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Dec. 9, 2016

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Associate Professor, Communication Studies

The paper "Timing and Imaging Evidence in Sport: Objectivity, Intervention, and the Limits of Technology" is about finish-line systems in professional sport and how athlete placing is determined. Specifically, the paper looks at different uses of imaging and timing technologies across different sports to trace and critiques how "evidence" in the form of athlete placing is produced.

The most surprising part is the inaccuracy of the technologies used (all the way up to and including the Olympics). I show that the timing and placing of athletes beyond the tenth of a second (or in some cases hundredth of a second) is inaccurate. The reason is that the technologies used capture incredibly precise measurements – but such measurements cannot actually be guaranteed as they take place in a live environment. For example, in swimming, differences in placing between athletes at the level of a thousandth of a second might not reflect differences in athlete performance but instead differences in the thickness of paint in the lanes of the pool.

Jonathan Finn is the chair of Communication Studies.

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