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Faye Flam

Lesson of Theranos: Fact-Checking Alone Isn't Enough

Lies can mislead, but so can strategically placed silences. Skeptics should be on the lookout for both.
Listen for what isn't said.

Listen for what isn't said.

Photographer: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

You don’t have to be a scientist to see what was wrong with the outsized claims of Elizabeth Holmes, self-proclaimed medical disruptor. At just 32, she is the founder and chief executive officer of the high-tech diagnostics company Theranos, a startup valued at $9 billion that promised to revolutionize blood testing. Until recently, she was the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire. But her star image has dimmed quickly over the past year, and now Holmes faces lawsuits and a criminal investigation for possibly deceiving investors.

Still, she drew thousands to a talk at last week’s annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry, held in Philadelphia. There aren’t many celebrities in clinical chemistry, after all, and she may be the only one ever to be played by Jennifer Lawrence in a movie. And Holmes can tell a story people want to hear.