Jose Canseco always made his teammates better power hitters. Can statistics be used to find juicers?

The search for better economic policy.
July 30 2010 2:25 PM

The Canseco Effect

Wherever he went, Jose Canseco made his teammates better power hitters. Can statistics be used to find juicers?

(Continued from Page 1)

Can Gould and Kaplan's approach be applied to other sports? There are striking parallels between the Canseco saga and the ongoing doping scandal in competitive cycling. This year's Tour de France began under yet another cloud of controversy with the publication of former champion Floyd Landis' detailed description of alleged doping with seven-time tour winner Lance Armstrong. According to Landis, Armstrong lorded over a complex and multi-faceted operation that included bike sales (to fund the doping program) and clandestine roadside blood transfusions for him and the rest of his U.S. Postal Service team. Not surprisingly, Landis' interview, published by the Wall Street Journal, was followed by sharp denials from Armstrong and "no comments" from others implicated in the story.

Like Canseco, Landis himself initially denied the doping charges that led to his fall from grace, even writing a book-length defense titled Positively False. Many are using this flip-flopping to question his credibility—Armstrong points to Landis' repeated lying under oath as evidence that he can't be trusted.

Advertisement

The same approach employed by Gould and Kaplan could conceivably be applied to implicate—or exonerate—Armstrong. Cycling, like baseball, is a combination of individual and team effort. Each person rides his own bike, and at least on some days—when riders are competing in individual time trials, for instance—you could look for an Armstrong effect. If Armstrong's presence on the team improved the performance of his teammates, it wouldn't provide a smoking gun—just as Canseco's impact may have come in the form of batting wisdom, not drugs, Armstrong might have motivated his teammates to train harder and better. But smart researchers like Gould and Kaplan will surely find creative ways—as they have in uncovering Canseco's influence—to begin to cut through the lies that have come to characterize the debate on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, cycling, and other sports.

How do these findings on what Gould and Kaplan term "ethical spillovers" leave us feeling about players who dope? While it's no excuse, it does matter if everyone else is doing it. One of the basic tenets of social psychology is the fundamental attribution error—we tend to attribute too much blame to the individual and not enough to his circumstances. It explains why we see baseball players and cyclists as dirty rotten cheaters and rail against unethical Boston firemen rather than asking whether we'd do the same in their circumstances. It also explains why it's so hard to reform a culture of cheating and corruption when everyone is doing it.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.