Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lance Armstrong's Doping Claim: A Probabilistic Calculation



This Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes did an expose on 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong where his former teammate and close friend Tyler Hamilton accuse him on camera (and the piece also says that teammate George Hincapie testified this under oath secretly to a grand jury) of using the performance enhancing drug erythropoietin or EPO.  Part one of the 60 minutes interview can be seen above.  This is just the latest of many accusations made against him over the years.  His response has always been that he has been tested many times but no drugs have been found.  His most recent quote on his Facebook page is "20+ year career. 500 drug controls worldwide, in and out of competition. Never a failed test. I rest my case." 



Using probability theory, it is possible to compute the chance of him never testing positive assuming that he was using EPO.  First we look at the probability of testing positive for the drug when you are really taking EPO.  This is determined by the test maker.  Finding this information is difficult.  The World Anti Doping Agency or WADA which oversees the testing of athletes does not readily provide this data on their webpage.  They do provide testing positive rates for each of their labs worldwide.  The probability equation for one test is given by:

 P(-EPO test when using EPO) = 1 - P(+EPO test when using EPO)

A group of researchers in Denmark in 2008 gave EPO to a group of eight male non athlete volunteers, put them on exercise tests, took urine and blood samples from them, sent them to two WADA labs.  Post exercise one lab had no positive tests and another had 8 positives out of 40 samples or 20%.  Using the better case scenario lab (WADA does not agree with these results) that would mean that if this probability were accurate across his 20 year career and the outcome of each test was independent of the others, the probability of testing negative on each test over this period when he was using EPO equals 

P(-EPO test when using EPO on one test)^(Number of tests)

Where ^ means raised to the power of the number of tests.  The logic is like when you toss a coin once the chance of it coming up heads is 0.5.  If you toss it twice the chance of it coming up heads twice is 
0.5 x 0.5= (0.5)^2 = 0.25 = 1/4.

Plugging the Danish probability into the equations above there is an 80% chance of him testing negative when he was using EPO on one test and the chance of him testing negative on 500 tests is (.80)^500.  You can plug that into a calculator to see that that is a really small probability of him always lying (3.50*10^-49 to be exact).

This example is of course an oversimplification.  The accuracy of screening tests does change over time as do doping drugs and masking agents.  This does not prove conclusively that Lance Armstrong never used EPO but it does illustrate how hard it would be to hide if WADA were doing an adequate job even with a test with 20% accuracy.  Part II of Hamilton's interview with 60 Minutes (abbreviated version below) can be seen here where Hamilton claims that Armstrong did fail a test in 2001 in the Tour of Switzerland. The report does raise questions about the integrity of WADA.


In the worst case scenario where there is a 0.1% chance of getting caught when doping on one test when doping and thus a 99.9% chance of not getting caught when doping on one test then there would be a 61% chance of never getting caught when doping across 500 tests.  If Tyler Hamilton is right then Lance Armstrong falls into that 39% who did get caught and had it covered up.

**Update**

The news that Armstrong has been stripped of his seven tour titles and all of his other titles dating back to 1998 shouldn't be that surprising.  The interviews that I posted last year are available in abbreviated version above (they were originally available in full format) from CBS with no mention of his alleged failed 2001 drug test.  The full transcript of the 60 Minutes interview with Hamilton can be read here.  On CBS This Morning there was a discussion of the charges also with no mention of the 2001 failed drug test.  It seems strange that there is no mention of this as this allegation should not be hard to check out.  Armstrong was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Glenn Beck Is Going To Hold A Rally In Israel This Summer Called 'Restoring Courage'


Did I call it? Glenn Beck is not really going away. After hearing that his show was ending on Fox News many on the left were ecstatic.  In my post Auf Wiedersehen Glenn Beck, Hello Merv Griffin I argued that he wasn't really going away, he was just branching out into other ventures just like Merv Griffin did when his talk show ended.  Today he announced that he is holding a Restoring Courage' rally this summer modeled on his Restoring Honor rally except this time it will be held in Israel. 

This occurs as new nonviolent uprisings are occurring in Israel's occupied territories and struggles for democracy are occurring elsewhere in the Middle East (see video below).  Glenn Really knows how to raise the stakes.  His show on Fox ends on Dec. 31 of this year giving him plenty of time to inspire another Richard Poplawski, Byron Williams, or other wingnut.  If Fox News were really concerned about this they would have fired him on the spot.  Not everyone on the right advocates violence (a few on the left do too) but Beck definitely plays with fire.  How are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert going to top this one?

**Update**


Rachel Maddow has an update on Beck and Blackwater's antics in the Middle East. 



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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Immigration: An International Issue

President Obama this week talked about passing the DREAM Act in Texas after it was blocked in the last congress which was controlled by his party.  The act gives a path to citizenship for aliens (legal or illegal) who came to the US as minors, have good moral character, graduated high school or attended college, and served two years in the US Military. Now that the lower house is controlled by the Republicans it's passage is at best uncertain.

Last summer considerable controversy was generated when Arizona passed a law requiring local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone suspicious.  The law is now tied up in legal challenges and has prompted boycotts of the state but Gov. Jan Brewer who signed the law easily won reelection with 55% of the vote.  In Arizona, Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio caused controversy from groups like Amnesty International prior to passage of the immigration law by rounding up illegal immigrants in tent cities in blistering summer heat. 

Arpaio along with former Colorado Congressman, 2008 Presidential Candidate, and 2010 Gubernatorial Candidate (where he came in second as an independent candidate ahead of the Republican) Tom Tancredo and former PA Senator and current Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum  are now at the forefront of the campaign against illegal immigration.  All three men like to tout their Italian American roots.  Tancredo in 2008 introduced a bill requiring immigrants from Islamic countries to swear that they will not try to impose Sharia Law here in the US and criticized removing the requirement of proof of US Citizenship for children to receive health insurance in SCHIP by Congress.  Santorum has supported making English the official language of the US.  These men do not seem to remember that many of the same criticisms leveled at immigrants (legal or illegal) today were the same leveled at Italian and other immigrant groups about a century to a century and a half ago.

Little reported in the US is what has been driving illegal immigration from Mexico is a violent drug war in the border region.  Many are fleeing it and the general poverty in Latin America for a better life just as the earlier immigrants did.  Immigration laws were different in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than they are today. 

Now that Europe is more prosperous than it was a century ago, they have many immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and China.  When I traveled to Italy several years ago I heard many complain about immigration there from places like Albania and North Africa.  What they said sounded very similar to what Arpaio, Santorum, and Tancredo say.  One of the reasons behind NATO's intervention in Libya is of course oil but another is worries over a flood of refugees from North Africa.

As a result of this war French President Nicolas Sarkozy (the son of a Hungarian immigrant) and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (who is under indictment for corruption and statutory rape charges in Italy and has complimented President Obama on a couple occasions on his "great tan") have requested to change the Schengen treaty which allows for passport free passage between 25 European Countries.  This change would allow for setting up checkpoints within participating countries.


Fortress Europe? There is a better way

**Update**


2 Political Junkies has a post on how Rick Santorum will announce his bid to become President of the United States near the coal fields where his immigrant grandfather worked.  He should read posts like these first.

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