they’ve been to cough up other documentation that’s been subject to discovery requests, I’m not optimistic on that one.
– Rant

Sean Gillette April 24, 2007 at 9:50 am

I’m not a scientist, and certainly not a lawyer, but your response raises another troubling point. If the interests of USADA, WADA, the UCI and whatever other quasijudicial insitution exists out there is only “to find the truth” and not condemn innocent athletes, why in the world would they not perform the T/E ratio test to compare with the A samples? Once again, if we are to believe the science is infallable, wouldn’t confirming T/E ratio results bolster USADA’s case? On the flip side, if they are completely skewed from the original’s, it might bolster the defense, but since we are in search of the truth here (cough, cough, **witch hunt**, cough, cough) that doesn’t present a problem and only helps all parties in the discovery of the actual truth, right?

Rant April 24, 2007 at 9:58 am

Sean,
Science has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. And, no doubt as my dad (a theoretical physicist) would have said (and his colleagues would doubtless concur), our scientific knowledge is (and has always been) infallible. And the sun really does revolve around the Earth, regardless of the heretical fantasies of someone named Copernicus. So, of course, there should be no problems with the “science” of the anti-doping tests. And there should be no problem performing the T/E tests and all other tests, as the powers that be are benevolent and only in search of truth, as you noted.
– Rant

will April 24, 2007 at 3:24 pm

I read somewhere that the blind samples were sealed or marked in an obviously different way than the Floyd samples. Is that true? How would they hide the identity of the Floyd samples at this late date anyway? What options outside of the WADA system will Floyd have in the future?

Rant April 24, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Will,

You are correct, the “blind” samples from UCLA were sealed and marked in a different way than Floyd’s samples. The whole idea was (but didn’t work out) that the samples from UCLA that were to be tested would be accompanied by some blinds, which would have been a good test of the lab’s ability to get correct results. But since they were marked differently, they weren’t blinds. Hard to say what options outside the WADA system that Floyd might have. I’m sure that Howard Jacobs and Maurice Suh are already looking into that question.

– Rant

will April 24, 2007 at 4:55 pm

I also read somewhere that the only experience needed to be a WADA arbiter is legal. No science or sport experience is needed. Is that true?

just bitch slap me please April 24, 2007 at 6:21 pm

Rant,
I have been more than a little curious about why this testing had to be done in France instead of UCLA. I don’t buy the excuse that the machine is broken: hell, they could buy a whole new machine with the publicity that this case is getting. So it seemed clear that USADA wanted this new round of tests to come out of France because they could be counted on to leak the data to le’Equipe first, maybe they just want to use this case to wrestle away any American tests from the LNDD, or maybe because the French lab stuck the tail on the donkey in the first round and they figured they have to prove the same in round two as well. Who the hell knows……
So I emailed the LA times guy on the story with the following question:
“”””I read your piece today but did not see any mention of UCLA bailing on doing the analyses. How come?? Does USADA not trust an American lab? Too laid back in sunny SoCal, or they just don’t like to leak like the French lab could be counted on doing?? Inquiring minds…..””” and Michael Hiltzik from the LA Times was kind enuf to reply:
“”no…USADA didnt want them done at UCLA, they wanted them done in Paris….There was never any question of letting UCLA do it””””
Hmm, just as I thought: a conspiracy to make sure no other lab other than LNDD would evaluate these samples. And thus when LNDD stubs its toes, feet and knees against that wall, they are all alone without any other lab to bail them out.
My prediction: USADA will, on about May 10, claim that the LNDD tests suck big time, that they are dropping the Landis case, and they refuse to let any more good old American piss be evaluated by the LNDD again. A USADA vs. WADA power play, if you will. Any takers??? Money is on the barrel head! And Floyd, of course, is out 1 million clams.

Rant April 24, 2007 at 6:41 pm

Will,
I think you’re correct. Legal experience is the only qualification necessary. Other experience, be it medical, scientific or analytical, might be nice, but from what I understand it is not required.
JBSMP,
I never had any doubts that USADA would test the B samples anywhere else other than LNDD, for a number of reasons. Why risk having UCLA or Lausanne throw a monkey-wrench in your plans, when you know you can get the lab in Paris to do your bidding? After all, LNDD has its own reputation at stake here, as does USADA. So the lab would be very easy to convince, when it comes to cooking the books, whereas other labs might stick to the proper practices and come back with negative findings. There’s no upside for USADA to use a neutral lab.
Of course, at this point, we’ll never know what another lab might have found, as rumor has it there’s not enough of the samples left to test.
I don’t know about USADA dropping the case. I have other ideas about what they’re up to, which I’ll be putting into tomorrow’s rant.
Oh yeah, and that “machine is broken” story was pretty transparent I thought. Way too convenient. UCLA needed some sort of cover so they wouldn’t wind up pissing either side off.
– Rant

will April 24, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Testing at UCLA might have proved embarrassing to WADA and USADA if UCLA returned a negative because their standards of a positive finding are different than that of LNDD.

randy April 25, 2007 at 10:21 am

Rant, I took your letter from a day ago and edited and added to make it mine. Am sending to all the committee heads listed on the FFF page, quoted Sally Jenkins from the WA Post, and am enclosing the “You’re the Arbitrator” section from the recent Bicycling. Here’s my version:

I am concerned about the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the
manner in which it enforces the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) Code. USADA receives approximately 70% of its funding from the Federal government. My tax dollars.

A brief summary of what I believe to be the most glaring flaws in the WADA Code and the USADA prosecution of alleged doping cases:

1. Athletes are considered guilty if they have an “adverse analytical finding”. Accused felons are innocent until proven guilty. An accusation is as good as guilt under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)/USADA system. Can’t we treat athletes a bit better?

2. Punishment for athletes begins with the adverse laboratory result. Careers are ruined before arbitration even begins. Shame and scandal are instantaneous.

3. The WADA/USADA system of justice is based on arbitration, which does not allow the same discovery rights and processes as our regular judicial system. Floyd Landis, winner of the 2006 Tour de France has already spent $1,000,000 and still doesn’t have the documents his legal team has asked for.

4. An accused athlete is not allowed to challenge the science, only the interpretation of the results. And yet, many of these tests are created by the WADA labs and not peer-reviewed as other medical tests would be. Since when is science infallible? The system is stacked against the athlete.

5. The cost to fight an allegation of doping is prohibitive. How can Olympic athletes possibly fight the system? No US athlete whose case has gone to arbitration has ever won.

The WADA code is totally biased against athletes making it nearly impossible for Floyd Landis to prove his innocence. It is also just unbelievable that the head of WADA, Dick Pound, can publicly defame Landis in the most crude ways imaginable. He should be censored or fired. WADA also receives substantial US tax dollar support.

I hope the Congress can begin some kind of evaluation of the USADA and WADA. Much of what I know about the ADA’s stems from following the Floyd Landis case. But it isn’t just that Landis’ rights as a human, a US citizen, and an athlete are being trampled, there is also ample evidence that USADA has behaved in a peremptory manner for years (see the Michael Hiltzik articles in the LA Times). Mr. Hiltzik describes many cases where the arbitrators have zero room for judgment and discretion since the code is written to a “strict liability” standard. The code is biased against athletes, the arbitrators are employed by the ADA’s and the laboratories (WADA “certified”) are clients of the ADA’s. How impartial can this be?

The French laboratory case against Landis is fraught with violations of the WADA code as well as very sloppy lab procedures. This high-profile case is being handled in an extraordinary manner as the USADA, WADA, and the international cycling authorities can’t back down and admit errors. The system should be reformed, I don’t want my tax dollars supporting such an unfair and un-American process.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post sums it up well in her article of April 25, 2007:

“The WADA has long had a fixation on the absoluteness of a positive drug test. It insists on the infallibility of its lab work, no matter how iffy, and on the sacrosanct infallibility of its rules, no matter how harsh. There is little room in its code for the inadvertent, the accidental, or the extenuating circumstance. No matter how an athlete wound up with a banned substance in his or her system, he or she is presumed guilty. There is simply no room for the mistake.

But Landis, whatever you think of him, has jabbed his finger at a central flaw and hypocrisy in the doping system: The WADA accepts all kinds of sloppy mistakes from the Chatenay-Malabry lab that it would never accept from an athlete. Drink from the wrong bottle, take the wrong allergy remedy, make a mistake on a form or forget to show up for a drug test, and you face a two-year ban, maybe worse, regardless of the innocence of your mistake or legitimacy of your excuse.
If you work for an accredited doping lab, on the other hand, you can apparently mislabel, misplace, mishandle, and, for all we know, knock over a glass of fume blanc on the specimen, and the WADA will defend your work.

The WADA and the USADA are as ethically flawed as the dopers they pursue. It’s time to rework the anti-doping code into a more just and merciful one, one that takes into account the possibility of a mistake, and which allows for repentance. Why should athletes be held to an iron, inflexible standard, while doping agencies and accredited labs are permitted mistakes, indiscretions, and lapses?”

I’m enclosing a copy of the Landis case summary from Bicycling magazine. If you were the arbitrator, how would you vote?

Cub April 25, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Rant, have you ever read Richard Feynman’s Cargo Cult Science speech? I’ve been reminded of it many times while following the Landis case. In part the speech is about what distinguishes good science from bad. Feynman says…

“But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.”

Feynman was a heck of a scientist. Maybe it’s good he’s not around anymore to see what passes for science these days.

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