should artificial performance enhancers be permitted in athletics?
Tierney at the NYT argues for “anything goes” for performance enhancement for athletes, specifically in the Olympics, but presumably also in all other sports.
Although as an aside he notes they should not be allowed for minors, presumably on the grounds that they can not make an informed decision.
A major reason to consider performance enhancement is that it is becoming near impossible to detect many modern performance enhancers and that it would be fairer to just open the field and see who has the best pharmacist, and most ruthless coach.
(What IS this nostalgia for the ’70s… but I digress).
There are two counter arguments: one is rooted in the famous Goldman survey, which claimed half of athletes surveyed would accept certain death at a young age if they were sure to win every competition; the other argument is that with detection and enforcement of performance enhancers relaxed they will inevitable proliferate among the underage athletes also.
The “Goldman’s Bet” is not a stupid as it sounds, from a purely evolutionary standpoint very high success for a short time followed by early death is an adaptive strategy in some situations; it would be “interesting” to see if there are gender differences in acceptance of such a bet – very naively this is a better bet for males than females looked at from a sociobiological perspective.
Looked at from a meta-rational perspective it is a completely insanely stupid bet. Of course.
So, that is a bit naive. For one thing the underage athletes are most certainly getting performance enhancers already, even though illegal. Enforcement is expensive and focuses on the premiere events, but to reach that stage may require enhancers, and the enhancement may also be effective at earlier stages of competition.
Further, ruthless coaching of minors certainly takes place already, and parents may push minors to take performance enhancers rather than protect them.
So, conceivably, having an open and informed market in enhancers might be better, accepting that minors will participate either way.
Further, if everyone is taking enhancers, Goldman’s Bet becomes an interated bet – there is a difference between being the only person with competitive advantage, or everyone having competitive advantage, at the risk of certain early death.
Changes the calculus, but how? Do you accept that you must take the enhancement just to get back to level playing field, or does everyone avoid them because of certain death?
The iterated Goldman’s Bet is not a stable game.
In reality, also, the “certain death” is not the stake – it is more a matter of significantly lower life expectancy, and probable crippling illness in middle age.
So there is a social cost then in caring for failed enhanced athletes.
Ultimately though, the primary concern is that the most sought after enhancers will be the latests and the greatest and therefore those whose medium and long term effects will be least known.
It is not the certain death that is the problem, it is the total uncertainty in actual effects beyond the short term.
At least until we have a comprehensive understanding of human biochemistry…
Of course there is a market solution to that also – with performance enhancers legal, the makers and suppliers can be sued by athletes if the drugs are not as advertised.
Could be an interesting world.