Monday, January 07, 2019

Lesley Stahl "at it" again in sad piece on biotech, Marshall Medoff, Xyleco

Back in 2014, Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" did a negative piece on cleantech, of which Slate wrote in a rebuttal piece titled --Clean Tech Is Not Dead --:

If this would-be exposé felt familiar, that’s because it was all over the media two years ago. Why 60 Minutes decided to drag it back into our living rooms in January 2014 is a mystery. By now, the Solyndra horse is so dead that even Fox News is tired of flogging it.

But there’s a more important reason you haven’t heard much about the “clean-tech crash” in the past couple of years: It turned out to be, in many ways, a myth. Yes, a lot of the alternative-energy startups that Silicon Valley investors flocked to five years ago have run into serious trouble. A few were among those that got government support. In the 60 Minutes segment, Stahl named nine failed or struggling companies in all—lumping in those that received government loans with some that didn’t—then declared herself “exhausted.” I guess it’s a good thing, then, that she didn’t try to name all the ones that succeeded: There are a lot more than nine of those.


Over the course of the segment, 60 Minutes got so many things wrong about clean technology that I don’t have room to refute them all here, though plenty of others have made valiant efforts. The Department of Energy ripped the show, calling it “flat wrong on the facts.” And on Tuesday, Vinod Khosla himself—the venture capitalist whom Stahl’s segment held up as the face of the “clean-tech bust”—published a scathing open letter to the show, disputing more than half a dozen key facts and comparing it to the National Enquirer. That’s an unfair comparison, of course: The National Enquirer could never hope to mislead as many Americans as 60 Minutes did.

It’s understandable that Khosla led his letter by taking issue with specific points of fact. But in doing so, he risks unintentionally obscuring the far greater sin of 60 Minutes’ journalism. It didn’t just botch the numbers. It utterly botched the underlying story.


Flash forward five years, and observe that Lesley Stahl has done a spin reversal, lionizing Marshall Medoff of Xyleco on January 6, 2019:

You never know who's gonna be the one with the big idea. History has shown it's not necessarily the person with the most impressive credentials.

A breakthrough can come from the least expected, perhaps like an 81-year-old eccentric from Massachusetts who toiled in isolation with no financial support for more than a decade.

His focus? A challenge that has stumped scientists for many years – how to transform inedible plant life into environmentally friendly transportation fuels in a clean and cost-effective way.

As to what was known about this technology five years ago, see for example Bak's paper titled: Process evaluation of electron beam irradiation-based biodegradation relevant to lignocellulose bioconversion.


George Shultz appeared as a Xyleco advocate. One might remember the appearance of Shultz in a different "60 Minutes" story on "high tech." Specifically, in May 2018, one had The Theranos Deception. Palo Alto online noted:

Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger served on the Theranos board, as did former Secretary of State William Perry and James Mattis, prior to his current appointment as Secretary of Defense. Investors included the founders of Walmart, media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Secretary of Education Betsy deVos, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, Perry appeared on "60 Minutes" in the Xyleco segment.

AND, of lionizing a non-mainstream "scientist," recall Lesley Stahl's piece on Kanzius, as discussed in the IPBiz post

Fool born every minute? Lesley Stahl's shameful piece on Kanzius.

One will not find Mr. Kanzius (who also described an invention to burn water) in the "60 Minutes" piece on other "innovators" (people whose creations are celebrated, even if their names are not)


UPDATE on Theranos:

UPDATE from a review of the movie about Theranos:

But really, what Theranos was selling — and what people were so eager to invest in — was Elizabeth Holmes herself. Much like Edison, Holmes was her own greatest invention.

Theranos would be devoted to saving [lives]. It wasn’t a bad idea — in fact, it was a beautiful idea.
However, it wasn’t a plausible idea, but Holmes kept shopping it around until she found a rich old man who didn’t realize that.

Of course, everyone wanted it to work. That’s true of the the potential investors who rejected Holmes’ proposal, and it’s true of the goon squad of retired statesmen (Henry Kissinger!), military legends (General Mattis!), and tongue-wagging venture capitalists (George Schultz!) who happily sat on the board of directors in order to spend time with her. It’s even true of the media, who were licking their chops at the chance to counter the narrative that Silicon Valley was a total sausage party (a Fortune Magazine cover story proved instrumental in launching the Theranos brand). Even before issues of representation grew urgent enough to shift the tectonic plates of our culture, people were still eager to rally around a woman and to champion her company as a sign of the future in more ways than one. Cut to: Theranos being valued at almost $10 billion, which is quite a lot of money for a company that only sold people on their own misguided optimism.



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