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Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Narrative These Days - Theranos

We all live by a narrative. Our narrative is the reality that we perceive. It is the explanation we have for why things happen. It is the world we think everyone is experiencing just like us. The only difference between us and our neighbors narrative is that ours is correct and theirs is not.

Take for example, how people behave "these days". My aging relatives often talk about how the kids today are rude. Apparently things were not so back in the day. In my narrative that is exactly what older people said about my aging relatives when they were young.

Take for example, our political turmoil "these days". In the first half of last century we experienced two world wars. There must have been turmoil. The leaders managed to get the people behind the idea of fighting an enemy. Currently we are breaking down internally. We see our fellow Americans as enemies. We are also breaking down in our relations with Iran and North Korea. Are we any worse or better than previous generations on how we live in peace? Are we marching towards war overseas or even here in our own country?

The place to be intellectually is in between or off to the side of the battles. We need to be on the outside looking in. We need to witness events as if a Martian studying planet earth. Are you a Trump fan or a lefty? What if there were a third option where you stand back and watch the two sides make their arguments? What if you took note of the arguments, not the conclusions? Where is that place where you are a journalist gathering information to tell a story.

That is the subject that I have been working on. Before we can present our narrative to the world however, we have to learn how to make the presentation. Anyone, these days, can share their narrative. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are a few ways of annoying people with your thoughts. Rarely does someone intrigue you enough to make you take notice. I certainly never went viral. But I still think of my narrative here on the CCS. I think about the bad science that goes into the life sciences and how it effects our lives. I think how food is our medicine yet we still cling to pills. I think of the scientific method and it's counterpart, the cargo cult scientific method. I think of how to present an argument against it.


George Shultz was a life long "fan" of science. When he heard the arguments presented by Theranos' Elizabeth Holmes he was sold. Once Shultz was on board Theranos took off financially. It turns out that G. Shultz was a life long fan of the cargo that science provides. Nonetheless, a man with his power can make a cargo cult airport into a hub as well funded as LaGuardia. He was not aware of the simple tests one could do to verify Holmes' story. See here for a link to the simple test, second to last paragraph.

Theranos is an interesting story. It has been told, will continue to be told and may even one day made into a Hollywood movie. The CCS version will not be the same. It is not a story about a perceived scam by one or a few people. It is about an industry based on promising the cargo. It will be about leadership who promise anything under the sun because they honestly think they can facilitate the landing of the planes. They know what the cargo should be and they will assemble their airport just right... some day. Yet they are missing something. The shape of the antenna on the coconut headphones. The arrangement of fire along the runway perhaps.

Theranos has the same problems all cargo cults have. The narrative is too simple. The explanations of how it will all work are too complex. The complicated pieces can be sussed out by low paid highly educated nerds with no power within the organization. The leadership has all of the power, but no real technology solutions. They specially in the narrative.

Before I end we must remember Atossa, a small breast cancer biotech in Seattle. They did exactly what Theranos did. They promised a simple test. They did not have one. They lied. They are still in business. The leadership are from the finest schools. They make wonderful promises about the best cargo we can hope for. The planes do not land.

The narrative these days continues to pile up the loss of billions of dollars in investments. Just as the narrative did in 1985, 95, 05 and 15, the planes have not landed. We need to get to the heart of the matter. We need to talk about why we fail. How does one present the argument that our great leaders are merely Cargo Cult Scientists?

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