Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Theranos was claiming to be able to revolutionize medical testing with having many upper level people who knew much about medicine. 

From New York Magazine.
But Holmes didn’t have any medical experience, and for years neither did her board, until former heart surgeon and senator Bill Frist joined in 2014. “Sources who worked with her, even some recently, said that she never really showed any curiosity about what was going on in academia and industry,” Carreyrou told me. Balwani, who ran operations at Theranos day-to-day, “was essentially a computer programmer at first, and then mostly a salesman. And he had zero training or knowledge in medicine or blood diagnostics. So you have both the lying and the outright fraud combined with this hubris that’s in large part founded on ignorance. It’s incredible in that sense.”

Holmes' attitude toward expertise could be considered another example of what we might call the Muskification of the modern CEO. Other traits include exaggerating claims far beyond the credible, putting style, particularly personal style, about substance, building a cult of personality associated with almost magical powers (and sometimes you can leave off the "almost").

Just to be clear, Elon Musk didn't start all these trends – – I'm not even prepared to say he actually promoted them all that much – – but he has become almost iconicaly representative. He has the misfortune of being the ideal example.

So when Musk expresses his disdain and disinterest toward non-Silicon Valley experts --  blithely promising to solve in months problems that have confounded the world's best civil engineering minds for decades -- he is simply expressing the attitudes of the culture, the same culture that didn't blink an eye (or question a multibillion-dollar investment) when a company started by a twentysomething college dropout claimed to be on the verge of revolutionizing medical testing despite having no top-level people with relevant expertise.

Likewise, the tendency toward exaggeration that borders on compulsive lying, taking reasonable estimates and routinely multiplying them by a factor of five or ten to make them sound even more impressive, is pervasive throughout the industry. Consider the following paragraph from a very good piece that ran recently in Ars Technica:
"We target a vehicle that gets from point A to point B faster, smoother, and less-expensively than a human-driven vehicle; can operate in any geography; and achieves a verifiable, transparent 1,000-times safety improvement over a human-driven vehicle without the need for billions of miles of validation testing on public roads," Shashua wrote on Thursday.
Keep in mind, this is a big, successful company that makes real things, highly sophisticated technology used around the world. This executive could have made his point by claiming a tenfold or even a fivefold improvement in safety, but he felt compelled to add the extra zeros that pushed his claim safely into the realm of the unbelievable.

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