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Monday, February 08, 2016

Threnanos Seeks Bullshit Artist

Innovate and conceptually solve problems through the power of excellent storytelling.
Integrate narratives utilizing film, books, television, retail and emerging web entertainment.
Collaborate with the creative team on most projects.
Bachelor's Degree from a top tier university with solid journalistic/creative/marketing credentials.
3+ years of experience as junior copywriter/screenwriter in a creative environment advertising agency, studio, freelance writer, graphic design firm, etc. with experience working on narrative driven projects, both professionally and personally.
Strong knowledge of Microsoft word.
Demonstrate a high level of initiative and ability to function superbly in both individual and team environments.
Handle stressful situations and deadline pressures well.
Team-oriented and collaborative idea building skills are a must.
Bold experimentation in different styles of writing and communications are a must.

The book I am writing is tentatively titled, "The History of the Narrative". When I thought about the biggest difficulties facing real science and the cargo cult mentality within biopharma, it always came down to "the best story". As former Amgen scientist C. Glen Begley discovered:

Part way through his project to reproduce promising studies, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies.

"We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure," said Begley. "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

Such selective publication is just one reason the scientific literature is peppered with incorrect results. -Sharon Begley, Reuters

The narrative of the cargo cults of biopharma always seeks the best story. Contrast this with real science being restricted to only telling true stories. This job description from Theranos is either an example of the cargo cult "best story" problem or just a poorly worded ad for a marketing specialist.

The danger to the rest of us is the fact that Theranos is selling itself as a tool of the healthcare industry. The narrative they are putting forth can be found in their mission statement, "Our mission is to make actionable information accessible to everyone at the time it matters. By making actionable information accessible to everyone in the world at the time it matters most, we are working to facilitate the early detection and prevention of disease, and empower people everywhere to live their best possible lives." If there is any creativity from a top tier University B.Sc. found in the actionable information concerning the detection and prevention of disease, then we have a problem. Hopefully the writer would only be used to help spin the story about Theranos and their many scandals.

A very simple test on the Theranos product was shown here. Such a random sampling is so simple. In this piece Jean-Louis Gassée, a former director of engineering at Apple who is "compulsively curious" compared the Theranos narrative to reality. Using an alternative blood testing service Jean-Louis came up with some data. He contacted Theranos with his findings and received no response.

For a $9+ billion company that has the federal government on its board of directors, the hiring of an undergrad as a spin doctor seems crazy. Where in the massive dung heap of BS does the new guy enter? How many "creative storytellers" within Theranos have been brought in before him/her? What did their job description look like?


Anonymous said...

So good to hear that you are writing a book! I really love the incendiary tone of all of your writing, I hope you can find a good editor who will help you will it into a best seller.

The ashes of Valeant give one some hope for outcome of Thoranos.

Ginsberg said...

Love the snark. Good stuff.

If I were interested in writing a best seller I would tell you things that you already know. There are no bullshit artists in biopharma just honest scientists trying to cure disease. They are smart, motivated only by science and so close to curing cancer/alzheimer's/RA... that we must support them in all they do. With a renewed sense of urgency and substantial increase in funding our scientists will deliver on the promises they have made.

The purpose of writing a book is to have a hobby and a challenge. To go work for another cargo cult making antibodies against target protein X, waiting to see how long I can maintain employment before the clinical trials shut us down is not appealing. A better challenge is to put ones thoughts together and see if they can become a coherent piece of writing. (Insert snark here). I enjoy it and I don't feel nearly as negative about it as you do. I know it's not very nice but I can't face the industry with the same optimistic outlook as the typical cargo cult tribesman.

Thanks for reading and

Anonymous said...

Perhaps my message was muddled. I, in all sincerity, thoroughly enjoy your writing and look forward to reading your posts. A good editor (from what I have been told by friends who have published books) is invaluable in crafting a book that can reach a wide audience.

My only intent was that I hope you are lucky enough to find a good one to help disseminate your perspective efficiently. Your writing is wonderfully coherent, I wouldn't change it for a book, but I would listen to what an editor has to say to help it travel further (which I think it should).

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Eagerly awaiting your Theranos writeup :)