Well, after what was actually an epic post on the science of Oscar Pistorius yesterday, I decided it might be good to present a less scientific argument on the same topic. As I mentioned yesterday, the in-depth, “heavy-duty” dissection of scientific method was not the purpose of this site, but it was the next step in the ongoing debate over the Pistorius advantage.
I can’t stress enough that the type of analysis of the research done on Pistorius should be done for all science, and it should have been part of the CAS deliberations. It wasn’t, and so instead of a fair hearing and verdict, Pistorius was, through the combined efforts of science and law, able to hijack the hearing and take the verdict without any scrutiny of the research. That kind of scrutiny, even at a basic level, would have revealed that:
- He was compared to distance runners on many occasions, not sprinters
- The tests performed on him were not fully explained – the methods seemed to have differed from one athlete to the next, probably because they were done over a long time period and therefore direct comparisons are invalid
- His state of training may have been completely different to the athletes he was compared to, which would massively influence the findings and comparison
- Those tests may also be unreliable for the purposes they were used – comparing two athletes requires a different approach than generating a database
- They are very easy to manipulate, in the absence of independent verification
- Comparisons were made with selected athletes, without explanation of why other athletes’ data was ignored – at one point, Pistorius is compared to 1 sprinter and 2 distance runners, when in theory, 4 sprinters were available for comparison. Apart from the fact that the comparison is wrong, the lack of transparency represents a major problem in an issue this controversial.
- It was concluded that Pistorius was “essentially the same”, when in fact the statistical method used by the paper revealed a significant difference
All in all, the paper is fraught with error – above is the short summary, because I know yesterday was a monster post, and so for those who didn’t have the time to plough through it, that’s the summary – there’s more to it, of course, but feel free to spend some time in the epic analysis!
Some other viewpoints
For today though, I thought it might be good to have a more debatable post, more as a filler than anything. So here are a couple of links that might be of interest.
The first comes from a former elite 400m runner in South Africa, and a person whose insight and expertise I really respect and value. Arnaud Malherbe is still the SA record holder at 44.59s, and his blog has described some of the issues around Pistorius and his selection for the World Championships in Berlin later this year. They are well worth reading, because his approach is less scientific, and more legal and logical. His insight is that of a former athlete, someone who understands the sport intimately, and I think the points he makes are valid, particularly regarding selection for the team. It’s always interesting to get the views of an athlete, rather than the rather heavy science you had thrown at you yesterday!
The third article in particular deals with the possibility of selection if he reaches a qualifying standard – that currently seems a long way off – a 1.61 second improvement is required within the next two weeks and he’s been well off the sort of form required. But, he runs is Oslo this Friday, and the possibility exists.
Then here are some other interesting thoughts from a PhD student, written last year, but only discovered today. Karl Zelik is a PhD student at the University of Michigan. His PhD topic? The biomechanics of locomotion, amputees and the use of prosthetic technology to aid movement. So he is one person who has insight gained from years of immersion in the subject.
He presents some quotes from Prof Herr, who was actually one of the authors one the paper that I discussed yesterday. One quote in particular stands out:
Nevertheless, Herr has publicly stated that within 20-30 years, he predicts the Paralympics will be faster than the Olympics. To the Boston Globe, he further commented that “Even today, some people pity those with disabilities. In the future, [the disabled] will be physically more capable. And then, being physically unique will no longer inspire pity. It’ll be unique. And even sexy.”
The research produced by Pistorius suggests this prediction has not yet been fulfilled. But yesterday’s post was all about how that research could have, and should have been dealt with in a matter befitting its quality – it should have been discarded through careful scientific scrutiny, not the whirlwind hearing the CAS gave it. Perhaps 20 to 30 years is a conservative estimate. I hope so – I would love to see a 41 second 400m, and then we’ll tackle the topic once again, when Pandora’s box is open.
That’s it for Pistorius (for now). I am hopeful that common sense, scientific validity and correct research will prevail and the issue will again find its way into research labs or courts, this time, the right way. But until then, enough on this topic. The summer sports year is in full swing this weekend – the Tour, Oslo Golden League, Wimbledon, and the build-up to Berlin, so that’s where our attention turns
Join us then!