Occam’s razor and the secrecy of Theranos – a.k.a., is it all a bunch of crock? No.

Ever look at a piece of modern art and think, “Damn! I could have painted that.” Yet, it’s hanging in the Getty and your ear’s still intact. Let’s take that idea, and extrapolate it to the secretive megastartup Theranos – and whether, underneath all this mystery, it’s actually a bunch of crock. Here’s my wager: It’s […]

Ever look at a piece of modern art and think, “Damn! I could have painted that.” Yet, it’s hanging in the Getty and your ear’s still intact.

Let’s take that idea, and extrapolate it to the secretive megastartup Theranos – and whether, underneath all this mystery, it’s actually a bunch of crock. Here’s my wager: It’s not.

Business Insider recently tackled the question of what the Bay Area lab diagnostics company is up to, and kudos – it does quite the comprehensive probe. It deduces that the reason why Theranos is keeping its single-blood-drop labs IP so close to the chest is that the work’s likely not all that proprietary.

Let’s get philosophical: Occam’s Razor says that in science, the simplest answer is the best answer. Business Insider points out that CEO Elizabeth Holmes may have just found a way to optimize existing lab processes – but if she lets slip how she does it, well, anyone else can, too. So better follow the Apple model – keep things hush until it’s perfected and ready to launch. We all know, after all, that sometimes it isn’t about who does it best. It’s about who does it first.

Holmes’ solution is likely simple, elegant, but hugely scalable. It has high-profile names on its board, but a distinct lack of scientists. Why? Maybe it just doesn’t need ’em.

Protecting proprietary info is one thing if you’ve got a dense patent portfolio to back you up. But since the barrier to market entry is low for companies that have weaker IP, the key is to keep that work close to the chest. Holmes has grand plans to scale this enormously. That process is time-consuming enough to warrant a decade-plus of secrecy.

Scientists kevetch, sure, that the mega-startup’s lack of peer-validated studies casts a shadow over its legitimacy. But they’ll come. And we’ll find the process falls in that bucket of many a scientists saying, “Damn! I could have done that.”

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]