Pistorius appeal: Science sold

17 May 2008 Posted by
Going, going, gone: Pistorius wins appeal, and Pandora’s box is now open – good luck to athletics

I have no doubt that many have by now heard the news that Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter from South Africa, has been cleared by the CAS to compete in able-bodied races against able-bodied runners. Little more than this has been released, so the grounds for the clearance are guess-work, other than to say that it was not a huge surprise, given the way that the case had developed. The sentiment before today’s announcement was in fact that the verdict would favour him, because of the nature of the CAS process and the fact that three lawyers were required to evaluate two conflicting scientific arguments.

Perhaps most significantly, one of those scientific arguments, that of the IAAF, had been discussed and dissected for months before now, whereas the other, that of Pistorius, has still not be revealed to anyone. Quite what this shows is beyond us, and it will certainly be interesting to have a look at apply the same magnifying glass to them. I suspect the results will surprise.

Those who have followed this saga over the last 12 months will have little doubt as to our opinion on the science of Oscar Pistorius, and the size of his advantage. This LEGAL ruling does not change this – we are interested in the science, not the judicial reasons. And over the coming weeks, we hope that the “science” that is now being readily flaunted by those supporting this bid is revealed.

Peer-review, and obejctive, analysis of scientific research, is the fundamental basis on which science is built. The concept of “secret” research, done by scientists who are neither objective, nor independent, and certainly not neutral, is foreign to science. To have overturned a decision such as this one based on clandestine testing, which took place entirely in the absence of any independent expert, is a travesty of justice, more than it is a scientific proof of anything.

I eagerly await the first publication of those “scientific studies” which prove that there is no advantage. I do not believe that this research will be forthcoming, now that the dollar signs are in place and the incentive has been achieved by those who have much to gain from today’s decision.

What I do believe is that this decision has changed the face of athletics, and a journey has now begun which we will ultimately all regret. So the day of May 16, 2008, will indeed go down in history (as Pistorius is quoted to have said), because it is the day that Pandora’s box was opened.

Good luck to the IAAF, good luck to the sport, and good luck to all those spectators who wished for it to be opened. Whether it will take 4 months, 4 years, or perhaps 14 years, this day will one day be looked back on with a great deal of regret. The time will come where the effects are so obvious that even the most parochial and emotive supporter begins to recognize the problem, and what has been discussed will become unavoidable. Until then, the IAAF have to evaluate how to implement the far-reaching consequences of this decision. Shoulder replacement surgery and shot-put records of 25 m is the next step, followed by 42 second 400m times.

The next step is to wait on the scientific evidence, and just as Pistorius and his team of highly paid lawyers were able to criticize the IAAF-study, so too, his research should be exposed to the public. Indeed, this should have been the case from the outset, but nothing about this entire saga has been managed correctly. As soon as the scientific motivation is released, you can be sure we’ll discuss it.

Until then, we leave you with a quote from the scientific expert, Hugh Herr, who defended Oscar Pistorius after performing his top-secret, unverified research. He advocates the introduction of this technology into the sport. This quote is no doubt familiar to many of your who are regular readers:

A bilateral amputee professor named Hugh Herr works here (at MIT). If anyone can predict what sports will look like in 2050, it’s Herr, who lost his legs 26 years ago in a climbing accident. Herr wears robotic limbs with motorized ankles and insists he doesn’t want his human legs back because soon they’ll be archaic. “People have always though the human body is ideal”, he says. “It’s not”.

Time will tell, but when the “expert” himself says that soon human legs will be “archaic”, then good luck to the sport. May 16, 2008, and athletics’ version of Pandora’s box is wide open.


This post is part of the following threads: News/Controversies, Oscar Pistorius – ongoing stories on this site. View the thread timelines for more context on this post.