Nature has a correspondence in this week's issue on my recent piece on the poor state of data on doping. Simon Evans of Uppsala University argues that drug testing, as currently employed by anti-doping agencies, cannot be used to evaluate the prevalence of doping. He writes:
Roger Pielke Jr suggests that doping prevalence can be estimated by drug testing of athletes (Nature 517, 529; 2015). I contend that this method is flawed: as the autobiographies of some athletes attest, regular dopers have a track record of avoiding testing positive.These procedures are (a) statistical and (b) based on surveys of elite athletes. He cites the results on Hon et al. (recently discussed here), which indicate that 14% to 39% of elite athletes dope.
To estimate doping's true prevalence, two procedures that circumvent inherent weaknesses in simple counts of positive test results are useful.
I don't disagree with anything Evans writes, and find his argument reasonable. However, if it really is the case that drug testing cannot be used to detect doping then it is also the case that the results of drug testing cannot be used to evaluate the effectiveness (or not) of anti-doping regulations and agencies.
Taken to the limit, this would mean that anti-doping regulations are a fig leaf, to be polite, with little purpose beyond the symbolic. Even more reason to shine a bright light on the prevalence of doping and the policies in place to regulate it.