I wanted to believe what she was telling me.
Way back in 2014, Elizabeth Holmes stepped on stage during a TED talk and began her treatise explaining how personal access to medical information was so important.
Here's the entire talk:
Next she talked about actionable health information, which is a phrase you might use if you were trying to score investment funds but not necessarily if you were in the medical field or talking to a sixth grade science class. "No one has to say if only I'd known sooner. No one has to say good-bye too soon," she claimed. We didn't roll our eyes. Not even once.
Another phrase stuck out in the talk. She said something about transformative technology which has a magical ring, like Steve Jobs dancing on a cloud of air. From now until forever, if anyone ever says transformative technology in a talk, find the exit door.
Then she decried the appalling lack of access.
"People could not get copies of their own lab results!" she said. We can buy a snake! A military truck! A tank! Yet, we can't order a simple blood-based pregnancy test.
Think about it! Someone is worried, nervous--distraught. There is a dark cloud. Anxiety. Nerves. You can feel it. And yet...you can't buy a simple blood test on your own!
"When individuals have access to the information about their bodies they can begin to change outcomes," said Holmes. She used plenty of interesting factoids. She said words like engagement, knowledge, and access. She shifted to a personal story. She lulled us, she calmed us. She talked about things we care about. That are quite serious.
And yet, we were not really listening.
She never really said anything about the science.
Or the tests.
Or the clinics.
Or anything concrete.
She mentioned a few notes here and there about blood tests and fingers. The word nanotainer should have been like a neon sign to all of us, a blinking light at an adult book store eliciting scrutiny and skepticism. Really? Nanotainer? You might as well use the phrase Theranos wellness center. (Wait, she did use that phrase.)
But not back then.
Yes, we're all scared of needles. They are not fun at all. But really? Comparing blood testing to a fear of spiders and a fear of heights? How about explaining how the blood tests actually work at the store? Are you kidding me? How did we fall for this? The reality is that there's a reason blood tests happen at a clinic. They're kind of important. It's science.
And, about the cost structure. Blood testing doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars, she said. She mentioned a pregnant woman who was scared, who might be turned away at the clinic, and the high costs of testing. Theranos is cheaper than your lunch! She mentioned tiny invisible veins. How precarious! How invisible! We must figure out how to stop this fear and bruising and the transfusions and the blood. We love our loved ones!
"By making the cost of testing so low..." she said. Stop right there. So low? Blood testing is about low costs? Are we talking about a used car lot? A dollar store? Movie tickets?
"We see a world where the interaction with a physician becomes actionable..." she argued. Stop yet again. How is a doctor visit not actionable? If anything, we need doctors to be less actionable, especially if you are someone who actually had to get a blood test once.
Then it's...more tubes, more blood, more triages. More office visits! Still, no actual science. No explanation of what they do. It was smoke, mirrors, more smoke, and a few more mirrors. It was mirrored smoke. And, we all fell for it. Everything, right down to the distributed testing frameworks, the decentralized care, the developing economies.
"This future is beginning now..." she said.
No, not anymore.
It's all over. Massive fraud. A $500,000 fine. Lost shares. Many magazines and websites, including the one you are reading right now, were fooled by the lack of clear descriptions, the lofty wordsmithing, the imprecise scientific information, the elegant delivery.
And it all started with a TED talk.