Greedy Goblin

Friday, September 30, 2016

Theranos

Theranos is (or soon: was) a blood testing startup. It was founded by then 19 years old Elizabeth Holmes in 2003 for a groundbreaking advancement: portable blood testing device capable of analyzing hundreds of variables from a drop of blood taken from the fingertip. Money poured in and the company was valued at $9B, making her the richest self-made woman ever.

Except its technology didn't work. After inspection, they had to void their former results, since they had FDA clearance for only one test out of the 200 they did, many of their results were found inaccurate, others were done on equipment purchased from third parties instead of on their own creation. Their chief scientist, Ian Gibbons committed suicide.

In November 2015 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) inspected their laboratory and concluded "the deficient practices of the laboratory pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety". In July 2016, the CMS banned Holmes from owning, operating or directing a blood testing service for a period of two years, practically ending the story.

The obvious question: was it a scam? I'm sure she wasn't a scam artist. She didn't even attempt to get money out. She will leave this story with nothing but a horrible record. She only had the millennial disease: She saw good practices and industrial standards as mere obstacles and forced her way through it by money and by corrupting people (her board of directors were full of former Washington hotshots like Henry Kissinger). They tried to continue this process with the scientific community by creating a scientific communication board which doesn't communicate.

She didn't work in the lab, she marketed and got investment money, so had no first-hand experience. She believed that if she gets enough money and enough time, the results will come. They didn't and couldn't. Anyone with formal training could tell her (and her former university professor literally did) that her goal was unreachable: fingertip blood is different from vein blood because intercellular fluid contaminates it. Also there is a fundamental problem with current technology: many of the testing methods damage the sample, so different samples are needed for different tests, that's why many big vials of blood are collected from your veins when you have a blood test. Sure, one can (and eventually will) make a non-destructive test for every disease and condition and find a way to account for the intercellular fluid contamination but that will need hundreds of different validated research projects.

Many young people look at the old ones and say "they achieved nothing, why should I listen to them"? Because they at least know why they achieved nothing: for the same reason Holmes failed, ignoring the same standards in their youth they preach now. Had she followed the accepted norm of using only technology published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, it would become clear to her that it's not working and then all these years and money weren't wasted. If someone was scammed, it was her: the scientific staff, knowing full well that it doesn't work kept feeding her with hopes because she paid them well. Enforcing good practices were her own interest, to protect her from fraudulent or simply overly excited employees. She marketed her method because she believed too. But at the end, there was no usable product and her house of cards came down. The employees will find new jobs, keeping what they earned while "working" for Theranos, the investors will lose their investment, she'll lose everything.

Let this be a cautionary tale for everyone who think that good marketing and community relations will carry a company over objectively existing problems. Only open examination of problems can lead to technological breakthrough. Let this also be an advice to everyone: if you are in a place where good practices are ignored or worse belittled in the name of "advancement" or "user friendliness" or "passion", run! This will go down and you don't need to be around when it happens.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

" She only had the millennial disease: She saw good practices and industrial standards as mere obstacles and forced her way through it by money and by corrupting people (her board of directors were full of former Washington hotshots like Henry Kissinger). "

Seeing good standards and legal requirements is not a millenial only issue, unless corporations and the super rich are all now millenials, and have been since the middle ages.

Anonymous said...

peer-reviewed scientific journals
indeed! including scientists that are not indoctrinated nor wilfully blind (Cargo cult science). I sincerely hope that some have the right humble mindset: "prove me wrong and I will celebrate"

Smokeman said...

The whole thing looks like a brilliantly executed scam.

Not by Hurley, she was the "doey eyed patsy", blinded by stupidity and greed. Not greed of money, but greed of fame and the delusion of self importance.

The scammers are the company's directors, who (I can only assume...) brought in pay for play "scientists" and cooked the results to fool Hurley into marketing them, all the while convincing her that there was no need to look behind the curtain (Audit the results through peer revue.)

You can't expect salesmen to be scientists, or really understand science. And as long as the underlings aren't held accountable, these scams will occur over and over, as they have since the first drachma was minted.

You have to wonder what the investors were thinking, as it's clear that no one did any due diligence. Oh wait, you really don't. This was after the tech bubble popped in 2000, when money needed a new bubble to go to. Medical research scams for the win, yo! "Bubble economies" are bad, and result in this kind of malinvestment. That should be the takeaway on the Elizabeth Hurley story.

Or perhaps, Elizabeth isn't as stupid as she looks, and was in on it the whole time? It still comes down to investors who feel no need to do due diligence.

Game_Analyzer_MK3 said...

A lot of strategies are very ELO dependent as many commenters have already said.

Split-pushing: I have heard from many people that Split Pushing is very effective in Gold/Platinum, but I think that teams might respond badly in Bronze/Silver to Split Pushing. The socials might "rush to save you" resulting in a team-wipe, and the scum will often become "scared" when three enemy champions disappear from the map and will refuse to push a tower/do dragon/do anything and will just very passively CS in lane as they watch the three enemy champions chase you for two minutes. Maybe they comment on how wrong you were to split-push as they refuse to push their minion wave. I don't know the ELO where it starts working well though.

I liked BingeGaming dotTV youtube video "How to Escape your Elo! (Bronze through Diamond)" with written descriptions of the different ELOs. He has run multiple champions from Bronze to Diamond on his stream and should know what he is talking about.

99smite said...

The same goes for the "Solar freakin' Roadways", the "Thorium fueled car", the "artificial gills" and the "self-filling water bottle" and, wit for it.... The "HOVERBOARD!!!"

All these projects beg for money on kickstarter and other professional beggars' sites.
They make absurd promises and claim that they are based on "scientific" research...

Thunderf00t debunks these fraudulent project with ease, while famous people like Nathan Fillon promote this crap...

While Thorium might one day be used in MSR (molten salt reactors) the reactors will still be much too big to put them into cars...

Our fundamental belief that science can and will achieve anything and/or solve any problems we might encounter, is mostly based on pop culture, science-fiction literature and Hollywood.

On the other hand, the bad reputation of science, being a subject only nerds indulge in, derives from poor advertisement for magic diet pills or magic snake oil pills that cure any disease imagineable, mostly from English nutritionists that base their claims on "studies" that lack the scientific method, but fraudulently pretend to be "scientific"...

Psychologic studies have shown that any crap reported in the news is more likely to be believed when the news commentator begins his announcement with:"Scientific research has shown that..."

Unfortunately most experiments, even conducted by real scientists, lack the scinetific method. The result is:"Bad science" Please refer to the blog of the same name by Ben Goldacre.

If you combine a miraculous medical solution with the expectation of sky rocketing profits, the investor bandwagon will hop onto that show like there was no tomorrow...

Smokeman said...

99smite says:
...the "self-filling water bottle"...

I had to google that because it made me nearly shoot coffee out my nose. While googling, I was thinking "It must just magically suck moisture out of the air!LOL!"

Yup! And it's gotten over 300,000 dollars in scam-bucks on Indy-gogo!

I was driving somewhere with an acquaintance, and we were discussing an inductive cook top device that, coincidentally, we had both purchased. HE was confused because he wanted to test the temperature control capability... his methodology? Put a pan of water on it, put a thermometer that went over 400 degrees in the water, and set the cooktop to 350 degrees.

In his mind, it should have raised the temperature of the water to 350 degrees. He was confused as to why the water didn't get over 212 degrees. After I stopped laughing at him, I explained how phase transition in water works. I'm not sure if it sunk in or not.

Provi Miner said...

I never a trust a scientist who is paid to study something they have zero investment in determining a final out come.

Smokeman said...

Provi Miner said...

"I never a trust a scientist who is paid to study something they have zero investment in determining a final out come."

Wait, so you would trust a scientist if they had an investment in finding favorable results? No conflict of interest there!

You should NEVER trust a scientist. You should make sure their results are properly peer reviewed, then trust that.

The other people you should never trust are accountants. You audit them instead.

You know what? You probably shouldn't trust anyone.

99smite said...

@ Provi Miner: I'd rather trust a scientist who has zero investment in his study under the premis that his study setup follows the scientific method. It all boils down to keeping it real by sticking to the scientific method. The best way to prove a thesis is by failing to disprove it...

Anonymous said...

Malinvestments and get rich quick schemes have been going on since the South Sea Bubble, not exactly invested by millennials.

Anonymous said...

Smokeman: "HE was confused..."

I hope this was just a typo, or why would you want to stress that your acquanintance is a guy? Because otherwise it wouldn't be surprising that he doesn't know about heating and phase transitions?

Anonymous said...

No Man's Sky in a nutshell