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Mainstream media, where are your science reporters?

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Monday, May 28, 2007]
As I detox from two weeks of intensely following the Floyd Landis hearings and shift my reporting back to my normal topics, I want to know why the mainstream media outlets can not do good science reporting? This question is not new to me, but the coverage of the Floyd Landis hearings did really highlight how little the traditional media cares about science. If there was ever a story that needed good science reporters, it was these hearings. They were all about science and it was well know in advance that science would be the center piece of the testimony. Unfortunately, mainstream media chose to report this as a human interest story as if this were a story better told in the tabloids.

The tragedy of this is that the science aspects of the story transcend Floyd Landis and professional cycling. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the French testing laboratory Laboratoire National de D├ępistage du Dopage (LNDD), who are at the heart of this case, are also responsible for testing and prosecuting athletes across a wide segment of sports that fall under the umbrella of the International Olympics not just cycling.

Thousands if not tens of thousands of athletes, both famous and not so famous, depend upon good laboratory practices to accurately test their samples. Yet as our detailed analysis of the science testimony in Floyd Landis's hearings showed, the testing procedures at LNDD were seriously flawed and completely incompetent. CNN, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, et al, there are serious science issues underlying this case and they affect the lives of many, many athletes beyond cycling. This story needs to be covered by competent science reporters and not treated as another tawdry tail from the cycling world.

Thus far one of the very few "mainstream" reporters to not get suckered in to the tawdry smear tactics employed by the USADA was Craig Medred, in a must read opt-ed piece in the Anchorage [Alaska] Daily News titled "Anti-doping show trial is bicyclists' circus". Come on NYT, Chicago Tribute, et al, throw your reporting might behind this issue and push past the tabloid headlines to report on what is passing as science at WADA and LNDD--the public needs to know. Do not leave this job to small website publishers like myself who do not have your reporting resources or your audience reach.

Do we really want an incompetent testing lab like LNDD testing the athletes at the next Olympics and then have those athletes railroaded by WADA's anti-doping inquisition? Would you want to have to submit your career and reputation or that of your family members to the whims of WADA's sense of justice and/or LNDD's laboratory practices?

Our coverage of the science side of the Floyd Landis hearings:
When science, peer review & independent experts are anything but, by Ken Barbalace (Me, enjoys watching Tour de France)
LNDD: The Chain of Custody was broken, by Roberta Barbalace (relation mother, non-cyclist and no interest in TDF)


NOTICE: Comments are user generated feedback and do not represent the views and/or opinions of EnvironmentalChemistry.com.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

Michael Hiltzik, of the LA Times did remind me that he had been writing a series of articles titled: "Athletes' unbeatable foe: Anti-doping authorities serve as prosecutor, judge and jury. The innocent often pay a high price."

The series started on Dec. 10, 2006 and is a very good investigation into the science and lack of due process in WADA's anti-doping inquisition. When I was referring to the need for more good science reporting by the mainstream media, this is the type of reporting I feel we need to see more of.

Good job Mr. Hiltzik and thank you for the link.

Anonymous said...


Can you name one science reporter who was assigned to the Floyd Landis trial?

34.040392,-118.707833,Pepperdine University, California(Pepperdine University, California)


I kept looking to see if there was a science reporter on the beat at the Floyd Landis arbitration hearing. So far I have yet to find one other than in the blogosphere (sort of). The LA Times has been doing a pretty good job covering the story, but I have yet to see a real science reporter who can understand the testimony and not find it "boring."

Here was the first opportunity for the public to have access to the inner workings of the drug testing world, something that the public has a large appetite to hear about apparently, and not a single main stream science reporter was there.

It wasn't like this was a hardship assignment. It is in a spectacular setting right across the street from Malibu Bluffs State Recreation Area on Malibu Canyon Road at Pepperdine University.

Almost all the reporting was of the "human interest" variety. Fine, but how about one science reporter? NPR and the NY Times might as well have been gossip rags.

Davis Straub
On the road, USA

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

The LA Times has published another article on WADA's anti-doping efforts. This time it looks at the science directly related to the Floyd Landis hearings. It does a very good job of explaining things in laymen terms. The article is titled: "Landis case succeeds in exposing faults: Cyclist's appeal hearing reveals rules that make it possible to conceal lab errors and standards that fall short of 'beyond a reasonable doubt."

The LA Times does require one to register (which is free) but the article is well worth reading. Now if the other really large newspapers (NY Times are you listening) would sink their reporting might into the science of this case.

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