Thursday, August 2, 2018

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silcon Valley Start Up by John Carryrou

Look what I found!!

I am so excited.  I love vintage pop art from the classic Star Trek series.  Inspired by these stamps, I looked for some shirts or something that might have this art.  I did not find that but I did find the art of Juan Ortiz.  I have also bought a book with his Star Trek art, which I will be reviewing later.

On another tack, have I shown you photos of my two keeties lately?  The blue is Lt. Foyle and the green/yellow/blue is Lt. Columbo.  We all like to watch mysteries together.  With Hercule, too.  Hercule is not thrilled with his little bird buddies, but he will ignore them long enough to watch shows with us.

               Hercule likes nesting in my son's hair.

That's enough randomness for now.  Here is Franz Liszt's Die Lorelei to listen to as you read about this fascinating piece of whistle blowing journalism.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is non fiction but it reads like one of the fastest, action-packed thrillers you will ever read. I read it out loud to my husband and we forced ourselves to only read two chapters a night to make it last, until the end where we could not stop ourselves and read the final four chapters and epilogue in on evening.

Elizabeth Holmes was a wonder child. Coming from a rich family, she made the most of her privileges and connections by dropping out of Stanford and creating her own start-up company. She called it Theranos and it was going to revolutionize the medical world.

Her invention, the Edison was a small, compact device that people could use in their homes. With a tiny prick to their finger they could have their blood analyzed for hundreds of diagnoses, such as potassium levels, thyroid, cancer, etc..

Holmes had the charismatic personality of a TV evangelist and she won many converts who invested millions of dollars into her company, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, General Mattis (Trump's new Secretary of War) and even Wall Street Journal's owner, Rupert Murdoch. These men, with the exception of Murdoch, all became members of Theranos' board. Notably missing was anyone with a background in Medicine.

She hired innovative engineers, chemists, biologists from the best schools, wooed employees from other companies such as Google and Apple.

Her picture appeared on the front page of Forbes and Fortune. The New Yorker and even the Wall Street Journal gave her glowing reviews. I say even the Wall Street Journal because one of their journalists wrote this book.

There was just one catch: It didn't work. The device never worked. For fifteen years, Theranos employees tried to get the device to work without success.

Who knows? They might have gotten it to work if Elizabeth Holmes and her henchman, second in command and also lover (something she kept secret) Sonny Bahwani had not acted like despots, demanding slavish devotion to themselves and their "vision". If employees did not bow and kiss Holmes' ring by, say, explaining to her the difficulties in making Edison work, they were fired. The turnover rate was astronomical. But because all departing employees had to sign extreme non-disclosures with threat of being financially destroyed by Holmes' lawyer, one of the most expensive and cut throat attorneys in the world, none were willing to expose what they knew was a fraud.

How a few brave souls, including George Schultz's grandson Tyler (Schultz cut his grandson out of his life, inviting Holmes to family events but not Tyler) finally came out at great personal risk to themselves is a suspenseful narrative and all the more breathtaking because it is true.

Bad Blood is fascinating on many levels, but the most interesting of all, is Elizabeth's cult of personality. I have seen this type of person in my own life. People who are surrounded by blind devotees even though they hurt so many. I always wonder about the people who refuse to see the obvious. Is it willful? Are they too proud to admit they are wrong about somebody? Or are they too self-centered? The person likes them so who cares how they treat others.

Holmes was backed by the Obama administration (she also financially supported Hillary Clinton's campaign, she became good friends with Chelsea Clinton). Joe Biden came and inspected her lab. A completely fake lab she had concocted for the Vice President. Holmes had two labs. One she showed to FDA regulators and Medical inspectors and another lab which was the one where her engineers were feverishly trying to get Edison to work. This second lab was kept locked and hidden from inspectors.

The ultimate problem is that Elizabeth Holmes made promises about her technology that she could not deliver, yet carried on a charade that it was already working. She snowed Walgreens and Safeway to start using her device, even though it was defective. Doctors who used Theranos lab soon learned that the test results were unreliable so stopped sending blood tests to them.

Now this is where I want to know where any oversight procedures were. If a lab is producing faulty results, shouldn't there be some kind of protocol where the doctors report this so there can be an investigation?

Apparently not at that time, because when the author John Carryhou tried to interview some of the doctors, they refused to speak. They had been warned by Holmes' lawyer that they would be sued if they shared any information with the journalist.

As I said, there were a few brave souls that risked everything to expose what was going on. Their concern for human life and possible deaths that could incur from false test results overcame their reservations about their personal welfare.

Carryhou's book narrates from beginning to end the rise of Elizabeth Holmes' kingdom and the beginning of her fall. The book was published this past May and Holmes has recently been indicted. The drama is not over yet.

Personally I hope she and her side kick grow old in prison. Trying to foist a defective medical device on people that could kill for the sake of personal fame and fortune is attempted manslaughter, in my opinion.

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  1. The Star Trek artwork is very cool. I generally like most things Star Trek related.

    Holmes does sound like a lot like people that I have observed also. As you mention, these folks do somehow attract followings. I think that someday we will see something like Edison. But even had the project had competent leadership it might have been a few years too ahead of its time.

    1. I agree Brian. I was reading an article about Holmes and her device in a Scientific American article. Apparently there are devices out that accomplish what the Edison claimed on a more limited level so her invention was not as ground breaking as she claimed.

    2. Oh and I adore vintage pop art period, but especially Star Trek.

  2. i'll bet there are more scams like this out there that have never been unveiled... nice work, Sharon, posting about this... does Hercules think Josh is a bush? i've never seen anything like that... amazing!

    1. Ha, ha, ha. Josh would be so jealous that anyone thought he had hair. My hubby has as much hair as Captain Picard. The photo is of my son, Derek, who has thick, curly hair, which is also quite long.

    2. Oh, and no. Derek does not like being Hercule's bush, but our little green T-Rex doesn't care what anyone thinks. He is quite strong-willed.

    3. mea culpa... blame it on too much to remember, and... GO, HERC!!!

  3. Wow! And to think, there are probably a number of operations like this functioning in America, but they haven't been exposed, yet. I felt like I was reading something out of North Korea, with fake labs and government support. Crazy people!

    1. HI Ruth. What bothered me was the way Holmes treated her employees. I worked under a school principal who was like that. They get away with it because everyone is afraid of losing their job.

    2. Oh, I know! I hate that! You know what? I worked for someone like that, too. Such a horror. What ended up happening was there was a high turn over rate in the office, so I hope my boss pondered that after awhile. And yes, it was a female boss, as well.

    3. We had a huge turn over rate. For five years after she became our principal we'd lose around five teachers a year. They were really good teachers, too.

      Finally, after over a decade, they finally removed her to a position as a resource teacher.

  4. What a tale! Thanks for sharing your first rate review and comments. I’m with you on the prison fate.
    FYI ... here is my latest at revised blog address (changed because of troll invasion) ...

    1. Thanks, R.T. I will gladly check it out!

    2. FYI
      Please forgive me for my blogging problems. Write it up to my insanity. I hope my focus on poetry will help me regain some sanity.

    3. I'm always interested in your insight into poetry and other writers, R.T.

  5. I’ve always been amazed & intrigued about this whole cult of personality thing. Serious stuff and it’s appalling that people can get away with so much under the camouflage of their charisma. Is it a more recent development do you think? A by product of the entertainment industry?? It does seem that personality trumps character throughout society but the end result is always the same. It’s something I’ve often thought about because it happens in places where it shouldn’t - churches, for example.

    1. Hi Carol. Sorry to take so long to respond; I was in Florida all last week.

      I have long been interested in the whole cult of personality. I observed it on a daily basis when I taught school. There were the popular girls and the unpopular ones. The popular girls were not particularly nice or good people but everyone wanted to be their friend, even the girls they bullied. I just didn't get it.

      Even with the teachers. There were teachers that everybody loved, and one I knew personally didn't care for anybody, nor did she encourage attention. I can't figure it out.

      As for churches, I read a good book about the Jezebel personality and the kind that invades churches. Sometimes it's just a member, other times it's the pastor. They really can destroy a church.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.