Why is BG17 So Crucial in the World Athletics Regulations for Female Eligibility?

This post is a more detailed follow -up to my Substack post on the remarkable correction to Bermon and Garnier 2017 (BG17) published by BJSM yesterday. If you are not caught up, please have a read and then come back here.

This post is written in reponse to an apparent effort by World Athletics to rewrite history. Their chief spokesperson, Jackie Brock-Doyle has taken to Twitter in multiple posts (such as the below) claiming that BG17 was corrected in 2018 and not really that important in the female eligibility regulations. Both claims are false as I’ll show here.

Rewriting history?

The first claim — that BG17 was corrected in 2018 — is easy to show to be false. There was no correction published in 2018. There was a follow-up not-peer-reviewed letter hastily published re-doing some of the analysis based on errors that we found, but there was no admission that the findings were “potentially misleading” or overstated. That letter was also deeply flawed. We had called for BG17 to be retracted, and IAAF stated clearly to the New York Times in July 2018 that they stood behind the 2017 study and the 2018 letter:

“The I.A.A.F. will not be seeking a retraction of the 2017 study. The conclusions remain the same.”

It is hard to square the claim made now that a correction was issued in 2018 when in 2018 IAAF said that it stood behind its conclusions. The only correction that you can find at BJSM is the one published yesterday, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface on the issues with BG17.

The second claim — that BG17 was never really that important — is also false. BG17 was absolutely essential to IAAF pursuit of regulations in two important ways. First, it brought the IAAF regulations off of life support following the 2015 judgement of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the Chand case. That case resulted in the regulations being suspended by CAS due to the inability of IAAF to provide evidence from actual competition showing a performance advantage by female with high testosterone.

CAS explained in the Chand judgment:

However, in order to justify excluding an individual from competing in a particular category on the basis of a naturally occurring characteristic such as endogenous testosterone, it is not enough simply to establish that the characteristic has some performance enhancing effect. Instead, the IAAF needs to establish that the characteristic in question confers such a significant performance advantage over other members of the category that allowing individuals with that characteristic to compete would subvert the very basis for having the separate category and thereby prevent a level playing field. The degree or magnitude of the advantage is therefore critical.

CAS 2015

CAS thus suspended the regulations and gave IAAF two years to come up with the data.

In these circumstances, the Panel is unable to uphold the validity of the Regulations. The Panel therefore suspends the Hyperandrogenism Regulations for a period of two years, subject to the following provisos. At any time during that two-year period, the IAAF may submit further written evidence to the CAS concerning the magnitude of the performance advantage that hyperandrogenic females enjoy over other females as a result of their abnormally high androgen levels.

CAS 2015

Flash forward two years. IAAF announced that they had the goods! They came up with evidence in the form of BG17. IAAF announced the good news in a press release.

The IAAF explained in that release:

The article published today, “Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female elite athletes”, is part of the evidence that the IAAF is preparing for its return to CAS.

It turns out that the paper represented the only evidence provided responsive to the CAS request for actual data from athletic performances. The other evidence referred to was the same evidence present in the Chand case deemed to be inadequate (e.g., such focused on the effects of testosterone on bodily characteristics).

Without BG17 it is likely that the IAAF female eligibility regulations would have been terminated by CAS in 2017 due to IAAF being non-responsive to the CAS request for evidence from actual performances. What BG17 did instead was to provide IAAF a lifeline to craft revised regulations, which CAS allowed.

When the revised regulations were released in 2018, they had this curious feature of regulating athletes only at the 400m to one mile distance. (Coincidentally, Caster Semenya’s distances, but I digress.) The basis given for the focus on a limited number of events was … BG17. This can be observed unambiguously in the regulations. In fact, even after the Semenya CAS judgment, the IAAF reliance on BG17 as the basis for the regulations remains clearly stated in the regulations, as shown below.

Further, if you go to the IAAF website right now, you will find that they refer to the analysis of BG17 as the basis for the restricted events, as shown below. Obviously, BG17 is not irrelevant to the regulations, it is central.

To sum, there is simply no doubt that BG17 offered a lifeline bridging the Chand CAS case to the subsequently revised 2018 regulations. Had CAS known in 2017 that the research provided to them by IAAF was “potentially misleading” and overstated, it is likely that CAS would have ended the effort to regulate right there.

Further, when IAAF came up with the revised regulations in 2018, they relied on BG17 as the sole empirical, peer-reviewed basis for the limited range of restricted events. And following the CAS judgment in Semenya, IAAF continued to rely on BG17 as the sole empirical, peer-reviewed basis for the regulations. At any point along the way, IAAF could have removed the references to BG17, if indeed it was so inconsequential or deemed to be in error. They did not.

Efforts to revise history will be difficult because the historical record is clear.

Bottom line: BG17 has been foundational to the IAAF — now World Athletics — regulations of female eligibility. Yesterday’s World Athletics admission that BG17 is “potentially misleading” and overstated is thus, as I have said, massive.

Interview on IPCC Report with Spiked

Roger Pielke Jr on what the IPCC report actually tells us about the climate.

Here is an excerpt:

“There are two perspectives that people need to keep in mind. Firstly, some of the gravest risks are certainly lower than we thought they were. That’s good news. The bad news is that the IPCC is quite conclusive that we are changing the climate and we are going to continue to do so. And it’s going to have negative effects and create risks.

The IPCC report obviously did not tell us that climate change isn’t a problem. But just because it’s a problem doesn’t mean it’s the apocalypse. Climate change is real. It’s serious. I’m a strong advocate for mitigation and adaptation policies. But that doesn’t mean that it’s ‘code red for humanity’ and billions of people are at immediate risk, as the secretary-general of the UN claimed. That’s just irresponsible hyperbole.”

Read the whole interview here.

What is Cheating in Sport?

My book The Edge focuses on cheating in sport. I have made Chapter 3, which defines cheating, freely available here in PDF. Here is how the chapter starts . . .

In discussions of sport, the word cheating is used in blunt fashion to refer to a wide range of actions. For instance, in 2016, tennis star Maria Sharapova failed a drug test at the Australian Open for taking a substance called meldonium, which had been added to the list of prohibited substances just a couple of weeks earlier. Sharapova revealed that she had been taking meldonium for a decade, leading former top-ten professional tennis player Jennifer Capriati to label Sharapova a cheater over those ten years: “I didn’t have the high priced team of drs [sic] that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up.” In stark contrast, another former professional, John McEnroe, said that Sharapova’s use of the drug before it was added to the prohibited list was fair game: “If a drug is legal? That is like a no-brainer. I mean, are you kidding? People have been looking since the beginning of time for an edge, and you’re constantly looking for these things in any way, shape or form.”

To productively debate the point of contention between Capriati and McEnroe, we need a clear conception of what it means to cheat in sport, as well as a clear idea of those other activities that might go right up to the edge but don’t quite make it to the other side. In other words, we need a palette of shades of gray rather than black and white. This chapter develops a vocabulary for discussions about the edge. It offers a definition of cheating and related behaviors, and thus it sets the stage for consideration of the five battlegrounds in the next part of this book.

Read the rest here in PDF.

My Opening Statement Before the Senate Banking Committee Today

Below, please find my opening statement. You can find my full written testimony here in PDF.

Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey and the entire committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspectives today remotely.

I am a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and I have studied the use of science in policy for more than 25 years, including a long-term focus on climate.

Unfortunately, key scientific guidance on climate that informs policy– including central bank climate stress testing and U.S. government estimates of the social cost of carbon – has departed from basic standards of scientific integrity.

A main reason for this departure is that climate science has increasingly been enlisted in support of policy advocacy rather than to inform policy debates and decisions.

Today I Have Five Points to Make

FIRST, I emphasize that human-caused climate change is real, it poses significant risks, and policy responses in mitigation and adaptation are necessary and make good sense.

SECOND, the reality and importance of climate change does not excuse failures to provide up-to-date and accurate scientific advice to policy makers.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program to provide “usable information on which to base policy decisions relating to global change” – with a key product being the U.S. National Climate Assessment every four years.

In practice, however, the National Climate Assessment has been politicized in varying degrees by both Democratic and Republican administrations. It has been used less as a mechanism of science advice than as a tool for promoting the climate policy agenda of the president.

THIRD, shortfalls in scientific integrity matter because right now policy makers are being badly misled in a number of crucial areas. Here I will briefly cite two examples:

  1. Climate scenarios that underlie much of research on climate, its impacts and policy responses are badly outdated and no longer offer insight to plausible futures. It is analogous to focusing our nation’s current foreign policy on the Soviet Union – once that made sense but now it would just be out of date. The out-of-date climate scenarios are not off by just a little – for instance they assume the dramatic expansion of coal energy to a level 6 times that of today, such that it becomes our primary energy source, and we decide to use coal to fuel our cars. No one believes this is plausible. Yet, there it is at the center of our most widely used climate scenarios.
  2. Economic losses associated with extreme events are routinely attributed to changes in climate, while changes in society and its exposure and vulnerability – which also profoundly influence future risks — are largely deemphasized. Every day, somewhere on planet earth extreme weather events are happening. With 21st century communication technology and platforms we are all able to witness disasters in ways that in earlier times just wasn’t possible. But the visceral appreciation of extremes and their impacts is no substitute for data and evidence. These data and evidence indicate that since at least 1990 when data first became reliable economic damages associated with extreme weather have in fact decreased when measured in the context of global GDP. This pattern has occurred in countries of all income levels. It is good news and we want it to continue.

In contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – one of the nation’s leading science agencies with a strong staff and important mission – routinely promotes a “billion dollar disaster” list of events since 1980 to suggest that disasters and their costs are increasing dramatically due to climate change. What the dataset really indicates is growing wealth in locations exposed to loss. We should always use climate data to document climate trends, not economic data. Every time you see economic damage invoked as evidence of human-caused climate change you should think instead about the state of scientific integrity in climate.

FOURTH, shortfalls in robust science advice on climate are more than just an academic issue – they also show up in important policy contexts. Here I will briefly cite just two, which are discussed in more detail and with data in my written testimony:

  1. Proposals for “climate stress testing” in the global and national financial systems are grounded in the use of outdated scenarios. These scenarios include those of the Network for Greening the Financial System and the International Monetary Fund. If the baseline scenarios used to project policy futures are out of date, so too will be any guidance that results from their use.
  • The estimated “social cost of carbon” of the Biden, Trump and Obama administrations each has similarly relied on outdated scenarios with roots decades ago. Again, following guidance from impossible futures is not a good recipe for useful science advice. Worse, it can mislead.

These are a problems that require immediate fixing.

FIFTH and finally, Climate change is too important to allow shortfalls of scientific integrity in science advice to persist. Congress should enhance its oversight of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and its National Climate Assessment to ensure that the scientific advice that it receives is up-to-date and accurate. The mechanisms are in place – they need to be matched by a bipartisan commitment to securing robust science advice.

The bottom line?

At present there are troubling signs that Congress and the federal agencies are not receiving the high-quality advice necessary to inform decision making on climate mitigation and adaptation policies.

Thank you very much.