Searching for Steve Jobs: Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, and the Dangers of the Origin Story

  • Alexander Mallery Stanford University
Keywords: Theranos, fraud, rational ignorance, cultural capital, Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Holmes, blood-testing


The short-lived success of $9 billion fraudulent biotechnology startup Theranos is often blamed on little more than technological hype surrounding the company’s finger prick blood tests. But such a limited accusation fails to account for the influence of the cult of personality created by Theranos’ CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, and the comparisons she drew to the late Steve Jobs, in both style and personality. This paper argues that the Theranos fraud was ultimately enabled, not by hype, but by the public’s trust in Holmes’ self-constructed image as Steve Jobs’ successor. The source of this trust is described with the proposed new model of ‘protective ignorance,’ an application of rational ignorance in the defense of the cultural capital associated with Jobs’ image. The power of protective ignorance is explored in the context of the Theranos case, and suggestions are provided to limit its negative impact in the future without restricting its more positive applications.

Author Biography

Alexander Mallery, Stanford University
Stanford Undergraduate (Undeclared)Class of 2020
Research Articles