The criminal consequences of Silicon Valley’s “fake it till you make it” culture
Jul 7, 2022
Episode 708

The criminal consequences of Silicon Valley’s “fake it till you make it” culture

Plus, a lesson the U.S. could learn from the Boris Johnson saga.

“Fake it till you make it” has long been a mantra in Silicon Valley. It’s a culture that often brings financial consequences but very rarely criminal ones. We’ll talk about the significance of the criminal case against the former chief operating officer of the Theranos medical tech company, Sunny Balwani. He and his former romantic partner, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, faced charges of defrauding investors and patients. Speaking of consequences, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin gets sentenced again, this time for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces his intention to resign. We have the “purr-fect” tweet on the BoJo saga.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Join us tomorrow for Economics on Tap. We’ll be on the YouTube livestream starting at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT. We’ll have more news, drinks and a game!

Make Me Smart July 7, 2022 transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Kimberly Adams: I was reading the Chauvin thing, I hadn’t seen it yet.


Kai Ryssdal: Oh, yeah. Well, we will get to that. But that music you hear is thanks to Charlton Thorp. Good grief, man. Have you no respect for hosts’ chatter? But anyway. I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart where Kimberly and I were just mid chat and Charlton Thorp goes and fires it up. Make Me Smart as a podcast, you know what we do.


Kimberly Adams: And I’m Kimberly Adams, thank you for joining us. It’s Thursday. And clearly I do not have my life together. But we are going to nevertheless persist, do what we always do, some news, some smiles and call it a day. And with that, I guess we should get to the news that we were talking about because I hadn’t seen this until I clicked on your link.


Kai Ryssdal: So Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police officer who killed George Floyd two years ago this past spring, was sentenced today in federal court for violating George Floyd’s civil rights. 21 years is what he got. I bring it up for two reasons. Number one is not everybody has seen it, including Kimberly Adams, who’s one of the most plugged-in people I know, news wise. But also, because of this. The sentence range for this was 20 to 25. He got 21 years and he will serve – as those of you who have closely read this case will know – he will serve it in federal prison, which is arguably an easier place for him to do time. And there were some protestations early on as this plea deal came about, that that really was not cool. But clearly, the wheels of justice grind as the wheels of justice do. And he’s gotten 21 years, which I mean, it’s not nothing. But it would have been, I don’t know. More would have been somehow more palatable, I guess.


Kimberly Adams: What jumped out to me in this LA Times article was that, you know, Chauvin’s attorney asked for 20 years, the least that he could have gotten, arguing that Chauvin was remorseful and would make that clear to the court, but Chauvin in brief remarks made no direct apology or expression of remorse to Floyd’s family. And it’s like, wow, you murdered somebody. And you’re not even gonna fake you’re sorry. That’s a lot. That’s a whole lot.


Kai Ryssdal: And has not faked being sorry the whole time, right? I mean, in my memory of the of the criminal verdict, I don’t think there was…


Kimberly Adams: Not that I’ve seen, not that I’ve seen. But, I mean, I guess what would be, would you rather the fake apology or just, you know. Like, okay, you’re a murderer, and been convicted as a murderer, and you are going to remain a murderer. The judge also talked about how Chauvin ruined the lives of the other officers, because he came in and took command of the scene. Didn’t let the other officers intervene. You know. Anyway, read the article. Very interesting.


Kai Ryssdal: Anyways, yeah, it’s just one of those things you got to be up to speed on. Item number two, you might have seen this in New York Times last night that both Andrew McCabe and James Comey, former high ranking FBI officials who were not friendly with Donald Trump, have found themselves being audited. That’s the news item. What’s really interesting is the analysis that the Upshot – which is the Times’s economic and data and cool stuff blog – it’s the analysis they did of how rare that coincidence is. And I’m not getting into the math, because I’m not a math guy. But it was totally interesting. And you should read it if you’re at all vaguely interested in statistics, which I kind of am even though I can’t do them myself. So I just want to point that out. We’ll put it on the show page. And then finally, I feel the need and we’re gonna get to British politics here in the Make Me Smile section, which is not a joke. We actually will, in the make me smile section, British politics. I just want to make a point about Boris Johnson, and what happened to the prime minister. And this is not my original thought at all. It’s been out there for a couple of days now. But what we saw in the UK, the last 48 hours, was a political party, the conservative political party in that country, by the way, holding their party leader responsible for actions that party members deemed unbecoming of the person holding that exalted office. And that just needs to be said repeatedly, because it hasn’t sunk in over here. And I will say no more.


Kimberly Adams: Not much more to be said on that.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah. I mean, that’s just. Yeah.


Kimberly Adams: Did you see that the Secret Service Director stepping down?


Kai Ryssdal: I did. Did you see where he’s going? By the way?


Kimberly Adams:  No.


Kai Ryssdal: Apparently, sources say that he’s got a job at Snapchat. He’s taking a top security job at Snapchat. Yeah, how much you love that? How much you love that? 20 something years in the Secret Service, four years in the military, five years in the military. And now he’s going to be the top security guy or a top security guy at Snap. So there you go.


Kimberly Adams: Timing is very interesting, given the recent attention. Okay. So in the January 6 hearings, there has been a lot of attention on the role of the Secret Service in the events in and around January 6. Famously, Cassidy Hutchinson testified that in the presidential vehicle, Trump actually tried to take control of the vehicle and force the Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol. And they refused. And then there were all these stories going around saying the Secret Service is denying it, the Secret Service is denying it. Yet, there has been no official – as at least that I have seen –Secret Service denial. And the January 6 committee is like we’re happy to hear from them. And I believe some of them are going to testify. And so now, in the midst of all of this, the head of the Secret Service, decides that this is the appropriate time to end a long and storied career. Interesting timing.


Kai Ryssdal: Yep. For sure.


Kimberly Adams: Okay. Well, my story, very techie, but also very business-y. The Saga of Theranos, just seems to finally be winding down. So for those who don’t remember, Theranos was this company started by Elizabeth Holmes, who promised that if you just gave one drop of blood, they could run all of these diagnostic tests. And they got a ton of money from investors, they were getting ready to be in pharmacies. I think they were in some pharmacies, and it didn’t work. It was all BS. And so there have been all these fraud and conspiracy charges. So today, the former COO Sunny Balwani, was found guilty of all 12 counts of fraud, which was fascinating to me, because Elizabeth Holmes didn’t get convicted of all of her charges of fraud. But he did. Obviously, they’re both going to appeal. It’s very rare in Silicon Valley, that this bravado and the fake-it-till-you-make-it thing actually has criminal consequences, right? Often there’s financial consequences. But these folks are both likely going to jail. Prison, prison, not jail. They’re going to prison. And that’s something.


Kai Ryssdal: Oh, yeah, totally big deal. Let me just put a plug in here and I get no remuneration for this at all. But if you haven’t seen the Drop Out with Amanda Seyfried on the Elizabeth Holmes Theranos saga, it’s kind of amazing. It’s really good. It’s really good and she does a great job. She did a great job just embodying Elizabeth Holmes. It’s wild.


Kimberly Adams: Yeah, I need a break. I need to go and watch it. I’ve been meaning to watch that and the WeWork one.


Kai Ryssdal: Oh, so interesting. I have no desire to watch that WeWork one. I’m so done with the WeWork story.


Kimberly Adams: Well, you had to cover a lot.


Kai Ryssdal: Okay, I’m gonna go first here because mine are quick and dirty and yours is the absolutely fabulous one. Those of you who listen this podcast regularly know that both Kimberly and I are space geeks. And I want to point out two things that I saw floating in the ether the last couple of days. Number one is an essay in the Atlantic by Marina Koren who’s their space correspondent, about the imagery we are getting from Mars from the latest rover. It’s not quite poetic, this essay, but it’s really interesting and informative. And if you’re a space person, and if you believe like, oh I don’t know, Elon Musk, that we’re eventually going to get to Mars one day, this one is something you ought to read. And then the other one, here’s the thing about this, we’ve talked about the Webb Space Telescope a lot. And we’re gonna get like, next week sometime, their first sort of official public image. But they put out a test image or an image taken by the Fine Guidance Sensor, as sort of a preview of what we’re going to get. And we’re going to put it on the show page. But here’s the thing, and I’m going to sound like a jerk here. But I need to know from scientists and I know there’s some scientists out there, what this image is showing us. Because there’s a couple of stars in there, and you can tell they’re stars, literally it says this in the picture caption so it’s not just me. You can tell they’re stars because they look like stars, they’ve got those star rays emanating from them. And then there’s a bunch of – literally a bunch, probably hundreds of galaxies, right, and you can see the spiral formations, and it’s the farthest into the space that we’ve ever seen. And it’s super cool. I want to know what we can learn from this. That’s the thing I’m not clear on. So if you’re a scientist, write to us, text us, call us. Let me know what this is telling us. Because I’m not quite sure.


Kimberly Adams: What I still can’t quite get over or wrap my mind around is something that, one of the folks we talked to about this telescope when it launched, said that the images that we’re seeing, we’re literally traveling back in time, because it takes so long for the light to reach us. And since we’re looking so far away, we’re seeing things where the light hasn’t reached us yet. So we’re looking backwards in time. And so, like, the stars that we’re looking at tonight maybe don’t even exist anymore. It’s their light just got to us. But what we’re seeing in this telescope, the light hasn’t arrived here. And so we’re seeing where the light was, you know, maybe a million years ago, because it’s so far away. And that’s really cool to me.


Kai Ryssdal: Because it is cool. It’s cool, man.


Kimberly Adams: It is cool. Okay, mine was a literal make me smile make me chuckle this morning. So much so that before our rundown was even up, I was like, Dibs. This is mine for the make me smile. So I’m not trying to laugh at, you know, political instability in other countries. But this was funny. So there is a cat that lives outside 10 Downing Street in London. It’s a very famous cat.


Kai Ryssdal: It’s the house cat right? Doesn’t he live in 10 Downing Street?


Kimberly Adams: I don’t know. I always see photos of him like preventing cars from moving outside. Anyway, Larry the cat is the number 10 Downing Street cat. Very cute cat, he has his own Twitter account and lots of photos and all these things. I’m not sure if this is – a doubt this is an official account, but the account says Chief Mouser to the cabinet office for a decade and counting. 15-year-old tabby in position longer than the leader of any UK political party. It says okay, it’s an unofficial account. Right. This morning, or this afternoon, there was a photo posted of Larry the cat outside 10 Downing Street with a photoshopped podium in front of him, saying “I can no longer in good conscience live with this prime minister. Either he goes or I do.” And actually I’m sorry, this was two days ago. This was on July 5 when this wave of resignations first started. And so this was just very funny. I guess you just have to see it. It didn’t sound very funny.


Kai Ryssdal: I’ll have a look at it. No, it’s good. You got to see it. Take a look. We’ll put it on the show page. Because that’s what we do.


Kimberly Adams: Appreciate it. All right. Let’s see. That is – no, there’s no more music. We have to say goodbye.


Kai Ryssdal: There’s no more music. Oh, there is no more music. Yeah, well, maybe we should…


Kimberly Adams: There’s more music but we’re not there yet. That’s it for us today because clearly we both… and wind down. We will be back tomorrow for Economics On Tap. You can find us on the YouTube livestream starting at 6:30 Eastern on my side of the country, 3:30 Pacific on Kai’s side of the country. We’ll have more news, a game, and of course drinks. Yes, that’s it.


Kai Ryssdal: There we go. Send us your thoughts, your comments, your questions. Also, if you happen to be an astrophysicist, the answer to my question of what we’re going to learn from this space telescope, keep it brief. I know that’s really hard. Our email is Or leave us a message 508-U-B-SMART. That’s how you get ahold of us. Oh, there’s the other music. Fine.


Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Olivia Zhao was our intern. Today’s episode was engineered by Charlton Thorp.


Kai Ryssdal: Bridget Bodnar is the Senior Producer of this podcast, the Director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

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