Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lessons from baseball – the data will be known

I didn’t pay much attention to Alix Rodriguez’s steroid use. It’s been clear for some time that baseball fans, players, coaches, owners, team physicians and so on are all pretty comfortable with performance enhancing drugs.

But then I learned how he was “caught”. That’s much more interesting …

Link by Link - As Data Collecting Grows, Privacy Erodes -

… In Mr. Rodriguez’s case, he participated in a 2003 survey of steroid use among Major League Baseball players. No names were to be revealed. Instead, the results were supposed to be used in aggregation — to determine if more than 5 percent of players were cheating — and the samples were then to be destroyed.

… when federal prosecutors came calling, as part of a steroid distribution case, it turned out that the “anonymous” samples suddenly had clear labels on them…

… the baseball players’ union… is being criticized for failing to act during what apparently was a brief window to destroy the 2003 urine samples before the federal prosecutors claimed them …

So he was caught because he honestly completed an “anonymous” survey, and the union kept the urine samples around. Instead of public outrage at this betrayal, the public beat up on Mr. Rodriguez (though, not, I gather, with much energy).


The lesson, which has been taught before, is that data flows in the direction of profit. Never depend on anonymity, and don’t believe anyone who promises it.

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