Meaningless Jargon Watch: Biological Passport

Juliet Macur, Cycling to Use Blood Profiles in Doping Case, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2009, at A1:

He said it would be the first case born purely from evidence that an athlete’s blood profile, called a biological passport, had changed in comparison with a baseline drawn from earlier tests.

My medically-trained wife:

A biological what? That makes no sense.

Does this mean your blood contains stamps from everywhere you’ve been? That it identifies your citizenship? I’m as against blood doping in sports as the next guy, but “biological passport” sure sounds like an attempt to doublespeak past the issue of forensic reliability. Sadly, this kind of rhetorical credulity is all too common when sports reporters do science writing.

I agree it’s kind of a silly term (that someone in the anti-doping world made up a few years ago), but it’s actually a pretty solid way to rat out cheaters. Basically it’s a regular testing regime to measure your red blood cell counts and various other markers. If anyone does end up doping, their stats would shoot off the charts for one sample and kind of stick out.

The problem with the article is that nowhere does it state what they are actually measuring with more specificity than “eight different blood markers, including hemoglobin,” which just leaves me wanting to know what the other seven are. Maybe the technique makes sense, maybe it doesn’t, but the frustratingly vague article makes it impossible to judge.