The previous piece segues into this piece. Coming from the editor of Science, the most authoritative of scientific journals, this is a timely warning for many of us (including the team at Marcellus) not to get carried away by overhyped technologies. Whilst Holden Thorp focuses on Elizabeth Holmes, the now convicted CEO of Theranos (the Silicon Valley start-up which promised “to provide small, automated devices that required very small amounts of blood to perform numerous diagnostic tests”), his warnings are just as applicable to a bunch of Indian companies who have raised billions of dollars with very little in the way of real tech.
Holden Thorpe’s piece highlights the perverse incentives facing CEOs who have taken venture capital money: “As venture-backed companies grow, investors usually insist on “milestones” that show the steady improvement of the technology. The temptation to misrepresent the progress increases with each step. If the technology is not actually advancing, then the executives in the company are committing greater and greater acts of fraud. There is also a burden on the investors to carry out due diligence on the claims, but they only have financial and not criminal liability. When attention is too focused on charisma and a certain amount of fakery is considered acceptable, reality can be overcome by hype.”
He then echoes the point made in the previous piece (regarding cryptocurrency) that when investors overhype a technology, they put people’s lives at risk without having done adequate diligence on the technology: “The implications of this for the commercialization of science are enormous. Being optimistic that the science might work is one thing, saying it works when it doesn’t is another. In Theranos’s case the distinction was clear-cut, but the efficacy of many other technologies—particularly in the life sciences—is not as easily deduced. If it works in cells, will it work in animals? If it works in animals, will it work in humans? Can you produce it at scale?”
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