While visiting a friend she fished a hefty book out of her living room, handed it to me, and said she hadn’t seen her wife for two days so engrossing had the book been. That sort of endorsement is, for me, as seductive as a dirty martini at Friday Happy Hour.
I settled into the book right away: Bad Blood Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. It details the foundation, building, and ultimate downfall of the company Theranos. A medical device was promised to revolutionize blood-testing. People bought in. There were millions invested. Publicity ensued.
The engineers of the company told the founder, Elizabeth
Holmes, the promise of this technology could not be kept. Her solution was to hide the malfunctions and
continue to promise the technology. Eventually,
the truth surfaced. The blood-testing
device produced false results and the consequences, if left unchecked, could
have been dire. Medications, diagnosis,
and procedures hinge on the veracity of a blood test result.
Three things come to mind as I reflect on this book.
was a genuine desire to report on and see the success of a young woman in the
tech industry. But because the media
interest focused on Elizabeth Holmes the actual integrity of the blood-testing
device was either overshadowed or nonexistent.
The very notion of ambition must be revisited here and I yield to the
writings of Aristotle for clarity.
Ambition as such should be in conjunction with excellence. It is the practice of contemplation and a
steady work of character. It cannot be
obfuscated with notions of power and domination. Holmes’s handling of investments and empty guarantees
were spawned not by ambition but by greed.
In Aristotle’s terms this constitutes an excess of character or a
vice. Financial gain and power are not
in and of themselves problematic, but they can be when in lieu of excellence rather than the result of excellence.
unraveling and deceit of Theranos is an important story to tell. It also highlights the gravity of journalism
in a day when the field finds itself under attack and called “fake” or “enemy
of the people.” In truth, many people
could have suffered from this poorly designed tool; yet, quality journalism
unearthed the magnitude of the company’s flaws and outright false claims. Indeed, one woman spent a Thanksgiving
evening in the ER due to a false blood test result from this Theranos
device. After undergoing a deluge of
further testing that ultimately cost her $3,000 out of pocket, she learned
there was nothing wrong with her. What
if she had been ill and the blood test came back clean? That was just one of the many incidents
cannot help but draw parallels between Theranos and the Challenger Space Shuttle
Disaster (1986). In both cases the engineers informed management of serious
difficulties. With the case of the
Challenger the O-ring was a vulnerable part of the shuttle and in cold
temperatures would fail. This was
explained to the business side of the launch and ignored. Seven astronauts lost
their lives. Why would the Challenger
launch when on the eve before the engineers told management it was doomed to
fail? Why would Holmes ignore her own engineers? Scheduling.
Business. Because management told
too many people it was ready. The
essence of the failures underscoring both cases looks eerily similar, namely,
the image of the company and possible profits drowned out the very purpose of these endeavors: human
excellence, knowledge, and innovation.
If you are terrified of a caravan of people 1,000 miles away trekking north then I propose a challenge. Go for a ten mile walk today and reflect on how/why your family came to the United States. How is your life possible because of your family’s decision? When you end your walk and your feet ache take a moment to be grateful.
And if you think But I don’t have time to do a ten mile walk! I have duties at home, laundry to tend to, meals to prepare, Netflix to binge, catch up with work, plans with my family and my friends!
For my Philosophy 340 class, Current Debates in Sexuality, (also sometimes called Philosophy of Sex and Love), I gave the following assignment:
Find an article that has been written in the last two weeks with a reference/discussion about sexual assault. Bring this to class. I clarified that they needn’t agree with the article because the point was to examine how sexual assault is being presented in media.
Come class time the students had their articles, and I put them into groups of 3 and 4 to share with each other the content of the articles. The room immediately roared to life with their exchanges.
It turned out to be a good exercise. In terms of teaching methodology I enjoy when textbook theory can be highlighted and demonstrated in either fiction/film or current events. I don’t want my students to merely memorize an argument or a few definitions for the semester. Engagement and discussion is key to making material from courses one’s own.
I must confess, I was surprised that out of 40 students no one brought the same article.