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Updated 02 March 2016

Oscar Pistorius and his Tinker Bell defence

Clap hands if you believe in fairies! Health 24's CyberShrink, Professor Michael Simpson, reflects on a lot of scientific hogwash presented during the Oscar Pistorius trial.

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Oscar and the Tinker Bell Defence: Clap Hands if you believe in Fairies. Listening at any length to Tannie Roux in full flight is a truly unpleasant experience. It’s that sanctimonious sense of simulated indignation, the wheedling, high-pitched voice, the endlessly condescending, pouting, pious, sulky, kvetching.

Roux doesn’t argue, he nags, he carps

After calling a disastrous series of witnesses, leaving us unsure of which of a host of possible defences and versions of events he’d settle on, he chose to sit on at least two chairs at once, insisting they were only one. We hoped that at last he’d convince us, with a coherent argument based on real facts. Alas, this wasn’t to be.

He chose, instead, the Tinker Bell defence.

Remember when in Peter Pan, the little fairy was nearing death, and Peter calls to the audience: “Do you believe in fairies?"

If you do, clap your hands! Don’t let Tink die!” And the audience, especially the children, clap furiously and revive the sprite. Roux’s Pixie Dust.

The defence relied almost entirely on fictional facts, invented by “experts” venturing beyond their areas of expertise, absolutely fallacious, but sprinkled like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust, in the hope of confusing the issues, hoping the audience will applaud.

As I’ll make clear, much of what was paraded before the court was pseudo-science, speculation and invention masquerading as science.

It would be disaster for South African justice and science if this was accepted. For all of Nel’s panache and swagger, he has been over-confident and has failed to call necessary witnesses to denounce and dispose of the psychobabble and fake science we have heard.

Despite his skilful cross-examination, there is far too much nonsense he could not (on his own) and did not challenge, having insufficient expert advice and evidence of his own.

ReadOscar is trained to react to sound, defence claims

Oscar is not paraplegic, and he does have legs

The ignorance of some news commentators continues to be shocking. More than one has weirdly referred to Oscar as paraplegic. No he isn’t, and he never has been. That would be someone with both legs fully present, but wholly paralysed by a neurological disorder.

The Paralympics cater for all varieties of disabled athletes and paralysis not required. Roux repeatedly demands that Oscar must receive special privileges and allowances because he’s handicapped.

Read: Paralympics vs Olympics – that's apples vs pears

Monotonously he drummed into us, again and again, that Oscar “has no legs”. But he does have legs. Counting his different prosthetics, he has more legs than most of us. But even without them, he has extremely functional legs down to below his knees, or he could never have been the excellent runner he is.

Those are legs. True he has no feet, and below the knee he has less leg than most of us, but he is not a man devoid of legs. And as proved by the video the defence took care not to show the court, even on his stumps he’s remarkably mobile and stable.

And of course it’s totally irrelevant to this case whether he has three legs or none. Leggy or legless, we are not in the least entitled to shoot and kill people. He doesn’t think with his feet or legs.

ReadOscar Trial: The shrink has shrunk

Destroying Oscar’s only important achievements

As a disabled person myself, I’m still insulted by how Roux, presumably on instruction from Pistorius, continues to make absurd claims about how he suffered incessantly due to his handicap, causing weird and massive damage to his mental capacities.

Such damage is hitherto unknown to true medical science, and totally undetectable even by a team of mental health experts who examined him closely for a month, but obvious to a sports doctor without psychiatric qualifications. Strange that Oscar used to fight for the right of the disabled to be treated on absolutely equal terms to the able-bodied.

This must have been some kind of sham, because now his lawyer is insisting that this was never so, that Oscar has been deeply and permanently scarred by his handicap, and absolutely must not be treated as an equal, but as a profoundly and eternally impaired person.

ReadThe Oscar trial witnesses: awful, pompous and condescending

Nonsense about trauma


Nobody with any genuine knowledge of psychological trauma could agree with the insulting and preposterous claims invented here. Yes, someone who has genuinely been very severely traumatized, not by comparatively trivial experiences as assume for Oscar, but real personal life-threatening and terrifying experiences, may become hypersensitive, not to everything imaginable, but to some very specific stimuli, usually sights or sounds that very explicitly and directly reflect the circumstances of the original trauma.

Read: Male victims of domestic abuse and PTSD

They don't react as catastrophically as they pretend Oscar did, to such a trivial, nondescript and ambiguous small noise. Such a minor bump might make you curious, but it doesn’t put anyone into a frenzy, rushing round screaming with gun in hand. I’ve seen nothing like this described in the entire world literature on trauma.

Someone please explain to me: if he’s so hopelessly impaired and conditioned to react in this way, why has he never done this before ? It’s impossible to believe that he’s never previously heard a small noise in the night, but he never grabbed his gun and shot at a ghost.

Read: Just how far can you hear someone scream?

It was deeply insulting to women who have been battered and hurt over years, to liken their repetitive cruel experiences, as Roux so amazingly and offensively did, to Oscar’s very successful life as a student and athlete, assuming with no evidence that simply being handicapped is traumatic He never mentioned even a breath of such concerns throughout his life, but now we must believe this has been the “slow burn” of constant daily trauma?

Read: Let's make it clear – Oscar has no mental defects

Scientific hogwash

Let me be clear. The 'scientific' evidence the defence relied on is hogwash – enough to wash a large herd of hogs. It’s false science, pseudo-science, wishful thinking, quackery and frank fiction. If this is what the defence wanted from their witnesses, it’s not surprising they found no genuine and convincing expert witnesses.

Instead, we had a strange collection of people testifying outside their areas of expertise, if any, apparently only involved in the case remarkably late.

Read: Who is nuts – Oscar or his defence?

It was absurd to quote the pure speculation of Mr Lin, on acoustics, to insist that people who heard sounds on the fatal night could not have heard what they actually did hear.

Lin did no research, no proper tests, but speculated from partial facts, omitting many highly relevant variables, as to whether it was likely that average people could hear the “standard human scream” at some distance.

Roux was delighted by the dodgy evidence of Dr Derman who was testifying far beyond his actual certified areas of expertise. He’s not a psychiatrist or psychologist, let alone anything resembling an expert in trauma and related fields. He specializes in Sports Medicine, only. There’s no such thing as a “startle”, or a “brain trigger”, or a “slow burn” or any of the other nonsensical terms we heard.

Read: Cherry-picking reports and that reconstructed video

These muddled ideas should not be tossed aside lightly, they should be thrown away with great force. Why didn’t they include phrenology, palmistry, tea-leaf readings, and where was the astrologer? Expecting the Court to accept all this flim-flam was condescending and insulting. It’s comforting that the judge’s few questions were highly pertinent, so one hopes she’ll see through the smoke and mirrors.

SA needs to formally adopt principles standard in American and other courts, which do not allow the acceptance of just any evidence offered by someone claiming to be an expert, without establishing firmly that the person is indeed worthy of recognition as an expert, that it is within his specific recognised field of expertise, and that his opinions are accepted by the majority of experts in his field, and not simply eccentric ideas he holds but rejected by the community of experts.

Way back, after the unexpected success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, a grotesque horror film starring ageing stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, there followed Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte. And eventually Who Killed Auntie Roo?

I never saw that one. Maybe the killer was "legless, slow burned and startled"?

Read more:

Nel nails Oscar as a deceitful witness
If the Oscar trial were a movie ...
Possible outcomes of the Oscar Pistorius trial

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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