Barry Bonds Enlarged Head Size and Expert Testimony

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Federal prosecutors called Larry Bowers as their expert witness to testify on the side effects of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone during the first week of the Barry Bonds perjury trial. Barry Bonds is on trial for lying under oath about knowingly using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

Larry Bowers is the Chief Science Officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA); he is an expert in analytical chemistry and drug testing. Although Bowers is not a medical doctor and has never seen a patient nor treated a single patient with steroid-related side effects, he was chosen as the prosecution’s authority on medical side effects related to PEDs.

Bowers testified that the side effects of recombinant human growth hormone include enlarged head, hands and feet. The defense sought to have the evidence excluded based on the limited scientific evidence supporting the existence of such side effects. Judge Susan Illston ruled that the testimony was admissible.

Some writers celebrated that judge’s decision to allow the evidence but not necessarily because of its relevance to the Bonds perjury trial.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle applauded the decision because it legitimized scientifically-questionable side effects that she felt could be useful in deterring other athletes from using PEDs.

Judge Susan Illston shut down the defense’s attempt to exclude evidence that artificial human growth hormone can lead to enlarged heads, hands and feet. She left a fairly powerful tool in the prosecution’s hands, but more importantly, she took an opportunity away from people who push performance-enhancing drugs.

If she had gone the other way, sleazy coaches or trainers could have pointed to the decision and said: “Growth hormone isn’t dangerous. The judge in Barry Bonds’ trial threw out all the research because she knew the studies were unreliable.”

The desire to demonize PEDs in order to deter athletes from using the substances is more often influenced by a moral agenda rather than a scientific agenda. Teaching athletes about the true side effects of drugs should be guided by science not morality.

“Anti-steroid education” programs are not really education programs at all. A legitimate education programs strives to provide factual, scientific, evidence-based information about performance-enhancing drugs; it is neither “anti-steroid” nor “pro-steroid” but pro-truth. An “anti-steroid” program by its very nature is guided by a (moral) agenda that steroids are bad; this has a natural tendency to demonize steroids with the use of scare tactics.

We should demand accurate and truthful information about PEDs rather than cling to tenuous side effects in the hope that athletes are scared away from using PEDs.

United States Anti-Doping Agency

About Millard Baker