Doping and the Trap of Marginal Thinking (Runner's Tribe)

My latest article at Runner's Tribe looks at doping through a framework called Marginal Thinking. Here's the intro:

The bombshell announcement of Shelby Houlihan’s four-year ban for doping has predictably taken over the news cycle. After watching it unfold for the past couple days, my baseline thoughts are:

    1. Most people just see confirmation bias. Whatever opinion people had of the WADA/CAS, Bowerman Track Club, Jerry Schumacher or Shelby Houlihan seems to be what informs their opinion of the result. Everybody is reading the same thing and yet digging in on the side of what they want to be true.
    2. Something doesn’t add up. The burrito claims seem off and the claims that lab procedures weren’t followed seem likely. There’s still much work to be done to improve the anti-doping process.

What’s more interesting to me is that doping still happens, and what we can do to eliminate it. The fact is, nearly every doper will get caught. Full-stop. It’s going to happen, either now or in the future. And when they get caught, they will lose everything. And yet they still do it. 

I’m convinced no athlete starts out with the intention of being a cheater. So how do they end up there?

The answer lies in the trap of marginal thinking. In fact, this framework explains why so many good people end up down paths that lead them to disastrous outcomes, from insider trading to cheating to injuring or killing themselves in avoidable accidents. 

Let’s step back from the particulars of Houlihan’s case and talk about decision-making more generally.

The full article outlines:

  • What are marginal costs and full costs
  • Marginal thinking in everyday life
  • The decision to start doping
  • Why we need to understand marginal thinking

Read the full article at Runner's Tribe.