The capitalist fantasy world


You want to see a truly deep delusion? I give you “Elizabeth Holmes Is a Visionary, and We Need More Like Her“. It’s an attempt to salvage the reputation of Elizabeth Holmes, who bilked investors to build a blood-testing machine that didn’t work, by complaining about John Carreyrou’s book, Bad Blood. Along the way, though, you get a look into the brain of an entrepreneur. It’s not pretty.

First thing he has to do is discredit the whole notion of “expertise”.

Phyllis Gardner, a professor at Stanford’s medical school, was one of those skeptical doctors interviewed by Carreyrou. Not only did she view Holmes’s original idea (testing blood via a skin patch) as not “remotely feasible,” she broadly dismissed Holmes since the Stanford dropout “had no medical or scientific training to speak of.”

This is correct. Holmes was trying to build a medical device that she imagined in the absence of actual knowledge about how it would work. I would like to imagine a perpetual motion machine. That does not mean that my enthusiasm makes it a good idea. But now the author is going to argue that experts have been wrong before, so let’s discount the importance of expertise in medical technology.

Age and experience elicited a chuckle from this reader in consideration of how wrong the gray and surely eminent “experts” have been for so long about among other things: nutrition (see decades of worship of the “four food groups,” along with last week’s admission that red meat may not be so bad after all…),

A lot of our nutritional information has been tainted by the intervention of corporate/capitalist meddling for profit. Even if I grant him that experts sometimes screw up, though, it doesn’t mean expertise is useless.

foreign policy (see U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Iraq Afghanistan),

Argument from historical clusterfucks. Is there a latin term for that? Also, does anyone think that war-mongering American presidents are an example of expertise?

not to mention the 364 prominent economists who signed a letter to the Financial Times in 1981 stressing how Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal policies of reduced spending and privatization would be “disastrous.”

But Margaret Thatcher’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) fiscal policies were disastrous! They led to our current mess and only benefited the rich…oh. I guess from the author’s perspective that wasn’t disastrous at all.

However, we can now take it as given that the author acknowledges that Elizabeth Holmes had no scientific or medical qualifications — he just thinks such things are unimportant.

Attempts to discredit Holmes for not being a doctor, and for not having completed her studies at Stanford, are the stuff of very small minds. Few will admit it, but degrees are credentials that confirm someone learned yesterday’s news very well, or passably well in many instances. Crucial here is that yesterday people were still dying of all sorts of diseases for which there aren’t yet cures, and for which there isn’t yet technology that detects those diseases ahead of time so that they can perhaps be addressed in pre-emptive fashion. Precisely because “lives are at stake” we want the most creative minds of all working tirelessly to elongate life, and the creative frequently don’t have time for school.

Translation: an education is “yesterday’s news”. Forget about learning the foundations of science, fuck that “standing on the shoulders of giants” nonsense, all you need is creativity! I am inspired! I’m going to go weld something. I never had any training in it, but I have imagination! Then I’m going to rip out all the plumbing and wiring in my house and redo it better, faster, more efficiently! My wife is going to be so surprised.

This guy is a dangerous idiot. He goes on to argue that real business leaders just need enthusiasm and confidence to persuade investors to pour money into your dream so you can just keep on chasing it. If you’re not confident, the investors will abandon you, and Holmes was great because she was so confident.

“Confidence” is the key word in “con man”, you know.

Seemingly forgotten by the eternally smug is that per serial business founder and investor Carl Schramm, capitalistic progress is “messy,” and it’s the stuff of individuals willing to energetically pursue that which is roundly rejected by the existing order. Crucial is that these people are very necessary. This is particularly true in the healthcare space when it’s remembered just how many diseases continue to end lives way too quickly. In short, the world once again needs many more people like Elizabeth Holmes, not fewer. It’s time to end the witch hunts meant to quiet the minds and actions of those who want to force the change without which there is no progress.

Disease is devastating and cuts life short, therefore it’s more important than ever to empower uninformed, poorly educated, but confident people to get rich on promises. Got it.

Oh, and Holmes is the victim of a “witch hunt”, perhaps the most overused phrase in the lexicon of professional abusers. No, she was just a fraud.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    A lot of our nutritional information has been tainted by the intervention of corporate/capitalist meddling for profit.

    That is hardly the only problem with diet & health studies. There is the ethical limitation of performing experiments on humans, so that most diet & health studies are based on correlation.

  2. Larry says

    As someone who requires regular blood testing and expects the results to be accurate as if my life depended on them, my utter contempt for her, and her once boy-toy, Sonny, is exceeded only by my contempt for Trump. The kind of fraud she perpetrated could have cost people their lives. In this age of Trump and his criminal crime family, we do not need more people like her. There are already too many. What we need is for her to be in jail, stripped of any money she acquired from her felonious activities, and scorned and shunned for the rest of her miserable life.

  3. PaulBC says

    This article also caught my attention, though I did not read the whole thing. The writer lost me at the comparison with the Wright brothers. Yes, people scoffed at the idea of heavier-than-air flight (or so I’ve heard; I bet not everyone did). But the Wright brothers and other aviation innovators actually got their planes off the ground.

    Holmes picked up wealthy investors, favorable press coverage, and a board of “prominent” individuals such as former Secretary of State George Shultz. Personally, I don’t see why it would be impossible in principle to do a lot of currently significant medical tests on a drop of blood. It would be definitely be an improvement. A family member does regular metabolic panels for renal function and it would be a welcome improvement to draw these labs more easily with less pain and not scarring veins that may be needed for IV another time.

    But whether I think it’s impossible, whether this view is realistic or naive, Holmes just didn’t deliver. Not only that, she engaged in outright fraud by doing regular blood draws, outsourcing to other labs, and not producing any significant improvements in technology. Unless the Wright brothers actually rigged their flight demonstrations, there is no comparison here. Zero. It’s like, literally, the exact opposite scenario.

    I seriously wondered if this writer was a paid shill of Holmes’s legal defense team, because the premise is entirely ludicrous.

  4. PaulBC says

    Reginald Selkirk@2 Well, it sounds like it violates conservation of momentum and cannot work. On the other hand, nobody’s lives will depend on it working, so it worries me a good deal less.

  5. wzrd1 says

    “Attempts to discredit Holmes for not being a doctor, and for not having completed her studies at Stanford, are the stuff of very small minds. Few will admit it, but degrees are credentials that confirm someone learned yesterday’s news very well, or passably well in many instances.”

    Cool! Imagine how much I can save by having the corner garage mechanic operate on my spine! Enthusiasm can replace knowledge of anatomy and physiology, as well as knowledge and experience in surgical techniques!

    I remember early on her “project”, which produced vaporware for years. Understandably so, given that the integument is a barrier that possesses some degree of expression of internal fluids via perspiration, which can only slightly reflect some characteristics of the contents of the circulatory system.
    Some isn’t all or hell, even most characteristics. Blood electrolyte levels are poorly reflected in perspiration, glucose levels are poorly reflected as well and lipid levels, especially poorly reflected.
    Looking at what she wrote about her magical thinking project left one seeing wild assed guesses and tons of hand waving.
    Just more quackery.

    Besides, all we need is purity of essence. And of course, closing off our mine shaft gap.
    Or something.

  6. Akira MacKenzie says

    The Dunning Kruger Effect: It’s not just for Bible-beating rednecks and Anti-vaxx soccer parents anymore!

  7. raven says

    Even if I grant him that experts sometimes screw up, though, it doesn’t mean expertise is useless.

    True. This guy’s attack on “expertise” is cosmically dumb.

    Expertise has taken us from the Stone Age to the Space Age.
    Average life spans have increased 30 years in a century.
    Without expertise, your smart phone would have all the functionality of a brick.
    Your car would resemble the ones on the Flintstones.

    While expertise occasionally gets things wrong, it also gets far more right.
    And how do we even know when expertise is wrong?
    Expertise!!! Science is self correcting.

  8. chrislawson says

    PaulBC–

    Holmes’s lawyers are trying to drop her as a client because she keeps blowing off her billings. They wouldn’t be paying for ancillary PR services right now. What is more likely is that the author, whose own bio line describes as a “writer of opinion pieces for clients”, was paid by Holmes to write the piece. Or was promised payment that he will never receive in full. He appears keen to make a career out of writing op-eds defending corporate criminals.

  9. cvoinescu says

    It’s interesting how some people transition from honest to fraud when the research does not check out (so I should really say “from honest-so-far to fraud”). Well-connected businesspeople just seem to be able to take the fraud further than most when this happens to them.

    Reginald Selkirk@2:
    Sounds like the guy knows enough math to make interesting mistakes. I’m sure that, on his blackboard, the relativistic momentum calculations really don’t add up. Most people would ask someone who knows what they’re doing to check their work, not run to the newspapers. Most people.

  10. cartomancer says

    One might also point out that the vast majority of progress made in technology over the last hundred years is a result of state-funded research a universities. The classic example is the smartphone, which is pretty much entirely made from spin-offs from US defense research programmes funded by the taxpayer. The entire computing infrastructure of the modern world is similar. It took two decades of entirely profit-free research in labs at MIT and elsewhere to get to anything like a personal computer someone would buy.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    Wealth, privilege, and the virtual deification of the upper class has isolated these jerks from reality. They never really had to produce anything on their own, just provide inherited wealth or convince gullible fools to invest in their pipe dreams. (Another example that easily comes to mind is Elon Musk) It’s as if they think that if you throw enough money at a project the universe will bend itself to the will of the all-powerful entrepreneur. Ayn Rand meets Rhonda Byrne.

  12. ealloc says

    Education is necessary but not sufficient for success. That’s the message to take away from expert failure, rather than that education is useless.

    Economics, foreign policy, and nutrition science are especially difficult subjects because of the scarcity of controlled repeatable experiments, so even the experts are often wrong. Experts just have the best chance of getting something right.

  13. PaulBC says

    chrislawson@10

    Yeah, I did get this far.

    As anyone who’s been reading me all these years knows very well, I venerate the risk takers whose intrepid ways vastly improve our living standards, and those who match them with capital. Among many other people, just Google my name and “Michael Milken” or “Frank Quattrone,” two individuals whom I view as heroic capitalists, for proof.

    And, uh, this is supposed to increase your credibility?

  14. zenlike says

    Bad Blood really was a chilling read, and I highly recommend it, although it will not improve your outlook on the world in a positive way (although, there are rays of hope: there are some heroes in the story, real heroes, who risked bankruptcy, their careers, their family ties, almost everything but their actual lives, to finally expose the whole corrupt mess, without any personal gain to be had from it, just because they felt a moral obligation to do so).

    I would say the problematic part re: Holmes wasn’t that she was creative, or not really an expert. Creativity can lead to good and new things. And experts can always be hired and consulted.

    No, it was that she refused to listen to those experts, that she wielded a tyrannical work-environment that stifled criticism, that segregated data between experts so she was the sole arbiter of the “truth” (a “data hoarder” as it is sometimes called, always a red flag), that she lied, both consciously as well as probably unconsciously (you get the distinct feeling of pathologically lying, but that is fodder for psychologists), that she used the vast financial resources at her disposal to aggressively weaponize the legal system against any critic, and even used shady firms to stalk and harass those people (straight out of the Scientology playbook), that she literally fabricated data and “facts”, that she made fraudulent claims to her investors, her employees, and her clients.

    And to make it even worse, this was not done to prop up some glorified plaything. It was for medical technology, where literally lives were in the scales.

    What she did was horrific, almost sociopathic (seriously, Bad Blood is scarier then every fictional horror story I read recently). And the sad thing is, it can happen again. The US (and Silicon Valley in particular) really needs stronger corporate whistle-blower protections. And needs to weaken the almost tyrannical power of non-disclosure agreements (and employers in general). I know, wishful thinking. These things will happen again, with disastrous consequences, and imbeciles like the writer of the linked piece will cheer it on.

  15. starskeptic says

    Among the descriptions of the author’s work:
    “John Tamny is a speechwriter and writer of opinion pieces for clients,..”
    I’d never heard of such a thing – and now, not only have I…now I’ve read such a thing as well…

  16. anat says

    The value of expertise depends on how strong the evidence is in a particular field. So comparing expertise as related to blood biochemistry to expertise in economics, political science, and nutritional studies is comparing apples and pebbles.

  17. kome says

    I’m so tired of genuinely stupid people demanding that their opinions are superior to subject-matter experts, and I’m tired as hell of so many people allowing it because the bravado of stupid people is so persuasive. If there’s one thing that will be responsible for the destruction of humanity, it’s those glaring character flaws that seems to exist in a substantial number of people. The denigration of expertise is vile and pathetic.

  18. Susan Montgomery says

    Since when did skepticism become nihilism? Since when did objectivity become apathy? When did hatred and ignorance become the only”proper” exercise of freedom?

    Ant the people who have turned away from liberalism? I’m sure that for some, seeing their Patreon accounts stuffed full by gullible conservatives was enough but is that all it takes? They can’t really think that conservative politicians or pundits are interested in compromise or unity after all these years, can they? And why are Trans* people the breaking point for a lot of them?

    Sorry for stopping by just to ramble. Carry on.

  19. ikanreed says

    Hmm. On this side, I’ve got my ignorance. And on that side, your knowledge.

    I’m pretty sure mine is superior.

  20. Akira MacKenzie says

    Susan Montgomery @ 20

    Since when did skepticism become nihilism? Since when did objectivity become apathy?

    When people started suggesting that we use skepticism and objectivity to examine the deeply held biases and privileges of the powerful.

    And why are Trans* people the breaking point for a lot of them?

    Speaking as cisgender heterosexual male and an ex-conservative, I confess that the issue of transsexuality was a difficult one for me to wrap my head around. Sexual preference I could get, buy how can someone born with one set of physical attributes (intersex individuals notwithstanding) can identify with another? It seems obvious: “men” have penis and testicles, “women” have vaginas, vulva, ovaries and mammae.

    In finally reconciled the issue the same way I die with other realities my former conservatism told me to reject: the people who actually KNOW things about biology and sexuality agree that transsexuality is a real thing. Should I reject their expertise because I don’t have the knowledge or education to understand? No. Also, why should it matter how someone identifies themselves? A person born with a penis who identifies as a woman doesn’t pick my pocket or break my legs, so why should they be treated as less than human?

    I fear that far too many people are, for a lot of dumb reasons, unable to come to that same conclusion. Everything needs to belong in their own little black and white box, there can be no deviation or nuance.

  21. Rob Grigjanis says

    Reginald Selkirk @2: Another NASA engineer whose ignorance of special relativity leads him to think you can get something from nothing. The author of the New Scientist article could use some education as well.

    This mass changing isn’t prohibited by physics. Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that objects gain mass as they are driven towards the speed of light

    This is nonsense; another case of the horrible term “relativistic mass” rearing its ugly head. What’s changing with acceleration is kinetic energy*, just as in classical mechanics. Yet we don’t say a classical object’s mass increases with acceleration, do we?

    *In SR, E=mc²γ, where γ=(1 − v²/c²)^(-1/2), and the kinetic energy is K=E−m, where m is the rest mass. For v much smaller than c, this just K ≈ mv²/2.

  22. PaulBC says

    The American myth of the outsider innovator does have some emotional appeal, and a certain degree of historical truth. I don’t think the contrast is really between non-expert and expert, though. Outsiders clearly know something, though they may have gained that knowledge through heterodox channels. Philo Farnsworth, one of the innovators of early television is a typical American outsider story. On the one hand, he was not an academic researcher and did not complete college. On the other hand, he showed a lot of promise in high school and an interest in science and engineering. So he didn’t show up out of nowhere either. Edison also never completed a degree, but he engaged in study. The Wright brothers, as I always learned, were bicycle mechanics who did not complete high school. That’s still expertise, earned hands-on. To be honest, I know less about them, and just skimmed the Wikipedia page. But the point is that they were focused problem-solvers. They weren’t dreaming shit up out of thin air. They built stuff and tested it.

    Personally, I still like the myth of the outsider. It was a big part of American innovation at one time, and maybe that day is past. Regardless, a Stanford dropout who has not done the hands-on work and just leverages status to get others to “implement” the “vision” is a very different phenom. Maybe there’s real precedent to that as well (Steve Jobs?) but it is not the old story of scrappy Yankee ingenuity, and isn’t worth anything if you don’t deliver, which Holmes did not.

  23. Rich Woods says

    Argument from historical clusterfucks. Is there a latin term for that?

    Argumentum ad Cannae?

  24. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    You know, I went through that article and if you substitute Charles Ponzi for Elizabeth Holmes, the only difference is that Ponzi’s enterprise didn’t have nearly the potential to kill people.

    Reginald Selkirk: I looked at that proposal, and it is utterly fucking nuts. This guy has no idea what he is talking about.

  25. unclefrogy says

    I would like to know if anyone knows where anyone who did fits the central point of this guy’s opinion piece, you do not need expertise you need vision and creativity to innovate really did come up with some new great discovery or amazing technology.
    Jobs was a master seller and may have had vision or not but he did have Waz!
    The Wright bro. were not the only people on the planet who were working on flight there was much interest and study going on
    uncle frogy

  26. says

    Regarding the amazing magical helical space drive:

    Burns said his helical engine would work by accelerating ions confined in a loop. By changing their mass slightly, the engine would then move the ions back and forth along the direction of travel to produce thrust.

    New bullshit, same as the old bullshit. If the box is sitting still before you turn it on, and it’s moving after, then a net transfer of momentum must have occurred, whatever goes on inside. As John Baez said of the EmDrive, it’s like claiming you can move a pickup truck by standing in the bed and tossing a ball back and forth. Here, maybe you deflate and re-inflate the ball a little. Whoop de fuck.

  27. cvoinescu says

    Blake Stacey @ #28:
    […] it’s like claiming you can move a pickup truck by standing in the bed and tossing a ball back and forth.

    The rest of your point is obviously correct, but this is something you can actually do. If you choose a wheeled platform with friction just low enough that it moves when you toss the ball, you can move it by tossing the ball from one person to the other, then rolling the ball back gently to the other person, exerting a force below the threshold that overcomes friction. You can even make yourself move without a ball, by swinging just the right way (briskly in one direction, gently in the other).

    Now, drive that pickup truck to your nearest frictionless vacuum, and you would be entirely correct.

  28. DanDare says

    Provocation is a great way to innovate. You throw yourself into weird land and see what it makes you think of.
    The classic example is trying to design better car suspension. “po cars should have square wheels” . That can lead a disciplined thinker to consider that bumps would be predictable as the wheel turns. Suspension could react predictively. That leads to using a scanner to identify bumps on the road ahead of the car and making the suspension react appropriately.
    The key is the provocation has to arc back to recognisable reality before its usefull. These guys think its enough to go with the square wheels.

  29. methuseus says

    @cvoinescu:

    If you choose a wheeled platform with friction just low enough that it moves when you toss the ball, you can move it by tossing the ball from one person to the other, then rolling the ball back gently to the other person, exerting a force below the threshold that overcomes friction. You can even make yourself move without a ball, by swinging just the right way (briskly in one direction, gently in the other).

    The reason it was originally phrased as “throwing a ball back and forth” is because that’s how the document describes the helical engine as working; the movement isn’t slower in one direction than another.

    I also don’t think your example would work in a frictionless, weightless vacuum, either. When astronauts “swim” in the space station, they’re pushing against air. In a frictionless, weightless vacuum, there’s nothing to cause the motion to happen, which, in your example with throwing, then rolling the ball, uses the force of gravity to work.

    Actually, scratch that. Thinking about the math, that wouldn’t work. If you’re throwing the ball hard, you’re pushing the vehicle one way and the ball the other. When the other person catches it, they’re absorbing the force and transferring it to the vehicle, in the exact opposite force as you threw. So, no, that wouldn’t actually work unless you start the vehicle rolling down a hill or something. The math doesn’t add up. No, I’m not going to give you an actual, mathematical proof, but I could if I really wanted to.

  30. PaulBC says

    DanDare@31 I’m not sure if this is quite the same thing, but I have wondered if some people have repeated “Fail fast, fail often” to themselves so many times that they forget that the goal is to succeed at least once. (It is, right?)

  31. Rob Grigjanis says

    methuseus @32:

    the movement isn’t slower in one direction than another

    Actually, it is;

    But, Burns asks, what if the ring’s mass is much greater [i.e. the ring is travelling faster, and has higher relativistic mass] when it slides in one direction than the other? Then it would give the box a greater kick at one end than the other. Action would exceed reaction and the box would accelerate forwards…

    The mistake, made by Burns and the author, is that they seem to think the mass of the particles actually increases as they accelerate in one direction, and that somehow imparts extra momentum in that direction. Of course it has additional momentum in that direction, but that will be compensated by momentum of the same magnitude, but in the opposite direction, imparted to the apparatus generating the em field which accelerates the particles. No free lunches. This is undergrad stuff.

    Your point about the ball tossing is spot on. Catching the thrown ball exactly* compensates the momentum imparted by throwing it. No mathematical proof necessary. Momentum is conserved. Done.

    *Well, air resistance would absorb some of it, but you ain’t getting anywhere soon.

  32. cartomancer says

    Well done on stepping up to the Latin nomenclature challenge!

    Rich Woods, #25, wins kudos for referencing an actual Roman historical clusterfuck – the great military defeat of 216BC at the hands of Hannibal, where a much larger Roman army was massacred in short order.
    Abbeycadabra, #29, wins a different kind of kudos for trying to turn “clusterfuck” into actual Latin with the compound prefix con- (which infers shades of both “together” and “completely”).

    Unfortunately nobody spotted that the preposition “ad” takes the accusative, so both “Cannae” (nominative plural, first declension) and “confornicatio” (nominative singular, third declension) are grammatically inappropriate here. You’d want “Cannas” or “confornicationem”.

  33. cartomancer says

    mind you “fornicatio” is a very general term for sexual activity in Latin, and not nearly as vulgar as “fuck” in English. A closer match would be “fututio”, which has most of the same connotations.

  34. Susan Montgomery says

    @22 Thanks. Hopefully, the next time a relevant article comes up we can chat in-depth about it.

  35. cvoinescu says

    methuseus @ #32:
    I also don’t think your example would work in a frictionless, weightless vacuum, either.

    You misread. It would absolutely not work in a frictionless vacuum. It requires friction. With friction, you can actually make it move even by passing a ball back and forth, if the two guys throw differently (different acceleration, different momentum — it all depends on how the forces they exert on the platform compare with the friction between platform and ground).

  36. says

    @cartomancer, #35 & #36

    I’m not a classicist, and haven’t taken Latin as a class in ██ years! I’m totally here for ‘argumentum ad confututionem’.

  37. Rob Grigjanis says

    cvoinescu @38: A throws the ball to B sufficiently hard to get the platform moving. What do you think happens when B (who is now also moving relative to the ground) catches the ball?

  38. cvoinescu says

    Rob Grigjanis @ #40: When B catches the ball, the platform stops moving*.

    Now B rolls the ball back to A (or passes it gently, exerting less force than needed to overcome friction), and they start over. There’s net motion of the platform in the direction B is facing, a few inches per cycle.

    To be clear, they can’t accelerate beyond that. For this to work, the platform needs to stop moving (or even reverse*) each cycle.

    If friction stops the platform while the ball is in flight from A to B, the platform may start to move in the opposite direction when B catches the ball. However, as long as A transfers momentum to the platform briskly (force greater than friction) and B over a longer time interval (force less than the friction threshold, or, more generally, the portion above friction integrates to less than it does for A), there will be net motion. There’s no insane physics here; momentum gets transferred to and from the ground via friction.

  39. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Look at the blatant double standard. “Experts” (meaning: the experts I’ve defined ahead of time that I don’t like) get it wrong? Their opinion is tarnished forever. But business people get it wrong, by the author’s own admission that progress is uneven and includes mistakes? It means literally nothing. For some people, errors give you 0% credibility. For others, errors retain your 100% credibility, and even increase it (you made mistakes)! Of course, the solution to the problem is that he thinks that the people he likes are different than and better than the ones he doesn’t. That’s the conservative mind in a nutshell: They are Worse than Us. By definition.

  40. John Morales says

    Frederic,

    That’s the conservative mind in a nutshell: They are Worse than Us. By definition.

    Do you therefore think they are worse than us?

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