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On Lies, and Liars

]\Today’s topic is “lies”. We will start with the cases of Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh (“Sunny”) Balwani, of Theranos. As the world knows, Theranos was not what it was represented to be – John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal and his extraordinary demolition job on them showed that beyond doubt. But remember, those articles were devastating because they told the truth about what was happening. In these times, it’s important to remember that truth exists, that it exists outside our opinions, and that no amount of spin, hype, and sheer bull keeps it from being the truth.

That’s worth remembering as you see the clip below. This is Holmes on CNBC, after the accusations against Theranos had already started to come out. And what you’re seeing is a firehose of falsehoods, knowingly delivered straight into the camera:

Compare what’s being said with what’s in the SEC’s recently released complaint against Holmes. She would bring in potential investors and at one point in the pitch have a drop of their blood taken for analysis in a Theranos machine – but that’s not what was used to analyze it. Because it couldn’t. As Carreyrou reported, the company was reliant on existing third-party instruments, because its own hardware never, ever became capable enough to live up to the company’s public statements about it. Holmes stated, over and over, that Theranos was able to run tests covering over 1,000 Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes: they could actually run twelve. Holmes and the company explicitly stated that they bought no technology from third parties.

Investors would also get a binder of slides, documents, and endorsements, featuring (among other things) letters with the logos of various prominent pharmaceutical companies about their clinical work with Theranos. Those companies did not write the letters – Theranos employees did, pasting in the corporate logos. Investors were told that Theranos had worked extensively with the Department of Defense, and that their machines had been deployed on medevac helicopters in Afghanistan, which was a total fabrication. Financial projections showed them rolling out their machines to hundreds of Walgreens stores, when Holmes knew, in detail, that Walgreens was already having serious doubts about dealing with Theranos at all.

It goes on. But it’s worth keeping all this in mind as you watch that interview – skip through it, and you’ll see Elizabeth Holmes clearly and confidently lying, utterly misrepresenting the facts of the situation, smiling, and then utterly misrepresenting them some more. With no apparent qualm and no particular affect other than that of a person making her righteous case with the facts on her side. It’s worth thinking about. Theranos raised more than $700 million from private investors through this sort of behavior. Most of us do not have anywhere near the level of nerve (among other qualities) needed to pull something like this off, nor would it occur to us to do so in the first place. But there are people among us who do it cheerful, as a character in H. G. Wells says about a similar opportunity for human predation.

Update: I forgot to mention another point that I was thinking about. As the SEC complaint notes, Holmes (but not Balwani) has already agreed to penalties for their behavior – financial and operational ones. I have no desire to defend Martin Shkreli at all, but the fact that he is starting a seven-year prison sentence while Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani are walking around freely seems like an injustice. And no, I’m not suggesting letting Shkreli out. The other solution.

That may still be an option, though: the SEC has civil enforcement authority, but criminal prosecution is another matter. . .

Now to another set of lies, and that will be enough for one morning. As many will have seen, the British government has expelled a list of Russian diplomats over the Skripal poisoning case. (I am no particular admirer of Theresa May, but her statement about this incident did her and the UK credit). The nerve agent identified is a known Russian-developed “Novichok” compound, a newer variety of organophosphorus poison. While it is certainly possible that such a compound could have been produced by a third party, it would require a very dedicated one indeed, since no details of the structures or synthesis have ever appeared in the scientific literature. The chemistry of the organophosphorus nerve agents is not particularly difficult (as was remarked in that earlier post), but that’s if you already know the optimized reactions and conditions. Doing route discovery on latest-generation nerve agents is not a casual undertaking, and anyone trying it outside of a very well-equipped lab setting is likely to die in the attempt.

Stuart Cantrill’s Twitter feed this morning put me on to this exchange about the identification of the compound. Apparently there are a number of people saying that there’s no way that this compound could have been identified without a reference sample, there’s no proof that these are associated with Russian chemical warfare research, etc. Needless to say, I side with Clyde Davies in that Twitter exchange linked above. The evidence is extremely strong that this was a Russian operation, and the often-flippant response of the Russian authorities to the entire case does nothing to dispel that.

I have already had comments on the earlier post throwing doubt and uncertainly about this case (and the earlier Litvinenko assassination, even). More of these may accrue to this post as well. Some of these may in fact be honest doubts from extremely skeptical onlookers – but others are surely lies. Smiling, straight-into-the-camera-lens lies.

128 comments on “On Lies, and Liars”

  1. Marilyn Mann says:

    Hi, Balwani has not settled with the SEC, only Holmes and the company have.

    It’s still possible there will be a criminal prosecution by the Justice Department.

  2. Mister B says:

    From a non-english native, what is a SEC please ?

    1. Anonymous says:

      It’s the American Security and Exchange Commission. It has both civil and criminal enforcement powers over financial markets.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        No, I believe that they have to refer things to law enforcement agencies for criminal prosecution: https://www.sec.gov/enforce/how-investigations-work.html

    2. Derek Lowe says:

      Securities and Exchange Commission, with civil authority over the financial markets

    3. Sfsworms says:

      Security Exchange Comission, the US regulator that regulates securities, stock exchange and related things

  3. Sok Puppette says:

    “No details of the structure or synthesis”?

    The structure is posted in the very Twitter stream you linked to. It’s also on Wikipedia right now. It’s not inaccessible at all. True, the synthesis isn’t there, although I don’t know if it’s in any of the references.

    We’re not talking about me making it in my garage out of stuff I found in a drug store. Yes, any normal actor would have just shot the guy. But remember that Russia’s adversaries are also state actors. If I gave you a lab and half a million bucks and a few months, could you make the stuff? Could Clyde Davies make it? Could I go down to my local university and find some grad students who could make it?

    I think it’s extremely likely that the Russians did this. It’s the kind of thing they like to do, they have a motive, and it’s clearly a well-resourced actor, not some random individual. Nobody else with the necessary resources has an obvious good motive.

    However, the second most likely possibility would be that somebody was trying to set the Russians up, and that would indeed mean somebody with real resources. The only real reason to discount that is that it seems pointless, since it just gives the Russians the kind of reputation they seem to like to have anyway.

    1. Hap says:

      Doesn’t “Cui bono” come up here, though?

      In the US, the Democrats would want to demonize the Russians, but not necessarily the Republicans (they have a President to defend, and in some cases may want to work with the Russians, so screwing them acts both against their country’s and their own interests), and the facilities for doing this work are likely controlled by the Federal government, run mainly by the Republicans. Doing work on the side is nontrivial, I would imagine, and would entail large risks (both to oneself and the the government for which one works), and private companies might have the resources, but it would take a lot of work I would think to develop the routes (and the only way it would be monetizable would be to sell it to others looking to kill horribly, which should show up later, unfortunately). (If it were political opponents of the Russians or the Republicans in the US, they’d have to be much better organized than they seem to have been so far). The British government might want to distract people from Brexit. In either case, though, previous killings on British soil did not achieve much for the British; it would likely convince only people who didn’t need to be convinced not to like the Russian government. If that’s the case, the possibility of getting caught killing people you provided safe harbor to is pretty hazardous – it would mean that it would be harder to get agents to work for you, and harder to get intelligence, which would likely provide much more substantive harm than the benefit you could get. Israel’s killed (or tried to kill) with chemical agents before, and they might want to make it harder for the Russians to work in Syria for Assad, but this seems like a roundabout and risky way to do that (why not target people in Syria?).

      Russia, on the other hand, publicly threatened the spies, has access to and development and delivery expertise with the agents, has likely killed on British soil before, and has (mostly) gotten away with it. Either Russian organized crime or Russia itself could act, and it would be hard to distinguish (though considering their connections, that might not matter). If Russian organized crime can get the agents, they might sell to others, and so linking the agents to Russian origin might not prove as much as you’d like, but there aren’t so many entities for whom the killing would make sense.

      1. fajensen says:

        The Russian motive could be Trolling. Since nobody fully believe the words of “the authorities” ever since the Iraq war, it could be of benefit to Russian operators to kill someone in a most blatant way that can only be traced back to Russia – because everyone here would at least consider the idea that “Thats exactly what The Clintons / CIA / Mossad / MI5 …. would do” thereby maintaining the general distrust in the words of “the authorities” (and they get to measure the distrust level via Social Media rantings).

        It could also be a message to the UK: Something like “Keep messing with us and maybe some of those Syrian Jihaddis now living safely in the UK will learn how to cook up this very simple nerve agent from common household ingredients – exactly like some rogue Russian operators (which of course we will deal with, should you show some respect) allegedly just did!”

        The important design feature of the novichok agents were the manufacture from ‘common’ feedstocks not on any precursors lists.

        If they just wanted to whack some dissident, there is Carfentanil in bulk from China which is at least as good as VX or there is Fentanyl available right off the street. Fentanyl is less toxic than VX / Carfentanil and yet it was killing hundreds of people in Sweden only last year. One or two more Fentanyl victims dropping dead in the street, nobody would notice, nobody care about “addicts”.

        1. Hap says:

          The Israelis used a fentanyl derivative in their failed hit (from Rise Early and Kill). Unless it’s a really baroque fentanyl derivative, its use likely wouldn’t be fingered as a nation-state act – carfentanil is too available.

          Avoiding known precursors is helpful, but not dying while making the stuff is probably harder; as someone else noted, methods development for something that toxic (with no antidote, though I guess the people working with it would take low doses of cholinesterase inhibitors) is probably no fun at all, even for people skilled in chemistry. The alkynyl ethers don’t look fun to make, either.

          1. Matthew says:

            It is not just the synthesis that is a challenge with novichok agents, there is also the delivery. These are solids, you have to have a formulation and a means of generating some kind of targeted dispersion in air I would imagine. Asthma inhalers are quite sophisticated and this might need to be much more so.

    2. loupgarous says:

      I helped edit the wikipedia article “Novichok agent”. There’s actually a great deal of information in the public domain we didn’t put in that article on potential precursors to the Novichok agents, because (a) it’s arguably against 18 U.S. Code § 2332a on “weapons of mass destruction” (if you construe publishing detailed directions for making WMD as part of “conspiring” to use them), (b) because wikipedia’s not a scientific journal or a DIY book for terrorists – that sort of detail isn’t encyclopedic.

      As far as reference samples are concerned, Porton Down’s been synthesizing nerve agents since the 1950 – they went from ICI and Ranajit Ghosh’s work with Amiton to develop the “V-agents” (which were supposedly part of a trade with the US for the Teller-Ulam thermonuclear weapon design).

      If anyone could make Novichok agents based on structural details that’s public domain without killing off a few scientists, it’s Porton Down. That doesn’t mean they were responsible for the Skripal attack.

      During, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jat/article/36/9/647/785132#ref-2&quot; their report on analysis of the fentanyls used to end the Moscow Theater Hostage crisis the team doing the analysis made up lab standards of possible fentanyls used by the Russians:
      “Fentanyl hydrochloride, cis-3-methylfentanyl free base, carfentanil oxalate, sufentanil citrate, lofentanil oxalate, remifentanil hydrochloride, norcarfentanil and remifentanil acid were synthesised in-house and were >98% pure by 1H and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.” So that’s actually part of how they work.

  4. SK says:

    In the spirit of Dr. Lowe’s update, and with the same motives, one points out that Shkreli was fined about $7M for $10M of fraud, and Holmes was fined about $0.5M for $700M of fraud.

    1. tnr says:

      and so far, no jail time for her either.

      1. SK says:

        Although fairly she did not disrespect the Wu-Tang Clan.

  5. Steve says:

    I’m not finding the clip.

  6. Shkreli did nothing wrong says:

    It’s no lie that the nations that routinely drone targets (US et al), use assassinations as a tool of policy (Israel) and/or blame an entire group for one attack while saying nothing when their citizens are abused by imported hostile societies (UK) don’t have a lot of room to wag fingers.

    https://mashable.com/2015/04/25/americans-killed-us-drone-strikes/#GE9GmUrKSiqo
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Israeli_assassinations
    http://truepublica.org.uk/united-kingdom/britains-extra-judicial-assassinations-bring-democracy-into-question/

    1. Hap says:

      Manners didn’t apply to everyone in polite societies (servants or slaves, when they were, were not treated with the same deference as others), but people knew when politeness was breached, and that there were consequences for doing so.

      It’s possible Russia has decided that Britain has lower status than they have previously accorded them, or that they simply don’t think the previous standards apply to them, but the moral hypocrisy in other facets of diplomacy wouldn’t exculpate the Russians. There also were supposed to be good reasons not to target spies (that doing so interfered with predictable and non-war-inducing intelligence gathering), and the change in policy (either Russia figures it’s powerful enough to do what it wants, or predictability is undesirable) is concerning. Finally, if the agent targeted bystanders as well as the ex-spy (a warning not tell help spies targeted for assassination) then British people were targeted as well, effectively, which would also be a significant escalation.

      1. Hap says:

        When Israel contravened those rules, they did in fact get nailed, so they aren’t immune to them.

        1. Wavefunction says:

          Suppose Russia had killed political dissidents or refugees living in the US with impunity? I suspect the response would have been much harsher than Britain’s (although with the current administration I am not sure at all).

          1. Hap says:

            Probably – we put a lot more stock in our perceived superiority and Russia telling us we aren’t that powerful because they can do what they want would probably not go over well.

          2. Peter Kenny says:

            But what if the French foreign intelligence services killed a Dutchman in New Zealand?

          3. Some idiot says:

            Touché…!

          4. Shkreli did nothing wrong says:

            Perhaps the lesson is we’d apparently be fine with it if “they” waited until the spies took a holiday in a 3rd world resort, then killed them? As long as it doesn’t happen in the home country it doesn’t matter? I dunno, that may actually be a thing before long.

            Thanks for the interesting responses, I have to resist temptation to continue. I should also thank Derek for fishing my comment out of the spam folder, I hate to rant and rave without some references but I’m sure it gets flagged.

  7. Rhodium says:

    I just added some more compounds to my things I won’t work with list ( and I’ve worked with nickel carbonyl and dimethyl cadmium). How do you do syntheses with deadly compounds that penetrate glove box gloves?

    1. Chad Irby says:

      Hire lab assistants you don’t like very mush?

    2. aairfccha says:

      Remote handling like the hot cells for nuclear applications?

  8. Earl Boebert says:

    I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree with your characterization of Elizabeth Holmes as a liar, at least in the commonly accepted sense of one who knows they are being deceptive. The con artists that I have run into have consistently been mythomaniacs. When they are pushing their falsehoods (or “counterfactuals,” if one prefers academic jargon) they believe what they are saying to the very depths of their soul. That’s what makes them so effective — you could strap them to a perfect lie detector and it would read “no deception.” I don’t think Holmes’ wide-eyed sincerity was an act, I think it was detachment from reality. As always, YMMV.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      That’s quite possible, and very unnerving.

      1. Earl Boebert says:

        Yeah, it’s pretty unsettling when you encounter it for the first time.

        When I worked for Honeywell I was part of a group that would be periodically dispatched to troubled software projects and given the task of opening the boxes and counting the bats as they flew out (the CEO referred to us as the priesthood, because we only showed up at christenings, marriages, and funerals). What we saw time and again was a pathology that tracks what superficial knowledge I have of the Theranos affair: it starts with and excess of wishful thinking and slides imperceptibly through exaggeration to outright falsehood. Throw an out-and-out crook into the mix and you have a real devil’s stew.

        1. Hap says:

          Considering the punishment meted to those went against the “truth” inside Theranos and the likely availability of people who could have straightened them out, this is probably too kind. People who have mental problems don’t have external checks on their perceptions and desires, but Holmes and the people who ran Theranos did, and they willfully chose not to use them (and to keep any possible contrary evidence out of their knowledge). The choice not to know something you don’t want to know indicates that you already know that your perceptions are wrong and that you don’t want to change them. Willful stupidity – intentional repudiation of truths – doesn’t differ much, in substance or consequence, from active dishonesty.

          In that way, it makes me think of Sames/Sezen – while Prof. Sames may not have actively helped the fraud, he fired people for failure to reproduce the fraud – for their unwillingness to fit the story that he and Sezen had written. Fortunately, the money at stake was much smaller. Unfortunately, that didn’t end particularly justly, either.

          1. Earl Boebert says:

            Oh, I wasn’t trying to be kind, just offering an explanation of why so many people fell for the story. She should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

          2. Hap says:

            Sorry. I don’t know if I assumed kindness was intended. At some point, intentional stupidity differs not substantively from direct lies and dishonesty – it just looks different. I assumed that believing her own lies would act as a “get out of jail” free card which she (and her cohorts) shouldn’t get.

          3. Earl Boebert says:

            Replying to Hap: I think the legal doctrine of “mens re” might apply, but IANAL (thank God).

          4. Hap says:

            Does that hold up when the defendant tries to avoid specific knowledge (the “I don’t want to know” part of the Iran-Contra hearings, for example)? (Again, duh, IANAL.)

            Science is a set of procedures to try to minimize fooling yourself. It seems worrisome to encourage fooling yourself (and keeping other people from finding that you’re fooling yourself) as a way to flush lots of money into the sewer (or any number of other bad acts), but the law’s been around a while, and I assume there are enough other troubles with the line of thought to make it problematic for criminal prosecution.

          5. really? says:

            I don’t know how you conflate Sames/Sezen to what Holmes did. Was she given falsified data to make her think things were working when they weren’t? Did she set the record straight when she found things weren’t working as she was lead to believe?

          6. Hap says:

            Because people in Sames’ s lab were fired for being able to reproduce Sezen’s work (which was faked). The saga with Schultz’s grandson clearly indicated that Theranos management did not want to hear anything that contradicted the stories they were telling investors. In both Sames/Sezen and Theranos got where they did by excluding relevant and significant information that did not fit the desired stories, because there was incentive for all of the participants to maintain illusions rather than challenging them. There is a difference in levels of complicity (Sames presumably didn’t help make up the data) but not in the presence of willful stupidity.

          7. Derek Lowe says:

            Gegen den Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens. . .
            (Schiller, “Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain”

      2. John Dallman says:

        This is why politicians get so cross when accused of lying. They start by convincing themselves.

      3. DanielDJones says:

        In the era of deliberate disassociation, fake news (as opposed to “fake news”) and “alternative facts” it is all too easy to see this twist as living in her own reality. Thankfully, I am still cynical enough to search for actual fact and unvarnished truth.

    2. tt says:

      “Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie if you believe it.” -George Castanza (Seinfeld)

    3. tlp says:

      I’m glad you brought this up.
      It looks like Holmes’ case is a consequence of bad Nash equilibrium the investment practice is trapped in. The bolder your statement are, the more likely you’re to get the money. If your promises are not fantastic enough, there will be some Elon Musk who will promise the Moon and get all the investor’s money, and you’ll get none. So by design the ‘system’ selects for either delusional or plainly lying agents.

      Disclaimer. I’m definitely under strong influence of recently read books.

      1. angrygecko says:

        Unicorns like Theranos, Ubeam etc. benefit from our increasing lack of skepticism and proper scientific due diligence. Technology is pervasive and becoming more so each day. Further, we routinely see technological fantasies have become reality. Dick Tracy’s wrist watch phone was introduced in a 1946 comic book and now Apple has sold ~33 million iWatches. The problem is not everything that’s a fantasy can be realized by throwing science and technology at it. Some fantasies violate the laws of physics and nothing will ever change that. Theoretically, you can do a full blood test on a single machine, just not with a single drop of blood. You can charge a cell phone using ultrasound, just not very efficiently or economically. We’ve now seen so many scientific and technological miracles that we’ve grown numb. We no longer to ask if it can be done, or should be done, before investing in the next big thing.

        1. tlp says:

          But technologies are getting more and more complex, with fewer experts in the field. And even those few experts are often either employed by the companies or pursuing their own goals and thus incentivised to be overoptimistic about the whole field perspectives. So as investor you have less and less rationale for skepticism and secondary cues – like charisma – become decisive.

          1. Some idiot says:

            Good points… I feel that one of the good ways to safeguard against this sort (apart from common sense, which is apparently not that common anymore; yes, I stole that one, but I can’t find original author…) is to distinguish between the evolutionary and the revolutionary. To use the example above, in the time of Dick Tracy, an iWatch would have been revolutionary. When it was actually released it was “merely” evolutionary. The short version: if someone has a proposal for something that is truly revolutionary, then they had damn well have something solid to back it up with than some flashy powerpoint presentations…

        2. Dark Helmet says:

          So, Lone Starr, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb

        3. zero says:

          Elon Musk delivers. Usually late, but he delivers.
          It’s odd bordering on malicious to use his name when describing unscrupulous investment scammers.

          1. loupgarous says:

            Elon Musk gets a lot of shade thrown at him for a businessman who’s proven he can do what he says he can do (“usually late”, yes).

            I think Musk’s showmanship provokes part of that reaction, but that doesn’t make the “hate Elon Musk reflex” less mean-spirited. I look at what he delivers, 57 launches to date, right?
            And finally has his plant turning out ordered cars, even overproducing some brands.

            And you have to respect the elan – calling his excavation firm “the Boring Company” is way Tony Stark.

  9. mallam says:

    Hucksters like Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh (“Sunny”) Balwani contribute to the generally negative image of Pharma / Biotech. Of course the investors have some amount of blame as well in their lack of a better amount of due diligence, believing in a new, unproven technology base solely on powerpoint slides and some (fake) letters. A few phone calls would have confirmed that the letters were not legitimate, and an examination of the actual lab and results should have given insight into the falsification of data. Even so, I have to agree that Holmes has gotten off easily regarding punishment with a guilty plea. Perhaps if not jail time she should have been required to finish a college degree (if any school would still admit her), including courses in actual analytical chemistry with extra instruction of validation and demonstration for clinical use, followed by a paper on everything that was done wrong withing Theranos to be published after a critical peer review.

  10. Emjeff says:

    So far, I am not satisfied by the punishments meted out to either of them. I am afraid that the next cute blonde who decides to drop out of Stanford and become a faux-CEO will not be deterred much from this.

  11. Isidore says:

    Theranos potential investors had a drop of their blood analyzed with third-party rather than Theranos instruments. Didn’t any of these investors become suspicious after they got back results from only those tests that could be done on the drop of their blood with existing (non-Theranos) instruments and no results from tests that require larger volumes, which Theranos’ technology would have been able to provide?

  12. steve says:

    It will get worse and worse; people will learn from our President that the bigger the lie the more successful you can be. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/03/15/why-trumps-admission-that-he-made-stuff-up-to-justin-trudeau-is-particularly-bad/?utm_term=.90b5b782bf41

    “”In a fundraising speech Wednesday, President Trump admitted once and for all that he just makes stuff up. The man who has racked up more than 2,000 false and misleading claims as president said he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that United States runs a trade deficit with Canada — despite having “no idea” whether that was the case. (Surprise! It’s not.)

    “I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know,” Trump said. “I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid.”

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      I deliberately held back from bringing this example up, for fear of blowing this up into current-US-politics space, but it’s a very appropriate example. Unfortunately.

      1. Pastor Bentonit says:

        “Space Force”, you surely mean.

    2. Noni Mausa says:

      Fortunately, the “big lie” technique can’t be done by all and sundry. Some sorts of people and some sorts of lies cannot succeed, no matter how confidently asserted.

      It would be interesting to do a study of the parameters that allow big-lie deceit, so that people could spot these situations and be on guard for lies and liars likely to be found under those particular “rocks.”

      1. x says:

        “some sorts of lies cannot succeed, no matter how confidently asserted.”

        This statement needs, at the very least, elaboration.

  13. milkshake says:

    Identity and synthesis of Novichok agents: I found on the web descriptions of the Novichok binary that look very plausible and fits with all the info that leaked out, including some of the detailed experimental procedures how to make a presumed component of the binary (it is made in two-step one-pot procedure using PCl3 and KF). The other part of binary needs two steps and one can probably pull a workable procedure too, with a little help from Scifinder… Obviously the experts on chemical warfare agents in the West know exactly what the structure is, and how to make the stuff. But I don’t think it was a false flag operation. There were too many “enemies of the motherland” who worked for western intelligence poisoned in the UK, so it looks just like another one, but particularly galling. I think the reaction of Russian officials is a giveaway – I would have expected a lot more hushed and anxious response from them if it wasn’t them – if not for other reason they should be concerned if it was their material

    1. oliver says:

      Hi milkshake
      Care to elaborate a bit more?
      BTW, what hapend to the blog?
      Cheers, Oliver

      1. milkshake says:

        I don’t want to elaborate too much but lets just say The Chemistry World (unlike C&EN) has the correct structure, and books have been written about chemical warfare agents with detailed experimental procedures in them.

        Org Prep Daily: when unemployed, I don’t have too many new chemical stories to tell. I can write more installments on the fictional story about a rotten biotech company in Florida. (In the first installment of the new season the crooked CEO suddenly will suddenly resign and the fund that gave him ten millions will wonder if it was such a great idea to do business with him…)

        1. Synthon says:

          Breaking Bad in Florida Part V. The CE0 was asking if anyone had any sodium fluoride and I took a call from Aldrich asking why we were offering so much phosphorus trichloride…..TBC

  14. Todd says:

    You should consider motive more closely. What motivation would Russia have to poison this man and his child? None! Economic sanctions and additional political problems for Russia could be the only rewards for this action.

    Who then would want to hurt Russia’s reputation and make them further into the “enemy?” A clear mind could see only a few groups of people with this motive and with the global international power needed.

    1. tt says:

      Motive = Putin punishes one of his “enemies” and it helps his image domestically as a strong leader not to be messed with. A few expelled diplomats and maybe sanctions are a small price to pay to further strength your standing in Russia as well as show traitors that they can be got anywhere in the world. Very gangster stuff.

      1. David Edwards says:

        Indeed, staying on top in the homicidal environment of Russian domestic politics, makes it a necessity for players in that game to develop the ability to play chess with live hand grenades, as it were.

        Trouble is, the domestic Game Of Thrones that is Russian politics, could one day lead to full blown warfare on the European continental land mass. Which won’t be pretty once nuclear weapons start being brought into play.

        Neither Putin nor the other players in that game give a damn about the international consequences, because they’re too busy trying to maintain positions of strength in an arena where settles are scored with chemical weapons. If they’re willing to toss Novichok agents around on foreign soil, they’ll have even fewer reservations about snuffing out troublesome rivals the same way domestically. That’s what makes Russia dangerous at the moment – the internal pissing contests constitute savage, internecine warfare, and the various players exhibit a frightening nonchalance about exporting said internecine warfare.

    2. Some idiot says:

      Oh please… Motive? One less “traitor”, and showing again and again that Putin doesn’t give a damn about what other countries think. Same same.

    3. Josef S. says:

      Da! Ve Russians never keel ANYONE. Ve have too muct respekt for human life!

    4. milkshake says:

      Maybe they are sending a message to other wannabe traitors in Russia – no-one in the West can protect you. Putin actually expressed sentiment along these lines quite publicly, after the arrest of Russian sleepers in US that got exchanged for Skripal. Maybe they have a long kill list of enemies, and half-way through they finally got to Skripal and decided in this particular case lets do it extra nasty (his son recently died in Russia under strange circumstances).

    5. Emjeff says:

      Todd, you’re very naive. What happened to Russia when they annexed Crimea? Nothing. The Russians know that Europe is a continent of spineless wimps, so what is stopping them?

      1. Just going by says:

        Nope, he is not naive. He is typical Kremlinbot, who spreads deliberate lies. Quite widely used method by them. Besides, he not Todd, but more likely Comrade or even Lieutenant Ivanov.

        1. Free Radical says:

          +1

    6. Pedro says:

      I would imagine the same motivations that led to the death of that ukranian? politician with Polonium-210. If they wanted to be ambiguous about the identity of murderous party, it they could have simply shot the guy using a firearm.

      Instead they tried to assassinate the guy in a way that would clearly indicate they had a hand in it while being able to (implausibly) claim they weren’t involved.

    7. Nick K says:

      Don’t underestimate the hatred and fury among KGB operatives towards perceived traitors. Quite sufficient to overwhelm any rational calculation of Russia’s interests.

    8. loupgarous says:

      Putin and the state-controlled Russian media themselves made it clear that the Skripals and others were liable to die for perceived treachery toward Russia.
      from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/09/russian-state-tv-warns-traitors-not-to-settle-in-england:
      ““Don’t choose England as a place to live. Whatever the reasons, whether you’re a professional traitor to the motherland or you just hate your country in your spare time, I repeat, no matter, don’t move to England,” the presenter Kirill Kleymenov said during a news programme on Channel One, state TV’s flagship station.

      “Something is not right there. Maybe it’s the climate. But in recent years there have been too many strange incidents with a grave outcome. People get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes and fall out of windows in industrial quantities,” Kleymenov said.”

      They said that. No one else did.

  15. Bernard Munos says:

    Looks like Holmes would qualify for a White House job.

    1. Hap says:

      Someone had said on an earlier thread that Theranos (or Holmes personally) had given lots of money to the Clinton campaign. It was one of the few bright spots for me in Clinton’s loss – at least Theranos didn’t get any leverage in the White House.

      1. Joe Blo says:

        Well, unfortunately there is a military link which makes Mattis, our current Secretary of Defense, look quite like a helpful fool.

        https://www.vox.com/2018/3/16/17124288/mattis-theranos-board-trump

        1. loupgarous says:

          Gen. Mattis isn’t alone by any means. According to Scientific American, Holmes’ high-powered supporters also included John McCain and Joe Biden, and former Secretary of State George Schultz.

          Quoting the article:

          “McCain spoke highly of the company throughout 2015, promoting Theranos’s work in Arizona and tweeting a photo of himself with Holmes on the very day the Wall Street Journal’s first exposé went to print. The same year, Biden called Theranos’ California facility “the laboratory of the future.” Neither has mentioned the company since.

          As for Cramer, he hosted Holmes on “Mad Money” the day after the first Journal story, giving her a friendly and uncritical platform to deny the allegations against Theranos. Shultz, now 97, may have the most to answer for, as the Journal’s reporting revealed that after his grandson, Tyler, blew the whistle on Theranos, the former secretary of state repeatedly pressured him to keep quiet.”

          Singling James Mattis out for obloquy’s sort of a stretch, isn’t it?

  16. Jeff says:

    “In these times, it’s important to remember that truth exists, that it exists outside our opinions, and that no amount of spin, hype, and sheer bull keeps it from being the truth.”

    That is the single best sentence I have read in a very long time. Thank you!

  17. T12 says:

    It’s hard not to take your belief in the statements of government officials on chemical weapons with anything but a hysterical laugh, since you were totally snookered in 2002 by the WMD nonsense the US was peddling. You always take what the government says at face value, even though in the realm of foreign policy they lie more often than tell the truth. The intelligence and federal law enforcement of both the US and UK have lied and covered up the truth so frequently that they have no credibility. It is possible that this was Russian operation, but like the chemical attacks in Syria, the warmongers of the West have far more to gain than the Russians/Syrians.

    1. Some idiot says:

      References?

      1. Ivan says:

        Don’t bother asking. He’s just one of Putin’s trolls.

  18. Jeff says:

    I think this might be the CNN video that Derek alludes to:
    https://youtu.be/rGfaJZAdfNE

    1. Chrispy says:

      Thank you! Holmes should be in jail, but there is a part of me that thinks that a fool and his money are soon parted. Actually, that’s true of most biotech investment, even the only partially fraudulent.

  19. Anon the Perp says:

    Re Novichok agents, purported structures were disclosed in the 2009 book ‘State Secrets’, Vil S. Mirzayanov, published in the US by Outskirts Press (Denver, CO), ISBN 978-1-4327-2566-2 and subtitled ‘An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program’

    1. Crocodile Chuck says:

      ‘Outskirts Press’, eh?

      I wouldn’t hang my hat on that account:

      http://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/03/theresa-mays-novichok-claims-fall-apart.html#more

      NB blogger is not of RUS descent

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        That blog does seem to spend a lot of time defending the present situation in Syria, though. And I have to say, I don’t find its assertions that compelling (for example, the book in question does not provide details on these compounds can be synthesized).

  20. johnnyboy says:

    Only 3 russian operatives commenting at this point, out of 37 comments – much too low. They must be sleeping at the switch – I’m telling Vladimir !

  21. Ted says:

    At this point, I think it has become quite clear that the Theranos technology has little chance of identifying Novichok agent residues.

    But (looking straight into the camera), for a mere 500 million dollars, I could.

    Let me know when you get the money together…

    -t

  22. JeffC says:

    I have it on fairly decent authority that the Walgreens deal with Theranos went through (despite any due diligence/data) because the senior leader at Walgreens (at the time!) who pushed for this was otherwise engaged, shall we say, with Ms Holmes…..

  23. Natasha Fatale says:

    I’ve been waiting all day for someone to use the name “Boris Badenov” on this thread….

  24. Maus says:

    On Russia and Skripal, perhaps he’d been on a Russian state wet-list for a while, but unless he’d been doing something recently to spur them to act on it, it seems more likely an open message with calling card to others that Russia would like to gag. The U.K. is the proven, goto arena for this – lots of Western media coverage and few consequences.

    It’s probably the most effective indirect strong-arm technique to intimidate those with direct knowledge of Russian influence in foreign politics – US 2016 and Brexit are probably at the top of the list.

  25. MoMo says:

    So wheres the American Association of Clinical Chemistry and and American Board of Clinical Chemistry in all this? They regulate the industry and should have been all over this or are they complicit?
    You cant just introduce assays for human medicine like Theranos did without some oversight or data and acceptance to introduce this into mass use.

    There’s something wrong with this picture besides Theranos and their rush to assays.

    1. Gaslit says:

      Indeed, lots of powerful folks involved here…

  26. Chester says:

    While I don’t doubt that Russia is the prime suspect in this case, I’m curious as to how the investigators could say with certainty that a Novichok agent was used, considering no one knows for sure what the structures of those things are. I’m assuming that either Western intelligence agencies have known the actual structures for a while now, or that they detected a compound with a structure similar to the ones that Mirzayanov described in his publications (fluorophosphate with an amidine, guanidine, or oxime attached to the phosphorus).

    1. Some idiot says:

      I would be surprised if all sides hadn’t made reference samples of known or suspected agents from the other sides, plus their decomposition or metabolic products. That would make identification a lot simpler.

  27. Barry says:

    The symptoms of a tight-binding cholinesterase inhibitor aren’t subtle. The observation that a first-responder was also affected–either transdermally of by inhalation–narrows it further. But that would still leave a lot of transition-state analogues on the table, unless they’ve seen the poison (or a cholinesterase-poison complex) by MS

  28. Pi, big boy says:

    Hey check it out, another boss that turned out to be an idiot. Learn here grad students, your boss not only is a a jerk, but also actively manipulates you toward their selfish own end, at the EXPENSE of people. Tell him to shove it. I wish i would have.

  29. Melbourne Tradesmen says:

    Lies what a perfect topic for the times we live in. A story I was told as a child was “the boy that cried wolf”
    Now I am not a physiatrist but would love to here from one in regards to why this is not ingrained into the current human psyche.
    I was not around for the Gulf of Tonkin incident but I remember a young girl spoke in front of, I think the US Congress about Saddam’s men throwing baby’s from humidity cribs in the Kuwait invasion. This lie helped the Western public get behind the war machine. Of course we had WMD’s lie to motivate the second war. There’s many more of these known lies.

    Let us move to politics every heard of politicians promising one thing and delivering something totally different or not at all. These people need to be looked at with scepticism.

    Maybe you all think that it’s ok, they tell a little lie here and there but we can trust them on the big things. I just don’t know is this the case we really trust them on big geopolitical accusations?

    What is of greatest concern is the total lack of transparency and constant mud slinging it can only endanger us all. There must be dew process, a process agreed and fair to both accused and accusers.
    We have abandoned the concept of innocent until proven guilty and reverted to a linching mentality. Scary days for humanity.

    1. a says:

      hmmm….russian troll bot or just poor grammer?

  30. Wim says:

    Clyde uses his greater chemistry knowledge against this layman to misrepresent what is at stake. Of course, anyone equipped with standard analytical techniques can find out the structure of the used poison without any analytical standard needed. However, if you want to claim that this was produced by Russians/sourced from the Uzbekistan lab/made in some other laboratory, things indeed get much more difficult.
    As said above, the synthesis cannot be done under “garage lab” conditions by an amateur, but any decently motivated organic chemist given enough time shouldn’t have any issues make bench quantities of the public A-232 structure or its “binary agent” precursor duo. (If you don’t believe it I’ll gladly take your money and a few weeks of lab time to prove it!) So far this means that any person with the proper resources could make it happen, state or non-state actor.
    When it comes to effective weaponisation, this is of course know-how that only state actors are likely to have access to. We do not know the delivery method yet – and in this case the assassination attempt was kind of messy (affected policemen etc) and the target did not die immediately. Still, the attack was effective on first try so this points to the attack being perpetrated by someone with weaponisation know-how, i.e. a state actor.
    Are the Russians the only state with this knowledge? Mirzayanov resides in the US and US and NATO partners have had access to Uzbekistan (where a major part of the CW research reportedly took place) – including chemical cleanup missions etc since the fall of the USSR so I would deem it likely that they have at the very minimum good knowledge in this domain.
    So who wins from this? I think both the “Russia wants to send the message that they are absolutely ruthless to their opponents” and the “Western states can use this to portray Russia as an evil actor interfering with our sovereignity” explanations make a lot of sense. The polonium story definitely gives good precedence to the former explanation. The fact that in this case the assassination sort of backfired and has serious negative results for Russia makes it (to me) at least worth considering the latter motivation.
    In conclusion, I believe attributing this attack to Russia is understandable and a probable explanation but at this point there are some questions that need to be addressed before I am willing to accept the material is irrefutably of Russian origin and from a Russian attacker.

    1. Earl Boebert says:

      This discussion is basically about counterintelligence, and it’s wise to keep two things in mind about that topic:

      1. If you insist on “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards of evidence, you’ll never be satisfied. There’s a reason intelligence analysts use the term “net assessment:” it’s because it sounds better than “best guess.”

      2. If you are a contemporary of the events under discussion, the chances that your grandchildren may see all the evidence (e.g., Venona) are decent but the chances that you will are slim indeed.

      I had a poignant reminder of that involving a great guy I worked with in my early days at Honeywell. He fought in the China-Burma-India theatre in WWII, about as ugly a war as ever there was. His unit parachuted into the middle of the jungle behind the Japanese lines and fighting back to base, cutting telephone lines along the way. A couple of days rest and they did it again. He used to rail against his commanders who sent men through Hell to cut phone lines when any idiot could see the Japanese had radios. He went to his grave a bitter man, convinced that his sacrifices had been a waste (he suffered from what today we would call severe PTSD). A couple of years after he died the records of codebreaking in that area were declassified and it became clear what he never knew: that the cutting of phone lines was critical because it forced the Japanese to go one the air where their traffic could be intercepted and decoded. So you never know.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        Now that’s a story that I hadn’t heard, but it makes perfect sense. The breaking of the Japanese codes was one of the most critical US secrets of the war, and it led to – had to lead to – actions like this that seemed idiotic or irrational at the time. It also meant, of course, that acting on such intelligence had to be done with great care so as not to reveal that it existed. I’m also reminded of the OSS break-in at the Japanese embassy in Lisbon, which enraged the Navy and the intelligence higher-ups since it was thought likely to cause the Japanese to change their codes (and it should have!)

        1. Earl Boebert says:

          Just because they wanted to change their codes didn’t mean they could. The nature of the Japanese systems was such that they had to distribute physical codebooks. Once we cracked version N we knew when they were going to N+1 and could intercept the shipments. The consequence was that they never succeeded in moving completely to a new version. There was always a time when the same traffic was encrypted in two versions, which is catnip to cryptanalysts.

          Lesson Number One: “crypto is a bitch.”

          1. Derek Lowe says:

            Yeah, that’s a deadly sin if there ever was one; it’s like faxing over a Rosetta Stone. Similarly beyond the pale were the times that Soviet operators re-used one-time pads. As I understand it, the Russian communications were quite solid for quite a while, to the point that codebreaking was very nearly a waste of time, but every so often someone would get careless and suddenly you could start spitting out plaintext.

  31. Hap says:

    1) As noted above, delivery methods are hard, even for people skilled in the art. Delivering it without killing yourself (before or during) is probably harder.

    2) Optimizing nerve agents on prep scale is probably different than most chemistry and probably comparable to carfentanil-type chemistry in the safety techniques required. Not too many people have the skill to perform it – I don’t know that you don’t, but not many people do. In addition, if you’re going to spend lots of money to kill a single person and risk your life, there’d better be a pot at the end of the rainbow (unless you’re looking to commit terrorism, but even then, you want to survive to complete your mission).

    The motivations and the techniques don’t make sense unless you’re a state actor. For the state actors other than Russia or its mafiya, the motivations are sketchier and the effects decoupled from what they want – there is a lot less of a likelihood of them getting what they want from this. People are willing to entertain reasonable doubts, I think – it’s just the doubts mostly don’t seem reasonable.

    1. Wim says:

      Those are fair points:
      1) I agree with this and for me this indeed makes it very likely that it was not carried out by a private non state connected individual
      2) This is of course true – but there are several reported cases of potent fentanyl derivatives being intercepted with their origin (supposedly) in commercial chinese labs – including carfentanil. So why couldn’t a private individual cook up a batch of this stuff too? (of course the situation is not 100% comparable as the fentanyl derivatives have well documented optimized procedures that are public). That said, as per (1) I agree that the attacker nonetheless probably is a state connected actor.
      3) Here I’m not sure if I agree – if what the attacker wants is polarization in order to generate public and political support for measures such as sanctions or interventions, this is quite a cheap, direct and effective way to do it.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        I understand your points, but the responses of the Russian embassy (and the rest of the Russian government) have been at times a bit too wry for people who are being framed by a third party. . .

        1. dr nemo says:

          Derek, I am sure you knew you’d get a lot of comments on this topic, and mine is a long one. I would truly appreciate if you read it, though.
          Your readership may be very comfortable with searching for truth in scientific terms, because this is their job description. They know full well that mice don’t respond to Power Point presentations – it is an important part of being a competent researcher. You wouldn’t have been able to do what you do if you were to be swayed by hype.
          A significant part of your readership (I think, you as well) is also very happy with the worldview which claims that the true light comes from the West – and there is really no need for you to question that assumption. It is satisfying to live in the world where there are people you can designate as the embodiment of evil – because that makes you the certified good guys.
          I am Russian. N number of jobs ago (around 2002 or 2003) I remember sitting in a company cafeteria at lunch and reading an article in the NYT. It was about an expansion of a major state museum in Moscow, which act, to the author of the article, was uncontroversial proof of how evil the Russian government is. (It is a great museum, by the way, and I love it). When I commented on how absurd the article was, one of our managers, a Britt, said “But you have to have an enemy, and Russia is the enemy”.
          My personal experience is that things have been going from bad to worse since then. The most objective reporting on Russia by Western journalistic standards looks like this: “Russians claim that it was the Germans who attacked them in WWII”. This was from a senior editor of Associated Press – so I don’t think the writer was misinformed on who attacked whom; the beauty is in the presentation. Perhaps you, Derek, wouldn’t even see anything wrong with this statement. It is true that if you ask anybody from the Russian Federation, that is exactly what they will say… in their misguided/lying/delusional way…pick an epithet of your choice.
          As a result of this demonizing in the Western media it seems perfectly logical to make an assumption that people of the Russian Federation are so evil, the majority of them must approve of a poisoning of an ex-spy and some innocent bystanders, and therefore this is the best move to make right before the presidential election. No wonder one of your readers gratefully comments on not having anything to do with this horrible, horrible country.
          As for the consequences on a more tangible level, if there is a terrorist act in London, it is only natural to ask the British co-workers and if they are OK. However, when a subway train in my home town was blown up, somehow it never occurred to my co-workers, by and large good and decent people all, to ask me if anyone I knew was affected. (As it happens, people who taught me as an undergraduate could have been killed). I think I understand why nobody asked. The story was presented in the US media as Putin’s ploy to crack down on the opposition (which never happened, but who is going to pay attention to such trifling details). And anyhow, those Russians, they are not quite human, and if you cut them, they don’t bleed.
          (By the way, what does the US media mean by “Russians”? People who are ethnically Russian? Citizens of the Russian Federation? There is something like 200 different nationalities in the Russian Federation. People who work for the government of the Russian Federation? Or, it does not matter, it’s all the same?)
          A co-worker of mine told me of a friend who could not get a single interview in this here United States until legally changing a Russian-sounding name for a Western European name. Same resume. Nice educational pedigree (high ranking US schools). And no, it had nothing to do with national security. All that resume needed was a change from something like Petrov to something like Peterson, and interview invitations poured in. Derek, for all I know, you may be perfectly OK with this. As long as you know that you are adding fuel to this fire.

          1. Derek Lowe says:

            I appreciate the response – and I also appreciate the point about citizens of a country being tarred with the brush of their government’s behavior and reputation. My wife is from Iran.

            I would very much like to follow up on the journalism examples you mention. Is the museum story about the controversy of moving collections out of the Hermitage and back to the Pushkin Museum? There were some stories about that in 2013, but you’re describing an earlier event. But the AP German/Russia one is amazing/appalling. Even the most casual acquaintance with the history of the Second World War should include a knowledge of the surprise German attack into the Soviet Union and what followed from it. Do you have a citation for this idiot?

            Personally, I have worked with a number of highly capable Russian colleagues who were valuable employees. However, I should also note that some of them were personally appalled by some of the actions of their own government.

          2. Earl Boebert says:

            The use of the term “Russian” as a blanket epithet is a symptom of ignorance and sloppy thinking on the part of the user. I suggest a more enlightened approach is “Love the people, hate the system.” Nine hundred years of one form of tyranny or another with one brief flicker of light. I do not believe the current oligarchs are any more representative of the Russian people than the Leninist/Stalinist thugs before them were or the Czarists were before that. Sadly, that doesn’t make Putin and his agents any less of a problem for Western democracies as well as his own citizens.

          3. milkshake says:

            All the comments how Russia is being slandered by the biased western media – you gotta admit that Russia has been strong-arming their ex-Soviet neighbours and then taking over part of their territory. It started with Transnistria, then Abkhasia and South Ossetia, now it is Krym and Novorossia. (Russia’s meddling in the US election is a convenient excuse for Dems suffering defeat to such a lousy candidate as Trump so it got blown out of proportion but aggressive stance of Russia has been a problem for a long time. People in Eastern Europe and especially in Baltics do have reason to worry.)

            With regards to death of spies and other enemies of Kremlin, here is a devastating report about the complicity of UK government – they have been up to now effectively covering up the hits, taking them as “internal Russian affair on UK territory”

            https://www.buzzfeed.com/heidiblake/from-russia-with-blood-14-suspected-hits-on-british-soil?utm_term=.jcvQ5D9l9#.ti4EnD393

          4. Hap says:

            1) For me, Russian in this context mostly means either the Russian government itself or the people it hired to do its work. We’ve had experience already dealing with the difference between a government and its people with Russia (the Soviet Union) earlier, so it ought be easier for us to avoid dumb nationalism. (it’s harder with nations that can freely elect their leaders, but even then, hating people for things outside themselves doesn’t end well.)Then again…

            2) It’s always easier to blame external entities for your failures, but the ability to manipulate democratic processes is concerning, both for external reasons (because it doesn’t seem like Russia’s government has our best interests in mind) and internal reasons (if you can be manipulated in such a manner, you no longer have the power over yourself you think you do). The Italian elections seem worrisome as well (although there, there was a significant majority of people that agreed – if they all agreed on something, it’ll probably happen, bits or no bots). It’s really more concerning that we seem rather willing to put reason to sleep – not that electing Clinton would have made America sane, but electing someone whose contradictions need their own baggage cart and proudly endorsing them with willful ignorance of their nature seems to indicate political derangement. If what you want doesn’t make sense (lacks internal logic), you’re probably not going to get it (or you’re going to get it good and hard).

      2. Hap says:

        But the likely Facebook stuff seems to be working much more effectively as a method of polarization and irrationalizing a population – the Italian elections might be a further example. Why kill someone (or yourself) if you don’t need to? In addition, previous kills did not do much other than sound and fury, so the expectation of chaos is probably unreasonable.

        To make chaos, you probably need multiple events, which gets hairier to perform, I suspect (though not for a nation-state). You might even initiate a war, which hasn’t worked out all that well in European history and probably would work poorly for the US (though rationality isn’t always our strong suit). If you are a terrorist, you’d probably want less targeted administrations.

  32. Magrinho says:

    Theranos’ investors were stupid once by investing but not stupid twice by publicly declaring it a hoax. Any thinking person recognized it as utter fraud at least 2 years ago. Do you really think that the folks behind the $700MM were going to blow the whistle? They hoped to somehow cash out with an IPO or acquisition.

    On a positive note, I doubt that any innocent parties suffered financial loss.

  33. tt says:

    The Theranos story is utterly fascinating and offers a case study in inexperienced, naive investors flocking to a technology idea that they fundamentally are unqualified to critically evaluate (hence the lack of traditional Biotech VC money in Theranos). Once invested, is it really any surprise that they were deaf to contrary opinions of the tech and Theranos leadership (a bit of the “sunk cost” thinking)? It would be wishful thinking to suppose that this story won’t readily repeat itself, but the giant influx of dumb tech money (I’m looking at you google ventures) into Biotech along with the fact that we are in the midst of a giant bubble (especially with the ridiculous money going into immuno-oncology startups), makes it likely that we have a whole bunch of Theranos-lite companies started by liars (or just ignorant, inexperienced entrepreneurs). All funded by uber confident silicon valley tech dweebs that subscribe to the cult of biohacking, ala Tim Ferriss, and eagerly looking to chuck buckets of money at the next “disruptive unicorn” in biotech. Maybe this is just an elaborate way to distribute silicon valley’s riches to more deserving con artists.

    1. yfp says:

      I disagree with you on the assessment on Immuno-oncology. People have tried many years to use immune system to attach cancer cells. Most of their approach have very limited success. Anti-PD1 changed the landscape. Because it proved most critical issues in immunology: 1) periphery tolerance to self exists not only in experimental and theoretical mouse models but also in real life human being.2) The periphery tolerance in real life can be reversed by a single agent.

    2. yfp says:

      should read ” the most critical and elusive topic in immunology”

  34. dave w says:

    So how much did the Theranos fakery set back the prospects of developing a genuine version of the technology?

  35. Brett says:

    In my Stanford MBA core class on interaction of business with society and government quite a few years ago, we had a case study on a Silicon Valley hard drive manufacturer. In an attempt to prop up their stock price (by showing increasing revenues), they would ship boxes full of bricks to customers. Of course, customers would return them, but they recognized revenue on shipment. Eventually that caught up to them.

    Theranos should become the modern-day replacement for that case study.

  36. James, PHD says:

    The problem is that most liars would not be so easily flagged as Holmes was. Threanos was widely publicized since its inception ( by the WSJ, ironically) and it still took a great deal of time to call them out. They were wolves in wolves clothing. What about the wolves in sheeps clothing? Ive met so many such individuals in my short career in science that i have chronic rebellions untrusting disorder (CRUD) and am seeking treatment .

  37. LI says:

    I’m not sure what Derek means by “the truth” since in many situations, the facts can’t be established beyond reasonable doubt by reasonable people. That said, I recall the U.S. Air Force Academy Honor Code:”We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” I have as much as possible avoided tolerating those people – of which Trump is a clear member (despite his own military school background) – any more than I have to.

  38. Lawyer says:

    How about the lie that we have a grasp on biology? How about the lie that we know how the universe works? How many grad students have been duped into a career ” helping people ” when it cannot be stated definitely that this is what molecular biology is actually doing? What molecular biology is definitely doing is enriching rich companies. That cant be denied.

  39. dr nemo says:

    To Derek (re: your comment on March 18th, 10:49 AM). Thank you for reading, first of all! The Associated Press article I was referring to was about North Korea, and the WWII reference in it was a note in passing. It got really stuck in my memory: it exemplifies the technique so well. You can’t really accuse the journalist of outright lying because of the statement “Russians claim that it was Germany who attacked them in WWII”. But the journalist very adeptly conveys the message “Russian propaganda as usual” to the casual and uninformed observer, who happily goes away, his worldview confirmed. (And it is really, really easy to be uninformed about Russia in the US. I saw a world map in an elementary school some 4 years ago, which showed Russia as its Asian part only, from east of the Ural mountains to the Pacific coast. There wasn’t much clarity about 2 thousand kilometers of unassigned territory west of the Ural mountains all the way to the Gulf of Finland. Some other country, who knows…)
    The museum was the Tretyakov gallery.
    As for Iran – all I can say is that when a group of NPR journalists went to Iran right before the last presidential election there, it made for interesting reporting. They clearly struggled with cognitive dissonance between the image of Mordor that they themselves had helped to create and the fact that they were in an ancient beautiful country, where people were hospitable (and just as beautiful as the country itself) and the food was delicious (which is pretty much what they hesitatingly said on air). I am sure your sources are a lot more informative; I do not presume to have any real understanding.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, the historic sites are amazing, and the government is (in the end) a bunch of evil, thieving bastards. All of these are true simultaneously.

      1. NJBiologist says:

        Don’t forget the staggering output of the Russian/Soviet/Russian/etc. creative class… amazing in both quality and quantity.

      2. Flyonthewall says:

        Derek, one could argue that the same could be said about the US. Pot, meet kettle.

        1. Anonymous says:

          Uhh, no one can’t.

  40. Baron Frieson says:

    One of the most respected war documentary film maker over the last 50 years, John Pilger’s commentary

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxRiG8vRRBk&feature=youtu.be

Comments are closed.