15 Oct – Rich People Get Bilked! A Story PZ Myers Should Love

We’ve had the misfortune of documenting PZ’s economic incoherence many times in the past. We’ve even described it in formulaic terms: PZ Myers + Economics = Lie. It seems to be a fundamental law of sorts in the Pharyngula universe, and it was validated again today.

PZ spent a lot of time commenting on Theranos, an infamous start-up that went bankrupt when its technology turned out not to be what the company and its investors thought it was. The end result?

In May 2018 John Carreyrou reported that American business and government leaders lost more than $600 million by privately investing in Theranos. Major investments had been made by the Walton family ($150 million), Rupert Murdoch ($121 million), Betsy DeVos ($100 million), and the Cox family (of Cox Media Group) ($100 million). The final liquidation of the company in September 2018 rendered these investments completely worthless.


Rich billionaires losing incredible amounts of money when a company goes under? You’d think PZ Myers would be all over that, especially when some of them – like Rupert Murdoch and Betsy DeVos – are conservative bête noires.

So when there is a choice between writing about conservative rich people getting screwed or bashing capitalism writ large, which does he go with?

Trick question. With PZ Myers, there is always a third option. Lie.

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

Holmes was trying to build a medical device that she imagined in the absence of actual knowledge about how it would work. I would like to imagine a perpetual motion machine. That does not mean that my enthusiasm makes it a good idea.



This is a neat, tidy little story, if true. Elizabeth Holmes simply imagined a novel new medical device and then used her extraordinary talent for persuasion to bilk rich people out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The only thing wrong with it: it’s a fantasy.

From its incorporation in 2003 until 2018, Holmes was the company’s chief executive officer. She recruited Channing Robertson, a chemical-engineering professor at Stanford, to be a technical advisor and the company’s first board member during its early years.


Who is Channing Robertson?

Robertson taught Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes when she was a student at Stanford, and he went on to become the company’s first board member. He convinced Ian Gibbons to work for Theranos in 2005. In 2017, Theranos named him the co-leader of their technology advisory board. Even as Theranos was coming under growing scrutiny, as of May 2018, Robertson still believed the company was successful in developing novel blood testing technology. 


Ok, cool. Who is Ian Gibbons?

Gibbons was British and held a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge. He spent 30 years working on diagnostic and therapeutic products at various technology companies including Biotrack Laboratories. At Biotrack, he worked with Channing Robertson, who later recommended him as the first experienced scientist hired by Theranos. Gibbons, Robertson and others invented and patented a mechanism at Biotrack to dilute and mix liquid samples, abilities which would become key in Theranos processes


Is the picture starting to come together? Holmes didn’t just conjure a medial device out of thin air and then convince people to invest in it, she had real, actual, experienced scientists working for and with her developing this technology. It didn’t work as expected/advertised, but to call it a fantasy, as PZ has done, is a lie.


PZ’s just getting started. Hold on, we’ll wrap it all up at the end.

PZ Myers Lie #2 [in bold]:

But Margaret Thatcher’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) fiscal policies were disastrous! They led to our current mess and only benefited the rich…oh. I guess from the author’s perspective that wasn’t disastrous at all.



Once again, PZ has to invert the truth in order to make the point he wants to make. There is so much disinformation in the first two sentences it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s begin with this.

What “current mess”?? The economy is expanding under Trump at a greater rate than it did under Obama. Unemployment is lower than it’s been since we’ve been alive. The inflation rate is a modest 1.7%. Consumer confidence is high, as are retail sales. And that’s just a small sampling of the good economic news we could cite to demolish the idea that we’re in any sort of mess today whatsoever.

Second, were Thatcher and Reagan’s fiscal policies disastrous? We’ll only deal with the claim about Reagan here, we’re not well versed in UK economic history.

The conventional wisdom is that after a recession in the early years of the 1980s, the US economy expanded at a fast clip throughout the rest of the decade in part due to lower taxes and the deregulation of many industries. But, did that actually happen?

Turns out the answer is yes.

The Great Expansion

But, PZ might say, none of that matters. Sure, the economy grew, but at the expense of the poor and for the benefit of the rich.

If that were the case, we should see a sharp uptick in poverty.


Instead what we see are poverty rates that are relatively stable from 1975 onward.


Wait for it – we have one more lie to go.

PZ Myers Lie #3 [in bold]:

This guy is a dangerous idiot. He goes on to argue that real business leaders just need enthusiasm and confidence to persuade investors to pour money into your dream so you can just keep on chasing it. If you’re not confident, the investors will abandon you, and Holmes was great because she was so confident.



It should come as no surprise to PZWatch readers that John Tamny, the author of the piece PZ critiques here, never says real business leaders only need enthusiasm and confidence. While he does argue that a “lack of confidence in front of investors is the path to investor flight,” and that one element of Holmes’s success stemmed from her confidence, in no way, shape, or form does he argue that confidence alone is what makes her – or business leaders in general – great.


PZ Myers has to make construct a very specific type of strawman out of this story in order to knock it down the way he does. He wants to denegrate capitalism, not academia, so he has to keep his focus on Holmes and not the academics and scientists who worked with her at Theranos. He wants to make the case that capitalism is worse for people than socialism, so free market policies – like those enacted during the Reagan years – have to be disastrous, despite what the actual numbers show. And by the same token, we currently have to be in an economic “mess” even though almost every indicator seems to tell a different story. And this is so important – discrediting capitalism is a big, big deal – that he can’t even bring himself to mention the rich, stooopid Republicans who invested the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP in Theranos and lost it all.

We’re always amazed at the sheer quantity of misinformation a creationist has to believe in order to validate their ideology. PZ Myers has to believe at least that much to validate his own.

Final Tally:

Today: 1 science-related post, 5 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 119 science-related posts, 477 non-science posts

20% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science

Today: 3 PZ Myers Lies

Since 30 May 19: 150 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

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