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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15253/steroids-and-the-rambus-fallacy/

Steroids and the Rambus Fallacy

January 6, 2011 by

Yesterday the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the annual Baseball Writers of America balloting to determine new inductees. As has been reported ad nauseum, many members of the BBWAA refuse to vote for any player who has admitted to — or even been accused of — using any substance designated by the government as “steroids” or a controlled substance. The writers justify this litmus test on the basis of section 5 of the Hall of Fame’s voting requirements, which state a voter should base his decision on a nominated “player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Somehow the phrase “accused of steroid use” is read into this rule and overrules every other factor actually stated in the rule.

Nevertheless, I’m not here to harp on the steroid issue per se. I do, however, wish to focus on one particular argument employed by the steroid jihadists. Aside from the (misguided) belief that using any substance declared icky by the government is evil, the core complaint of many baseball writers is that steroid use, particularly in the late 1990s, distorted all statistical achievements recorded during that period. But-for the use of steroids — the exact extent of which remains unknown — all of the records, especially the hitting records, would have been different. Therefore, some baseball writers maintain, it’s appropriate to discount or dispense with these records entirely such that the Hall of Fame reflects the world that would have existed in the absence of any suspected steroid use.

This is an example of what I call the Rambus fallacy. This refers to the signature Federal Trade Commission case of the 2000s — perhaps a reflection of the lack of drug testing of FTC lawyers — where the agency attempted to prove the existence of a parallel universe within the computer memory industry. I’ve written extensively on the Rambus case and only recite the barebones outline here: Rambus developed and patented several inventions designed to improve dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Rambus intended to license these patents to incumbent DRAM manufacturers. To that end, Rambus briefly participated in several meetings of JEDEC, the organization that establishes common standards for various semiconductors, including DRAM. Rambus never officially presented its patented technologies for standardization, but all JEDEC members were aware of Rambus’ patent claims and intentions.

When the inevitable patent-litigation war broke out, JEDEC members sought assistance from the FTC. The FTC developed a novel theory of antitrust liability based on the fact Rambus failed to disclose patents applied for (but not yet received) while a participant in JEDEC. Basically the FTC said Rambus had a duty under the antitrust laws to raise its hand during the JEDEC meeting and volunteer the fact it had these applications outstanding. Never mind the fact that JEDEC rules did not require such disclosures, which a federal appeals court determined just before the FTC’s case went to trial.

Normally, the FTC would simply issue an injunction — don’t do it again in the future — but that would have been meaningless, as Rambus never intended to participate in JEDEC again. So the FTC got creative and decided it had the power to fashion a remedy that would restore the “but-for world” that would have existed had Rambus raised its hand so many years ago. In other words, the FTC created a parallel universe.

In this parallel universe — created with the help of some paid “experts” and testimony from self-interested JEDEC members — the FTC determined how JEDEC and the DRAM market would have evolved over the course of several years dating back to the alleged date of Rambus’ original antitrust violation. Much like the baseball writers and the Hall of Fame, the FTC claimed to know exactly what choices would have been made and why. More to the point, the FTC judged all this by changing just a single factor — the Rambus non-disclosure — and assuming all other factors were either irrelevant or remained constant. Just as the baseball writers have done with steroids.

Ultimately the FTC’s fantasy world collapsed in the court of appeals. At least on that day the court was unwilling to read Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act as a license to engage in speculative fantasy about the world that might have been. Unfortunately for a handful of superbly talented baseball players, there’s no similar body willing or able to prevent the BBWAA from using section 5 of its charter to rewrite the recent history of baseball to accomodate the prejudices and ignorance of sportswriters.

{ 27 comments }

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

Steroids bad. Advances in medicine, understanding of diet, a superior grasp of biology, superior workout regimens, none of this “taints” baseball in any way apparently. No one seems to think it unfair that baseball players today have access to meats and fresh vegetables that weren’t available to players in the 1930s and 1940s.

If sportwriters really want baseball to be “pure” so we can truly gauge cross-generational players for “greatness”, the sport should ban every advancement made since 1880. Wear ill-fitting shoes. Force all pitchers to do that ridiculous rocking motion and high leg kick. Lower the mound. Create the balls out of animal leather and sinew. No more helmets for batters. Make everyone live on a common 1880s era diet. Don’t allow injured players access to medical facilities that use technology developed in the 20th or 21st centuries. No more trainers. No more high paying salaries (it’s not fair to players way back when that had to hold down other jobs and couldn’t devote themselves 24/7 to the sport). Hell, even remove the spas from the locker rooms to allow players to naturally heal from sore muscles.

The same goes with all other sports.

Get real, “purists”, you’re just as annoying as the organic farming community that doesn’t grasp that organic farming means fertilizing with human waste and boiling everything you eat for hours so you don’t get disentery and die.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

Utterly specious [or more probably clueless, as he is on Ron Paul]. Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds wil never get in the Hall of Fame because of cheating. Many, many people find that accepting bribes, betting on games and juicing reflects poorly on a player’s integrity, sportsmanship and character. I haven’t met the person who finds that eating well or using a spa does so.

Capn Mike January 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Funny, but there is a gigantic army of folks out there (no, I haven’t the resources to take a poll, so I can’t give an exact number. Just that I haven’t personally met anyone who ISN’T in agreement) which has it’s own personal “Hall of Fame” in it’s head which INCLUDES the three desperados you mentioned. Why? Because they were legendary players. The heck with Cooperstown.

They say hitting a major league pitch is the hardest feat in sports. Please explain why ‘juicing’ (to use your lovely phrase) helped Barry Bonds manage to hit so many of them.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Wrong direction. *I* put all three of those players on a very short list of the all-time greatest players. They were also cheaters. It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Infamy. Would you want your own son to take bribes, bet against his own team or stupidly damage his own body? That, in short, is what this is about. Naturally, lawyer types and bonehead media people are doing the right thing with Bonds in the wrong way.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Using a “steroid” isn’t cheating or poor sportsmanship. Taking supplements is apparently just fine. Besides, this complaint about “steroids” is basically a bunch of idiots who don’t have the first clue about biological science. Did you know the following compounds are steroids:

Cholesterol
Testosterone
Asthma medication

There are hundreds of steroids. A steroid is nothing more than an organic compound (aka a compound made of Carbon, not a “natural” compound as hippies would call it) with four cycloalkane rings in them. Eating a hamburger causes you to use steroids because it has cholesterol in it. Getting aroused causes you to get a steroid injection because your body produces it.

“Steroids” isn’t cheating, it’s an entirely arbitrary classification. “Juicing” doesn’t make you stronger, it just supplements an already existing enzyme in your own body that allows muscle to repair. Sitting on the couch and eatching Cheetos all day while “juicing” won’t make you stronger. Calling an athlete a cheater for doing this is akin to throwing a student out of college for drinking a cup of coffee the morning of the big test. The athlete still had to spend time in the gym and on the field to get to that point the same way the student had to study to pass the test. “Steriods”, like caffine, does nothing more than extend the available performance period to cram more effort into. Without the effort, the results still won’t come. Athletes who “juice” aren’t changing their potentials above and beyond where they possibly could be, they’re only allowing themselves to reach their potential peaks faster. It’s only people who misunderstand how “steroids” work that think it allows you to break through the genetic barrier to new heights. Just like how caffine won’t make a student smarter than he can potentially be without it, a “steroid” won’t make an athlete stronger or faster than he can possibly be without it.

Cheating is something you do to undermine yourself or another outside the rules of the game. Betting against yourself and throwing the game is cheating. Betting on yourself to win isn’t. Breaking your opponent’s leg in the hallway before the match is cheating, using superior training methods against him isn’t.

The way I see it, those upset by “juicing” are just upset they didn’t think of it first.

Besides, with the laundry list of lousy athletes “caught juicing” who still stink, it’s clear it doesn’t give anyone a performance edge.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm

If they get Lance Armstrong, after the years of lying that that would prove, I guess you’ll say he wasn’t cheating either. It takes a certain kind genius, Murray, to be as confused as you often are.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm

If the established rules say no compounds, yes it’s cheating, but the “cheating” days of Bonds et al were in a period where steroids were not barred by the rules of baseball. Calling them cheaters is an ex post facto situation. You can’t ban something after it’s been done and then try them for the crime.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Yep, real above-the-board kind of guy, he and the sleazeball he was skulking around with:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Anderson_(trainer)

Bonds stinks, and that’s why he is reviled by just about everyone outside of San Franscico who doesn’t suffer with Asperger syndrome.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm

You’re treading into the irrelevant conclusion fallacy here. So what if he was hanging around someone you don’t like? The rules didn’t ban performance enhancing drugs, therefore using them was not cheating. End of story.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Also, if you ban anabolic steroids for instance, you’ve just banned everyone who ever had a joint injury because anabolic steroids are commonly used as a treatment.

The rules may say it, but the organizations like the Tour de France only follow the rules when it conveniences them. That’s far more irritating than watching a guy hit a ball that may have taken a performance enhancing stimulant.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

“That’s far more irritating than…”

To you. That’s what I’m saying, Murray, you’re special. And that’s fine, but I’m only talking about why Shoeless Joe, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds don’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose broke actual rules. Bonds did not. Bonds being denied over something that was perfectly legal and perfectly OK as far as the rules went is ridiculous. Throwing a game is listed as a rule violation.

Andrew January 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm

While I do think that the steroids issue is very overblown, especially in baseball, you can’t really argue today that using steroids is not cheating. Now, you could in the 90′s as I believe that it was not specifically banned in baseball until after all the rumors about McGuire, Sosa, etc. came out. But today, the use of steroids is specifically banned by MLB, thus anyone using them is in fact cheating. To deny that would be to deny the rights of an organization to set up ground rules by which its employees, or its contractors must abide.

As an aside, why does no one care when NFL players use steroids? A baseball player does it and he’s vilified by the media, booed by fans and called before congress. An NFL player simply serves a 4 game suspension and goes on his merry way.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Exactly. You’re not cheating unless there’s a rule you’re actively breaking. McGuire didn’t cheat at anything, someone was upset he did something that someone else didn’t approve of.

mpolzkill January 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Andrew, you may have noticed that football and baseball are *really* different from each other:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om_yq4L3M_I

haha

- – - –

Murray, you are nearly a robot, I have no idea why I talk to you, gonna stop again. Bonds skulked and lied because he knew what he was doing would be widely despised. Bonds is naturally loathed far more than Rose, as Rose is naturally loathed far more than poor old Shoeless Joe.

Simon Grey January 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Also, purists should defend the 140 game season, so modern players don’t benefit from having an extra 20+ games with which to pad their stats.

The Kid Salami January 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm

“organic farming means fertilizing with human waste and boiling everything you eat for hours so you don’t get disentery and die.”

This doesn’t sound much like organic farming to me.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

If used in the purest sense of those who support it, yes it is. Even what people call “organic” today is not natural in any sense of the word. It uses water from treated municipal water sources, relies heavily on commerce facilitated by trucks, boats, and aircraft, relies heavily on mass produced fertilizers, and other non-natural methods.

A truly organic farming experience would rely on fertilizing with animal and human waste because few people live along flood delta rivers to replenish the soil annually and the three field method isn’t 100% sustainable without outside fertilization efforts. Letting your own perfectly useful fecies go to waste would be the difference between starvation and survival.

What I described above is how must of humanity lived for thousands of years. Fresh fruit and vegetables were non-existent prior to modern times and eating meat was a rarity because of problems of sanitation. No one drank water, it was mostly alcohol as it was the only way to kill off the bacteria in the water. Boiling was to kill off the e-coli from the fertilization. The term pottage was invented to describe what everyone in England ate for hundreds of years. Everything that was produced that was a food stuff was thrown into a pot and boiled for hours before consumed. That was the only way to not dehydrate from the negative effects of bacteria. Organic, natural agriculture is incredibly miserable at every step of the process, from the planting all the way through the eating.

The Kid Salami January 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

“A truly organic farming experience would rely on….”

Why is what you, personally, think the word “organic” should mean in any way whatsoever relevant to what organic farming actually is? I get organic vegatables delivered and they have a leaflet telling me how its done. Yes, some chemicals can be used and the water certainly is from the local treatment plant. But I’m pretty certain I’d remember if the leaflet said the farmers were shitting on the food.

J. Murray January 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

It’s not opinion. Natural is a binary concept. The moment something that isn’t natural gets introduced, it’s no longer an organic produced food. All organic means on your leaflet is that the FDA blessed it as organic, meaning a bunch of farmers lobbied the FDA to create a label that is convenient to them so they can charge you more money for the same product they make across the street. The simple fact that it’s sitting in a supermarket for you to buy makes it inorganic because, hey, it had to be trucked there. If it was delivered to your store weeks after the harvest, pickled or dried, on the back of a mule, you may have a case. But I somehow doubt all the lettuce you buy is swimming in brine.

Simon Grey January 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm

To me, I’ve always viewed HoF admissions as a rather relative process. It’s not just that someone has great raw numbers, its that he has excelled beyond most. Does anyone think that, say, Mark McGwire wouldn’t have been one of the best sluggers of his era? Sure, his numbers would likely have been lower if no one took steroids. But everyone else’s would likely have been lower as well.

Ultimately, the big question is that of historical performance. Comparing Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds is an exercise in futility since they played under different rules and in different times against a different quality of opponents in different positions. The only way to judge Babe Ruth’s qualification for the HoF is to compare him with players from his own era. The same holds true for Barry Bonds.

What the sportswriters seem to forget is that the bell curve still exists, whether you shift it to the right or left. Playing well in the steroid era is still playing well.

AJ Witoslawski January 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Athletes who use creatine, HMB, and other common supplements are by all means chemical athletes. The use of anabolic/androgenic steroids (AAS) is one way that athletes can level the playing field. Some elite athletes have very high testosterone levels, others don’t. The supplementation of AAS can level the playing field for those with worse genetics.

In any case, I understand why sports organizations might want to ban certain growth drugs like AAS. They are much more dangerous than supplements like creatine and HMB (which carry little to no risk).

Jim January 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I have to admit, I couldn’t care less what happens at the hall of fame. I don’t care if the players use steroids or crack or creatine or jelly beans. It’s just a private sports entertainment league that people take too seriously. I don’t feel too bad that Pete Rose gets screwed on the hall of fame – I figure he got fully compensated for any future troubles about 3 weeks into spring training his first season. Every minute after that was gravy. Rose didn’t get disgusted and pick up a warehouse job to make ends meet when he got kicked out of baseball. He retired and sat on his fat assets. Bonds is going to do the same. Baseball is a pretty damn good deal if you can pull it off. So, as a casual fan/occasional customer, my blood pressure isn’t going to rise one millimeter if Shoeless Barry Rose gets black balled, just like nobody cares if an office worker gripes about so-and-so constantly taking up two spaces in the lot, or Shoeless Bill Wilson keeps forgetting to brew a new pot of coffee. The only difference is that baseball is just a way cooler job. Let the voting sports press nit pick it all they want. They just wish they were players, and not worrying about coffee back at the office.

If people are entertained and everybody makes a bundle on the game, so what if some players cheat? That’s an internal policy issue with MLB. I, for one, don’t give a crap. I know that most reasonable human beings abhor even minor injustices generally, and yeah the voting bias for Cooperstown is a bit weird – but who cares? Cooperstown, too, is just a game – it’s just fun, nostalgic entertainment for fans. Let the players strike again if they care about it that much – but something tells me that they’d rather just do the job and get paid. A lot.

Joseph O January 7, 2011 at 2:33 am

Oh I read through most of the comments, but I had to stop when it got way off subject…So stop me if you heard this one before.To all of you that want to spit on barry bonds, why must you forget roger clemons? If the guy throwing the ball is juice and the guy hitting the ball is juiced then WTF is the issue? Yes it wasn’t cheating because there were no rules broken, but it also wasn’t cheating because there was a level playing field…nearly everyone was doing it (usually not a good argument I know). I bet just as many pitchers juiced as hitters, especially if you consider the bull pen (b/c of the need for fast recovery of arm strength).Also good stuff on Rambus…never new about that!

Dagnytg January 7, 2011 at 6:09 am

Some perspective needs to be considered on this issue.

Most people’s interpretation of steroid use is from the cover of a bodybuilding magazine (which is interesting because body-builders don’t look cut (i.e. muscular) because of steroids but as a result of diuretics taken prior to performances and photo ops.)

Athletes take steroids and such because they help with recovery. That’s right, the term “performance enhancing” is a misnomer. There is no such thing. Athletes take these substances to recover faster from injury, the exhaustion of a 100+ game schedule, from training etc.

If I apply libertarian ethics to the equation, I have free will to pursue any action that does not infringe on the property rights of others.

In fact, as an individual, I may feel obligated morally to make myself as good as I can be for myself, my loved ones, and those who contract for my services (i.e. employer).

How can I be morally be outraged at any person who wishes to participate at the highest level possible in their chosen profession or that which inspires their passion.

It doesn’t matter whether someone takes steroids, drinks Red Bull, or reads articles at mises.org … all three have potential for personal and professional enhancement. To deny a person the right to self-improvement is to deny libertarianism. Not only that, it is to deny the essence of being human.

nosha January 17, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Steroids are overrated. Sure they work but they are not going to turn you into an amazing athlete. Only hard work will do that.

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