Charlie Pavitt: what's the false positive rate for MLB steroids tests?
This guest post is by Charlie Pavitt. Take it away, Charlie ...
I have a question about drug testing, which for the sake of this blog I will restrict to that for steroids by professional baseball leagues although it is just as relevant for all performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) by all sports organizations in general. I’ve had this question for awhile, but this is a good time to ask it, given that the Tour de France was recently completed (with the usual disqualifications for PEDs along the way) and the Olympics is about to begin (with, leading up to the Games, the same).
No drug test is perfect. All lead to some percentage of false negatives (users whom the test misses) and false positives (innocents whom the test implies are guilty). The latter is what specifically concerns me. In our court of law, one is supposedly innocent until proven guilty. But every few weeks I read of another minor leaguer suspended for a couple months for a positive test. Given that every player knows about the tests, I wonder how many are really still using. Yeah, I can see the possibility that some of the more pampered of them, who have never been punished for anything they’ve done in the past decade because their athletic skill has made them sacrosanct in their communities, probably imagine they can use and get away with it. But I’m not at all convinced that they are all guilty. And, given the publicity it generates, a reported false positive would result in a drug-free player pretty much permanently tarred-and-feathered (Rafael Palmeiro comes to mind; I’m not saying that he wasn’t a user, I have no idea either way, but talk about a positive image permanently crashing down to earth in an eyeblink…).
I just did a bit of web searching (googled “drug testing baseball false positive”) and didn’t find a ton of helpful information on it. One website mentions a study with a huge 14% false positive rate. I’m not the only one concerned (see here, among others).
So here’s my specific, two-part question: What is the false positive rate for the test (assuming there is only one) used in professional baseball? And what precautions are there against false positives (at the very least, there should be a blood sample divided in two, with the second tested in case the first comes up positive)? If anyone has these answers, it is not I’d like to know. More importantly, I’d like the general baseball-fan public to know also.