Sunday, November 23, 2008

The 'Times Online' prints a horribly biased and hyperbolic article about speedsuits!

The Times Online presents a poorly researched speedsuit article that is full of speculation, exaggeration and hyperbole. On face value if you don't believe the Times Online could write a biased article, check out this paragraph:
"...That, says the whisper filtering out from the scientific community, is just the start. Fabric engineering already used in the military field will soon make headlines for all the right reasons: it can cure the sick, relieve pain for the terminally ill, provide speedy rehabilitation for crash victims, improve the lives of millions. But how long before the technology reaches the world of sport?..."
And this paragraph too:
"... As one leading light in the sport put it: “If we don’t stop the suits now, our sport will be destroyed by this and future developments. The last thing we need is to become the ‘testing ground’ for companies that want to do medical experiments on humans to promote their new products. The Roman Circus is here. ...” [Link]
If you step back and do a Google search with the text string: 'smart fabrics' or 'MIT Military Fabrics' to see if these grandiose predictions are valid, the materials suggested are a bit more involved then the Times Online presents.

For instance, the fabrics that can "heal you" according to MedicalNewsToday will work something like this:
"...Intelligent use of microelectronics allows scientists and engineers to extract useful data from very simple inputs. For example, the WEALTHY project integrated temperature sensors in the armpit and shoulder of their garment to register core and skin temperature. ..." [Link]
Note the word 'sensors' and realize that a electrical current would be running through the fabric and connected to a computer to collect the data. The material does not magically "heal you." However, the military wanted something that would.

As for the super human stuff the Times Online suggested: In 2002 The military gave the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 50-million dollars for a five-year contract to create a uniform that would make soldiers invisible, be able to jump over 20-foot walls, and deflect bullets too. If the Iraq war is any indication, I don't think they delivered! It was suppose to be a 5-year plan and here we are six-and-a-half years later and we have witnessed horribly wounded soldiers who barely had effective armor on their vehicles let alone a fabric that could heal them or make them bullet proof. From 2002 CNET article:
"...Researchers also hope to develop a kind of molecular chain mail that can deflect bullets.

In addition to protecting soldiers, these radically different materials will have uses in offensive tactics, at least psychologically.

"Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls," ISN director Ned Thomas said in a release. ..." [Link]

Speedsuits are not hurting swimming in any way. They are making it more fun especially for masters swimmers and overweight swimmers.

I smell manufactured consent on the part of USA Swimming's PR department in conjunction with the media to move public opinion towards their point of view. It's a sloppy article and presents no counter opinion.


John Craig said...

You're surprised by the NY Times's bias? Please. They've never been anything but "All the Propaganda That's Fit to Print."

Tony Austin said...

This was the Times Online out of the UK.

Scott said...

I don’t believe you can levy accusations of poor research and hyperbole against someone after spending only a couple of hours searching Google, especially when he’s quoting others who presumably are knowledgeable about actual progress in this rather esoteric field. And while I have doubts about his conclusions regarding USA Swimming’s volte face on this matter certainly the actions the national federation has taken shows illegal swimsuits are, at the very least, a distinct possibility requiring new rules to guard against. To your point that the article is biased and fails to present any counter argument I'd submit this isn't a flaw at all. Of course I’ve been against the new suits ever since I read Speedo’s description on how they work, but good journalism doesn’t require a ‘balanced’ approach – it only requires presenting the relevant facts in acceptable prose to the readers. Besides which Craig Lord has already done his ‘objective’ piece on this problem that I've linked to in an earlier post here. Beyond the fact these suits make the swimmer faster I can see no other benefit from them and many, many problems. When the only counter argument you make is to say “they are making it more fun especially for masters swimmers and overweight swimmers” I think you should reconsider your position in light of all the possible ramifications these suits carry with them.

Tony Austin said...

When extraordinary claims are made by an expert regarding fabrics that "...can cure the sick, relieve pain for the terminally ill, provide speedy rehabilitation for crash victims, improve the lives of millions. etc. ..." I think it is responsibility of the journalist to validate that statement.

Here is an example: If a politician says that he has evidence that a terrorist country has weapons of mass destruction and wants to "car pool" with Al Qaeda, said politician has to validate his statement by dolling out his evidence and a journalist has to validate his job by either verifying it or denying it.

I did Google searches for well over an hour looking for the most advance fabrics I could find to see if I could validate the article and I couldn't.

I coul find articles that used nanotech to become pound-for-pound stronger than kevlar but the fabrics were all about structure and not intuitive whatsoever.

My position on speed suits is that coefficient drag is fair game but buoyancy or flotation aids are not.

Ultimately couldn't Lycra be considered a smart fabric when comparing it to nylon, and the same when comparing nylon to wool, and conseuently wool to leather? These materials just vary in regards weight, comfort and friction drag, nothing else.

Scott said...

I think we both are in agreement about what would constitute an illegal swimsuit. Where we diverge seems to be on what the future may hold. Your skepticism about how far the new technologies may go is understandable but I'm withholding my own judgment until later.

Your analogy of the Iraq War is a good one. I think in that case, however, the withholding of key facts due to "security concerns" could have been easily overcome by referencing other, readily available information; such as the fact attacking the country without UN approval would be illegal, or that the Administration had only six months before declared Iraq was contained and no threat to anybody.

With these new suits their potential, which admittedly sounds like science fiction, involve a science I can't reasonably critique. And when in doubt I'm always going to take the most conservative, "do no harm" path. Admittedly that approach is biased by my own attitude of indifference towards improved swimsuits. But I'm only human aren't I?

Tony Austin said...

:-) We agree.

Also, here is a link I found during my research; an article that only people reading this comment section will see. A link to a material that cannot get wet:

Paste the link in line by line to get it to work.

I am reccomneding this fabric to TYR

Scott said...

A perfectly waterproof material would be very popular. I wonder how well it 'breathes' and if it's comfortable to wear. Could it be the same "coating" the Rocket Science Swimsuit uses? And why the favor to TYR? I can understand not forwarding it on to Speedo for all the reasons you've outlined in your other posts and am sympathetic for the same reasons, but is there a reason why TYR and not some other company?