Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Epistemoligical Steroid Problem

Over at ESPN, Buster Olney advocates for someone to stand up and tell the truth:
Could someone stand up and offer an unvarnished truth? Could someone please be fully credible and open and offer a complete version? Or are we going to see, day after day after day, these carefully crafted apologies, designed to tackle a public relations problem but really having nothing to do with honesty.
I could agree more. Let's have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But therein lies the rub: how do we know that's not already what we got? The problem with all the handwringing about athletes not telling the truth is that it presumes that they have not already told us the truth. And why do we believe that they have not told us the truth? Because it does not fit what we believe the truth to be.

This is an impossible problem. Any athlete who comes out and provides a story that does not conform perfectly to what we already believe the truth to be is simply presumed to be lying. We are making assumptions that can't possible be assumed and claiming to know things that can't possible be known when we take this position.

I grant that athletes do not have a great track record here. Furthermore, all the incentives are lined up to tell as little of the truth as possible. I'm not saying you have to believe a baseball player who tells you that he bought HGH but didn't use it. What I'm saying is that you can't simply presume that what they're saying is false simply because it doesn't fit what you think the story is.


D.Cous. said...

I think a lot of the frustration here is precisely because (for obvious reasons), the athletes in question hide as much of the truth as they can for as long as they can. Almost anyone who's been busted for steroid use has said roughly this: "No, I didn't use steroids, ever. Be fair, I owned them but didn't take them. Truth be told, I only used them for one year. I've been juicing just these seven years."

Your point does stand, though. There's no practical way to please everyone here, especially the witch hunters.

John Lynch said...

There's no question that the behavior of the athletes in question has greatly undermined their credibility. I'm just not sure how one divines what the truth is unless one is erroneously deciding as true only that which conforms to one's predispositions. It's confirmation bias run rampant.

Also, excellent use of Monty Python. Truly commendable.