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When the Hall of Fame got into the Steroids business

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Jim McIsaac

I've been a big supporter of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum for a long time.

Well, not a big supporter. More like a medium supporter, just the basic membership dues plus the occasional donation for educational purposes or whatever. Hey, the Hall of Fame's library and photo department have been very good to me over the years; really it's the least I can do.

I've supported the Hall of Fame through through the Dale Petroskey era, and I've supported the Hall of Fame despite its ongoing refusal to address the BBWAA's ongoing refusal to police itself. And I will continue to support the Hall of Fame, in my medium ways ... but you know, I gotta say that sometimes they make it tough on me.

Thursday, my e-mail inbox and my Twitter machine both informed me that the Baseball Hall of Fame co-funded -- along with the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society -- something called "The American Public's Perception of Illegal Steroid Use: A National Survey".

My immediate reaction? Why in hell is the Baseball Hall of Fame funding something called "The American Public's Perception of Illegal Steroid Use: A National Survey"?

I'm still confused about that one. But what really bothers me is that the published results of this survey are nonsensical. Worse, the parties involved come across as ridiculously tone deaf. This is from the Hall's press release:

Strikingly, the public perceives steroid use as the lowest-rated problem among adolescents relative to other problems that adolescents may face in the form of all other prevalent risk behaviors and conditions; it is ranked even lower than eating disorders. This finding is consistent across all regions of the country, all age groups, and even among those who are interested or have participated in sports. The Gallup organization administered the study, which was developed in August.

"The announcement today of our study is a step in waking up America to address this problem," said Don Hooton, Founder of the Taylor Hooton Foundation. "Our wakeup call begins with the recognition that we don’t know what we don’t know. We all need to understand that this problem is going in my child’s school and is most likely going on in my child’s circle of friends. We must realize that the solution to this problem begins with raising the awareness level of this drug problem."

Really? Even lower than eating disorders? I would expect any parent -- and there are a lot of them -- whose child has wound up in the hospital because of an eating disorder to find that phrasing patently offensive. According to the State of South Carolina, eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and 95 percent of those eight million are aged 12-25; anorexia is the third-most common chronic illness among adolescents. Even lower than eating disorders?

Oh, but maybe that's just a poorly written press release? I read the full survey and report, and found this brilliant passage:

Strikingly, the public does not perceive steroid use as a problem among adolescents relative to other problems that adolescents may face (e.g. drug and alcohol use, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, obesity, and eating disorders). In fact, the public perceives steroid use as less of a problem than all other prevalent risk behaviors and conditions among adolescents; it is ranked even lower than eating disorders.

There it is again: even lower than eating disorders.

Indeed. Here are the percentages:

55% Alcohol
52% Bullying
50% Obesity
46% Marijuana
35% STD's
27% Eating Disorders
25% Cocaine
19% Steroids

Now, I'm not smart enough to know exactly what these percentages should look like. But I'm pretty sure that alcohol belongs near the top and steroids belongs near the bottom; granted, some might argue that all of these should rate a perfect 100 percent; an A+ for every adolescent problem. Frankly, I would have lobbied for the inclusion of Poor Writing Skills and Inability to Locate China on a Map in the survey, but that's just me. I'm pretty damned sure, though, that Eating Disorders is a bigger problem than high-school athletes using steroids.

But then, this survey isn't designed to tell us which problems are actually big. All the survey tells us is which problems the survey respondents think are big. Which is interesting, I guess, if you're interested in what generally ignorant Americans think is happening in our high schools.

Alas, there's more than just a survey; there's analysis and arguments in there. Horseshit analysis and arguments. Get a load of this passage:

According to Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of youth behaviors funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health, the lifetime prevalence rates for steroid use among youth over the past 20 years (1991-2011) range from 1.5-3.3% for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2012). Confirming this finding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a prevalence rate of steroid use among high school students that ranges from 2.2-6.1% during the same time period (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). Similar prevalence rates have also been reported at the state level, such as the 2010 Eating and Activity in Teens (EAT) survey that reported a 5.1% prevalence rate in Minnesota middle and high school (Eisenberg, Wall, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2012).

Such prevalence rates may seem low compared to those of adolescent experimentation with alcohol (71%; CDC, 2012) and marijuana (40%; CDC, 2012). However, experimentation means one can try it once and never use it again. In contrast, steroid use is usually continuous and cyclic in nature; an individual does not simply try or use steroids once. Most users take steroids in cycles where they are either "on" or "off" the drug over a period of time (generally between four to 18 weeks). In addition, most steroid users complete more than one cycle in their lifetime, with over half completing five or more cycles (Luetkemeier, Bainbridge, Walker, Brown, & Eisenman, 1995).

A practice called stacking is also frequently utilized in which users take more than one steroid at a time. When stacking, the user actually takes a dosage that can be anywhere from two to forty times greater than those used for therapeutic purposes (Luetkemeier et al., 1995). Simply stated, although the percentage of youth who report having used steroids is relatively low, these youth can in fact be exposed to high dosages over long periods of time, which makes steroid use among high school students a more serious problem than it may appear at first glance.

I know that's a lot of stuff, but I think it's necessary to give you a sense of how breathtakingly stupid this analysis really is. Because some percentage of the large percentage of adolescents experimenting with alcohol get drunk just once or twice, and some percentage of the small percentage of those experimenting with steroids complete more than one cycle and even engage in stacking -- mind you, not necessarily in high school, but "in their lifetime" -- then of course steroids should be just as worrisome as alcohol abuse.

I could go on at length, and in fact I already have. Too much length, maybe. But I care about the Hall of Fame and I care about data, especially when it's employed to accomplish someone's public-policy goals. So I have to say this is probably the worst use of my Hall of Fame membership dues since Dale Petroskey was on the payroll.

Ultimately, Petroskey got fired. If the Hall of Fame is lucky, maybe this pointless, misleading, and embarrassing report will soon disappear, too. Either way, I'll still be around. I guess I just love Cooperstown too much.