Chatting with Michael Hiltzik
strbuk: Michael, do you think that the outcome of the Inigo Landaluze case will have any effect on the Landis Case? Thanks.
Mike Solberg: Mr. Hiltzik, the arbitrators have the ability to ignore procedural mistakes, or even significant mistakes, if USADA can show they didn’t affect the outcome. Do you have any impression of where the arbs might draw the line that something was significant enough to dismiss the case?
Thomas A. Fine: Landaluze had a slam-dunk issue: a clear cut violation of a rule that was considered important.
Michael Hiltzik: Thanks for your question, strbuk, and thanks to all for joining us. On reading the Landaluze decision, I thought there were pluses and minuses for Landis. On the one hand, the arbitrators rejected most of Landaluze’s arguments, many of which paralleled Landis’ claims. On the other, they did throw out the case based on the Paris lab’s flawed procedures. And they certainly created, or reinforced, the precedent that having one technician handle both an A and B sample was grounds for dismissal.
Old Runner Guy: Michael, do you think the labeling errors are significant? Also, did the incorrect labels on Floyd’s sample match any other samples in the lab?
dave: What, exactly, does Floyd Landis have to do to exonerate himself of the doping charges?
ChrisT: Does anybody really think Landis is innocent? All he is doing is trying to get off on technicalities. It’s the same stuff Hamilton tried and it makes me sick.
Michael Hiltzik: Mike S: What’s important about the procedural mistake issue is that if an athlete can show there was a procedural mistake, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove that it DIDN’T affect the outcome., The arbs in Landaluze offered that opportunity to the Paris lab, and they wrote that the Paris lab failed to meet it -- therefore, goodbye case.
Michael Hiltzik: Tom: That seems to be true; the arbs found the rule to be explicit and crystal clear.
Michael Hiltzik: Old Runner: The significance of the labeling errors will be up to the arbs to judge. I haven’t asked Landis’ people directly about this, but it seems to me that it wouldn’t be the best outcome for them if the arbs threw out his case on just one or another of these procedural issues. What they’re hoping for -- and I’m drawing this from their papers -- is that the arbs see the labeling issues, and the two-technician problem, and all the other flaws they claim as parts of a whole, and eventually conclude that the lab work is so shot through with inconsistencies and unanswered questions that the case shouldn’t have been brought.
thinnmann: Michael, please tell ChrisT that this is way beyond “technicalities”, and I was wondering if you were a cyclist yourself.
Michael Hiltzik: Dave, There are two issues in your question -- what does he have to prove to the arbitrators, and what does he have to prove to the public. If he can show the arbs that the lab departed significantly from standard operating procedure, or that its own findings fall short of WADA requirements, they would have grounds to overturn the charge. Whether this would satisfy the public depends on the arbs’ specific findings (assuming, of course, that they do overturn the case).
BetweenRides: Michael, what is your opinion on the whole Wikipedia defense? Has the posting of case information by the Landis team helped his cause or is it just making the AD authorities just dig in their heels?
Michael Hiltzik: Chris, I’m glad you brought up the “technicality” issue, because I know it’s been debated quite intensely -- indeed, I believe Dick Pound, the WADA chief, claims that Landaluze got off on a technicality. But you have to keep in mind that these are “technical” cases. They’re dependent on lab technique, and testing technology, and scientific protocol, all of which are designed to ensure that the ultimate results are viewed as valid. If the chain breaks at any point, that undermines confidence in the whole process. I’d add, incidentally, that plenty of athletes have been sanctioned on the basis of “technicalities” -- concentrations of nandolone, for example, that are a few parts per billion over the allowable threshhold when those concentrations are known not to affect performance and when deliberate doping would yield concentrations tens of thousands of parts per billion over the threshhold.
Michael Hiltzik: As for whether I am a cyclist myself, I was many, many years ago, but never competitively.
JonT: In your view have there been any inarguable procedural errors that would invalidate the AAF. Contamination, for example.
Thomas A. Fine: Is there something that anyone here could imagine would get him off, that would NOT be considered a technicality?
Michael Hiltzik: I’ve written at length on the wikipedia defense, which is Landis’ posting of his documents and his defense online. I think it is, in its way, brilliant. One of the main problems athletes have had in defending themselves in anti-doping cases is the dearth of independent experts. That’s because the most experienced doping scientists tend to be employed by WADA labs, and under WADA rules they can’t work for an athlete’s defense. The wikipedia defense in effect drafts thousands of qualified experts in cyberspace to review the case, and I have no doubt that Landis’ defense has profited from the analysis done online, some of it by people who are participating in this very chat.
dave: Thanks, Tom. Michael’s definition seemed to be pretty broad. While the analytical chemistry involved in testing is ‘technical’, the Landaluze decision was a legal/procedural technicality. Colloquial reference to ‘technicalities’ would be interepreted as legal technicalities, would it not?
Michael Hiltzik: Jon, I don’t know if any of the procedural errors that have been cited are “inarguable.” Some of them are subject to interpretation, some of them are only hints of problems or indications of holes in the data. What Landis’ team is doing, according to what I can see from their motions, is using them as a basis to seek further discovery. That’s an issue currently before the arbitrators, who should be ruling any day now.
Michael Hiltzik: Tom, almost anything used as a rationale for overturning this case will be seen as a “technicality” by someone. I suppose if some really extreme evidence emerged -- testimony that the Paris lab received a bribe, or an email from the French government saying “find this guy guilty” -- that would probably rule the day. But no one’s suggested anything like that, and it’s not the way to bet. But one phenomenon I have noticed, and this goes back to the wiki defense, is that a lot of people out there have been surprised to see how subjective and, really, slapdash, some of the lab work looks to be in this case.
Michael Hiltzik: Dave, legal and procedural rules exist to support the authority of the scientific findings. But as I said, I think Landis would prefer to be found innocent on the broadest possible grounds.
Ethebull: The Landis camp, and all of us who would like to see him win his case, would be most satisfied if the decision focused on the crazy inconsistences in the lab results. Is there a technical reason, other than contamination, that would explain the measured T and E amounts to increase in each of the three tests done for both A and B samples?
Pelotonium: Michael, dave’s point was that there’s a difference between a legal technicality ( eg. the same technician doing both samples ) and a scientific technicality ( eg. a wrong albeit benign chemical added to the sample). Landaluze’s dismissal was based on a legal technicality. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Mike Solberg: Tom Fine: I think the “positivity criteria” argument can’t be considered a technicality. It seems to be a big deal that if the test was done in a different WADA lab (Lausanne or LA), we wouldn’t be talking today and Floyd would be preparing to defend his TDF title.
Michael Hiltzik: I notice I glossed over one of BetweenRides’ questions, as to whether the wiki defense has made the AD authorities dig in their heels. I think the aggressiveness of Landis’ defense in general has caused them surprise. It’s much more common for an athlete to assent to a sanction or, if he or she goes to arbitration, to accept the limited document discovery that USADA rules allow. It’s very unusual, almost unique, for an athlete to demand discovery on the scale Landis has, much less post all the material in public. I’ve never seen an anti-doping proseuction laid out for public consumption like this, and I’ve certainly seen some responses from USADA that I would think would be considered unacceptable by a normal court of law.
thinnmann: "[On] public grousing about defendants getting off on a technicality.” Many times, this ‘technicality’ is the U.S. Constitution. Prosecutors charge people on technicalities all the time, but this word would never be used to describe their tactics.” - TBV Blog....
Michael Hiltzik: Ethtebull, my impression is that the measured T amounts stayed fairly steady, but the measured E amounts dropped off, resulting in an elevated T/E ratio ... perhaps some of the lab experts in the room can clarify that.
Cheryl: Mr. Hiltzik, is there any information which was excluded from your articles that you can give us today?
Pelotonium: Michael - on DP Forums, there’s a thread about a Tyler Hamilton twin-defense “scoop”. Did you break that story?
Mike Solberg: I know it’s a rhetorical question coming from Chris T, but yes, I do think he is innocent!
Thomas A. Fine: Yes dave I meant legal technicalities, i.e. things having little to do with guilt or innocence.
Michael Hiltzik: Pelot, you have to consider why the technician rule exists -- it’s because a technician who worked on sample A may well know the identity of the athlete by the time it comes to analyzing sample B. By the same token, a technician who worked on sample A could have an incentive for ensuring that the finding on sample B confirmed his or her earlier work. So while it’s a “technicality,” it’s not necessarily a trivial matter.
Mike Solberg: Mr. Hiltzik, have you looked into the IRMS pressure issue? Do you think that is a significant issue? Could it lead to case dismissal?
revakh: The Landis case may become a ‘watershed’ for those athletes that do not have the financial where with all to fight the arbitrary self perpetuating clique of the WADA. By shining the ‘bright light’ on their procedures (largely thanks to your series of articles) we would expect to see world opinion shift. I believe that no one wants ‘dirty’ athletes. On the other hand they do not want innocent athletes swept up in a ‘Salem witch trial’ type atmosphere where according to Dick Pound they are all guilty until WE prove them otherwise.
Michael Hiltzik: Mike, you raise an important point about the WADA system. In my series in December, I mentioned that there’s a wide range of ratios of positivity findings among all the WADA labs -- I don’t know why the anti-doping authorities shouldn’t be very concerned that the same sample from an athlete might be ruled negative by, say, UCLA, but positive by Paris/Chateney-Malabry. An athlete’s reputation and livelihood shouldn’t be based on the luck of the draw, and at the very least WADA should ensure that all the labs are applying the same positivity criteria to any given test, such as the CIRMS for testosterone. It’s pretty clear that that’s not the case right now.
Old Runner Guy: Michael, can you comment on the positivity criteria and the differing standards at different labs?
Michael Hiltzik: Cheryl, there’s a lot of research I’ve done that simply can’t get into the paper for space reasons, or because it’s more technical than a general readership would find useful. Is there anything in particular you’re wondering about?
gary: nor do we want users getting off because their defense teams are smarter than those at the sporting agencies.
hola: Michael, Is it true that the test results would have not been declared positive had the results been the same at the UCLA lab or the lab in Australia.
dave: I was quite amazed by the 3-part series in The Times about how “subjective” the whole process is regarding athletic doping cases.
Michael Hiltzik: Pelot: I don’t know what the twin-defense “scoop” is you’re referencing in the Hamilton case. I will say, however, that I think the notion that Hamilton necessarily claimed to have a vanishing twin is misleading -- in part because WADA’s Dick Pound has expended so much energy ridiculing it. What Hamilton contended was that the developers of his blood test hadn’t done anything to quantify the potential for false positives, and that one source of false positives was chimerism -- the presence of a second population of red blood cells in the body -- derived from a twin who briefly existed in his mother’s womb. In fact, the test developers dismissed that possibility out of hand, but there’s been plenty of research that I’ve seen suggesting that it shouldn’t be dismissed so casually.
Old Runner Guy: Michael, when do you expect the arbs to rule in discovery and do you have a gut feeling on how they will rule?
Duckstrap: Hello Michael. Do you have any new information regarding how the arbitrators are likely to rule on whether and how the documents requested by the Landis defense will be available?
Michael Hiltzik: Revakh, I think there’s already been a subtle but detectable shift in the way some of these cases get covered in the media -- slightly less (and I emphasize slightly) of a knee-jerk acceptance of WADA’s claims as gospel.
Dumas: Michael, have you spoken with other employees of WADA labs about this analysis and how it was performed? Maybe unofficial?
Thomas A. Fine: Michael, how many athletes do you think could successfully use a wikipedia defense? It seems like they’d have to be high profile.
Pelotonium: But surely, Michael, you can’t be saying that Tyler ... wow. Never mind.
gary: and to you that doesn’t sound like the desperate pleas of an obviously guilty guy, or someone claiming to have had a disappearing twin?
Michael Hiltzik: Old Runner: Landis asserts, and I’ve confirmed this, that the positivity criteria for CIRMS at Paris and UCLA are different. Keeping in mind that testosterone breaks down in the body into four metabolites, which can be measured and their ratios compared to a control group of “clean” subjects (sorry for the technical mumbo-jumbo), UCLA measures two of these ratios and requires that both be positive to declare an athlete guilty. Paris measures all four and requires any one to be positive to declare guilt. These are radically different approaches. Think of it this way: Say you have a final exam in, oh, Scripture knowledge. Professor A’s test has two essay questions, and he’ll flunk you only if you get both wrong. Professor B poses four questions, and he’ll flunk you if you get even one wrong. So a failing grade for Professor A (UCLA, in this example), is 0%. But Professor B (Paris) will flunk you even if you score 75% correctly. Plainly, Professor B is going to flunk some students who pretty much know the material.....
Michael Hiltzik: Hola, I hope my answer to Old Runner answered your question. Australia, I believe, also checks two metabolites and requires both to be positive.
Dumas: The disappearing twin is just one of other more important but not so publicity opportunities to get a false positive. The media did a great job, supported by Mr. Pound, to focus just on that, as we can see here...
thinnmann: Is the inconsistent application of limits across different labs a signifigant factor in the defense? The slideshows are fairly clear that Floyd would have not have tested positive at other labs.
Michael Hiltzik: Old Runner, Landis’ people evidently expect something this week. . . . I couldn’t begin to guess how they might rule, as this is really a novel proceeding.
Mike Solberg: Mr. Hiltzik, some have speculated that the battle between the UCI and the ASO could have contributed to Landis’ problems, by making the WADA related folks eager to find a problem / catch a high profile doper, to discredit ASO. Do you see any validity to that?
Michael Hiltzik: Duckstrap, as for whether the dox requested by Landis will be available, if you mean available to the public, that might not be until the hearing in May. At the moment all documents produced under further discovery are sealed, and that includes several hundred pages produced by USADA under an earlier request.
thinnmann: Michael, do you think USADA, WADA, LNDD or anybody has anything in their pockets to overcome the preponderance of evidence Floyd’s team has amassed?
Michael Hiltzik: Tom, the wiki defense won’t work for everyone. It’s plainly best suited to a defendant who believes the documents show obvious flaws and point to his or her innocence. It’s also expensive, so the athlete has to be someone with the money and the economic incentive to fight like this. Don’t forget, the vast majority of athletes charged in doping cases are amateurs or pros in non-major sports (I don’t mean to make a value judgment, but you know what I mean), for whom mounting a six-figure defense simply doesn’t make sense, even if they’re innocent.
thinnmann: Mod: My last question that you just allowed was answered already -- my later one is more important, about the preponderance of evidence. . . .
Michael Hiltzik: Thinn, Landis has gone further -- or Arnie Baker has -- in suggesting that Paris’ standards are so loose that they would have declared positive the panel of control negative subjects assembled by Don Catlin at UCLA for his own testing.
Michael Hiltzik: Mike, the tension between UCI (the Int’l Cycling Union) and WADA is palbable, but it would be difficult to ferret out a conspiracy leading to Landis’ charge.
veloga: Michael At some point, could you comment on what you see happening in WADA when Dick Pound leaves in November?
joe: Michael is the hearing still ‘public’? Will it be broadcast over the airwaves or the Internet?
Michael Hiltzik: Thinn, if you’re asking whether they’re going to spring a surprise, I would be, well, surprised. Their case is pretty much laid out in the Landis doc pack, and this isn’t supposed to be an adversarial process, even though it has devolved into one. I think USADA’s move to retest some of Landis’s old samples suggests, rather, that they’re concerned about the possible flaws in the existing results.
Duckstrap: To follow-up regarding the discovery process. You are saying that there are several hundred pages that have been sent to the Landis group but has not been available publically, and further that any further documents will also not be available publically?
Thomas A. Fine: why are the docs sealed? legal requirement? set by whom? Or just Landis’ choice?
Michael Hiltzik: Velo, Dick Pound’s departure will certainly eliminate a lightning rod, and one that I think has undermined WADA’s public standing. His replacement will be a gentleman currently working for the French government, and all will depend on whether he and WADA’s executive board get their arms around the sort of problems that we’ve been discussing here today, and make the agency’s workings much, much more transparent. Too much is done today behind closed doors and presented to the public as unanimously agreed to, when clearly there’s more debate within the program about its policies and practices than it owns up to.
Ferren: Mike, How familiar with the history of doping in cycling are you? Tom Simpson, the 1984 US Olympic Team, the EPO deaths of the late 1980s, the 1998 Tour de France, the fact that Phonak had 11 doping cases in 6 years?
Michael Hiltzik: Joe, the hearing is still public. . . . I believe that the question of audio boradcasting, and video, is still under discussion.
Cheryl: Michael, the majority of the questions here cover issues I’ve seen often at DPF and TBV. I was trying to see if you had uncovered something new.
Michael Hiltzik: Duck, yes, Landis did receive a package of new documents pursuant to discovery, but complains in his latest motion to the arbs that much of it was not what he asked for or not relevant. So he’s still seeking more. The arb’s interim ruling states that all material produced under discovery (not including what he’s already posted) will be under a protective order at least until the hearing. Of course, that could change.
JonT: Are there cut and dried rules regarding testing B samples of negative A samples? Or is that an arb desicion to be made?
Michael Hiltzik: Tom, I don’t know for sure, but my impression is the sealing was done either on the arbs’ own authority or at USADA’s request.
dave: Ferren, add the cycling death at the 1960 Olympics, which was the catalyst for IOC athlete testing in the first place.
Michael Hiltzik: Ferren, I’m fairly current with the history of doping in cycling and other sports, Olympic and otherwise, before the creation of WADA and USADA.
Ferren: I’d be interested to know how you are privy to the workings of the interim rulings. Or are the sources confidential?
Michael Hiltzik: Jon, there are rules but they’re subject to interpretation and are under consideration by the arbs as we speak. Landis argues that the rules say that once you have a negative ruling on an A (that is, “clean”), you can’t test the B, because there’d be no point -- without an A/B match you can’t use the results to prosecute a doping case. USADA argues that there’s nothing preventing them from testing B samples in their possession, and that they could use a B positive finding against Floyd, even absent a corresponding A positive, because they already have an A/B match on him (i.e, the Stage 17 result). They say once that happens, they can go out and compile any other evidence they want to support the case. In other words, they couldn’t initiate a doping case with an A/B mismatch, but they can use it as supporting evidence in a case they already have.
Michael Hiltzik: Ferren, I’ve read the interim ruling. It’s not confidential.
Moderator2: We will be ending the Q & A shortly. Thanks for everyone’s participation. Sorry we couldn’t get to all your questions and follow-ups. We’ll try to schedule another session next week.
Michael Hiltzik: To add to my response to Jon, obviously Landis’ lawyers dispute that. They say that under USADA’s interpretation, there’d be no rules of evidence and no limits on what they could submit. Incidentally, my moderator tells my our time is up. Many, many thanks to all of you for your terrific questions and your participation. I know there are still some questions in the queue, so why don’t we set up another chat for next week at about this time. Look for an announcement here on latimes.com, at the terrific trustbut.blogspot.com, or on Daily Peloton Forum. . . . Thanks all.
Moderator2: That’s it. We’re signing off. We will post a transcript on latimes.com later this evening.
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