Poor Communication On Either Side Of The Atlantic

Nov 4 2010

Communication is highly underrated. Take my recent dust-up with The Atlantic over a deleted comment on their not-initially-so-accurate history of blood doping.

With no direct contact emails for authors and editors, a reluctance to respond to @replies or Tumblr inquiries, and a Memory Hole-esque contact form as the only institutional recourse, that magazine makes it very hard to open any sort of communication channel. Whether you take this to be intentional or not depends on your level of cynicism—certainly, it’s no way to endear yourself to a blogger.

I did finally manage to get in touch with the author, who actually talked with me to smooth out the wrinkles in the piece, and revealed that—as predicted— the comment had been deleted due to the number of links in it.

While I could question the wisdom of not documenting this anti-spam feature, or of attempting to block commenters who bother to cite their sources, I’ll instead stick with the message that, had the magazine simply been easier to contact, my flaming would have been far less intense, and the article would have been improved a whole lot sooner.

Multiply the difficulty of communicating with The Atlantic by about a billion, and you’ll get roughly the challenge presented by any sort of communication with the UCI. I really do appreciate Michael Ashenden’s NYVelocity interviews, but he shouldn’t be “taken aback by how poorly” both a scientist and a leading cycling publication understand the finer points of the Biological Passport; the UCI has done nothing to communicate them.

The governing body’s own documentation on the project is scattered, nearly illegible (gray on gray!), and hardly detailed. A sparse FAQ, and an in-depth WADA outline for a generic bio passport program leave a lot to be desired. Such total disregard toward informing anyone outside the process (riders, fans, media, researchers for The Atlantic, etc.) is no way to win support for a controversial program, and it probably doesn’t help in the courtroom, either.

UCI President Pat McQuaid awarding something to someoneSure, the UCI isn’t awash in cash. But what would it cost them to hire a freelance writer to untangle that rat’s nest of an FAQ? The RadioShack jersey fine alone would pay for a microsite and a decent design team to create an informative, user-friendly interface for the entire Bio Passport operation, plus a couple of nice infographics to help this pill of a program go down.

In fact, if the UCI had any sort of communications savvy, it would be making the entire program—statistical formulae included—completely open for scrutiny and re-use. The AFLD has apparentlyburied the hatchet in its dispute with the UCI, and they’re the only group I could imagine “stealing” a doping suspicion algorithm and setting up a competing project. If the UCI’s blood passport algorithm were made open by design, and then adopted by other sports, the UCI would have an ironclad talking point that cycling was leading the way in the fight against doping.

But sadly, communication is not an art form well-respected in the backhalls of Aigle, where top-down management is fetishized to a point that might just make Josef Stalin blush. One almost gets the feeling that negative user feedback only stiffens the UCI’s resolve to maintain the status quo, if for no other reason than to remind the world that they—and not the athletes, organizers, or fans they allegedly serve—are the real authority around here.

I’d love to attribute this non-communicative stubbornness to the entrenched attitude of privilege inherent in many European governing bodies, but sadly, it seems to pop up wherever a self-conscious authority feels threatened—on either side of The Atlantic.

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