After just two months on Clubhouse, I finally understand how Theranos came to be.
While articles, books, and films have covered the saga in excellent detail, part of my curiosity lingered: How could we be embarrassed by bullshit of this size and scope? I am no longer curious.
After surfing hundreds of rooms new popular social media appI’ve been exposed to dozens of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes clones, some of whom run companies that have (allegedly) raised tens or millions of dollars.
Clubhouse is a sort of audio Reddit, a throwback to the days of internet message boards, when conversations were limited to singular spaces rather than the outdoor experiences of Twitter and other platforms. Its distinct use of audio communication also creates unique opportunities and challenges.
Clubhouse users interact in “rooms”. In each room is a ‘stage’, where individuals can speak, and an ‘audience’ full of people just listening, muted. Members of the audience can “raise their hands” and be brought on stage. Perhaps more importantly, rooms are created and governed by ‘moderators’, responsible for setting the stage and, ideally, organizing the conversation.
The tech industry was the first to migrate to Clubhouse in spring and summer 2020. Although it has since spread to many subcultures and millions users, Silicon Valley’s signature remains strong. Among those who frequent the scene are the biotech companies I have met, the ones I call clones of Theranos and Elizabeth Homes.
On stage, these startup owners confidently say things that may not be true or that are based on technology with logical flaws so huge that no informed person would bother to invest as much as a Monopoly dollar.
I hear about reversing the aging process based on a broken knowledge of cell biology, genetic modification based on wild catches of quantitative genetics, artificial intelligence to cure Covid-19 without a good grasp of it. natural history of the infection or the basis of the reality of AI work.
On stage during these exchanges – and able to speak – I mainly hold my tongue, even as my eyebrows ripple in skepticism or confusion.
Every now and then I ask a C-level leader a probing (but friendly) question or two about the fundamentals and fundamentals of how technology works, and I’m greeted with a barrage of “I’ll get back to you,” “c ‘is a good question ”, or the best one:“ Well, we can answer it after the next round of fundraising. ”
The biotech sphere isn’t the only bullshit arena at Theranos level. Quackery lives on in many rooms, including the ones that brought me to the Clubhouse in December: debates around Covid, and especially the vaccine. Since late fall, groups of doctors and scientists have been using the Clubhouse to answer questions and keep communities informed. This is especially true for Black doctors and scientists, who are releasing information after the first data suggesting that Afro- resistant to get vaccinated.
Much of Clubhouse’s dynamism is reflected in a heated discussion about Covid-19. There are enthusiastic and curious people out there with perfectly valid questions about vaccine safety. There are skeptics who got lost in a YouTube-inspired sci-fi network about nano-robot-infused vaccines. And then there are people who actively attack medical and scientific expertise and its suppliers. For example, I have been threatened with physical injury, criticized for pushing a “European education agenda” and reprimanded for pushing a “Stalinist medical agenda”.
The misinformation and grievances don’t stop there: on Clubhouse, there are “geneticists” whose main claim to fame is to put a battery behind the backs of white supremacists, “quantum experts” who talk about extraterrestrial intelligence and “scientists” who argue that aging is a singular disease whose burden of death can be compared to that of Covid.