Critical thinking - could we apply it to avoid Theranos fraud?

Critical thinking - could we apply it to avoid Theranos fraud?

January 31, 2022 8 min to read

In this post I explain the value of critical thinking using the example of Theranos fraud. Was there any way to prevent it from happening?

#eduscrum#learning#21stcentury skills#critical thinking

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Table of Contents


    Hello, hello! It’s been a while since I wrote my last post here. It’s time to start this year with some new content. I just finished a book Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" written by John Carreyrou.

    Spoiler alert! If you haven't read the book yet, I would recommend doing it first before reading this post. ;)

    It is one of these books that you start reading and cannot stop, because it is so interesting. It's the story about startup Theranos, an American health technology company. Elisabeth Holmes - CEO and the founder of the company was claiming that she will revolutionise the world with her company’s blood testing invention, while it was all a big fat lie and fraud.

    Why am I talking about it on this blog? There are so many different thoughts that I had when I was reading this book. I had a sad reflection about the direction of this world, but let’s leave it for later.

    In this post I would like to focus only on one aspect that came to my mind - critical thinking. I strongly believe that in the current world it is one of the most important 21st century skills that we should focus on in education. Let me tell you why, on the example of Elisabeth’s fraud.

    Trusting famous people & critical thinking

    Reading Elisabeth’s story made me realise that there are people in this world that can sell you everything. She was one of them. That woman was able to raise more than US$700 mln from investors who believed in her revolutionary product even if they didn’t see any scientific proof that the product will be able to work.

    Why was it so easy? Of course, I am sure that Elisabeth was able to tell great stories and probably she was a master at manipulating people.

    I believe there is something more in this story. One of the reasons why investors got so interested in the product, was creating an image of Theranos being the next Apple or Google in the medical sector.

    Elisabeth's idol was Steve Jobs and she built her image around being his female version. People trusted her and they felt safe enough to invest their money in Theranos.


    Source: "Theranos founder, chairwoman, and C.E.O. Elizabeth Holmes, in Palo Alto, California, September 2014." - BY ETHAN PINES/THE FORBES COLLECTION.

    I am pretty sure that there is some psychological process that would describe this behaviour and our willingness to treat famous people differently. I am just wondering why do we trust these people so much? Could critical thinking potentially save us from that?

    Elisabeth Holmes is not the only one who was able to trick people. There are still many, maybe less popular, but still pretty good liars out there.

    Even if I wish we could trust everyone in the world, I don't believe we should. We need to teach students at schools how to think critically and analyse information no matter who they receive it from.

    Would Theranos have so many investors if they would analyse the facts and confront them with scientific sources? I have no idea, maybe not. But thankfully because few former employees of Theranos were able to think critically, this company doesn't exist anymore.

    Impact of the Critical Thinking

    You may wonder why I am connecting these random old investors with education. The reason is simple our current students at school, university will at some point become adults making decisions that will impact the world.

    Investing in Theranos had a direct impact on people’s lives. It was a support for the non ethical process of blood tests that were giving the patients in the US wrong results. Imagine receiving misleading information that your results are so bad and you have probably some dangerous disease like cancer. Or the opposite, you received fake positive results, but in reality you should get some medical intervention. In both scenarios you can end up really sick or even die.

    This story is just one example, but the way we teach students and what skills they learn, it can really impact our future.

    Critical Thinking and "SELF"

    Enough sad stories. Let’s try to understand better what critical thinking is and how we can help students to develop this skill.

    Quoting Wikipedia:

    Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment.(...) Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.

    There is one really important part of this definition that I believe is crucial, the word "self". The analysis that is done as a part of critical thinking is done by ourselves. We direct it, we decide what and how should be analysed, not other people. Critical thinking is coming from inside. In order to be able to make that analysis by themselves, students need to have enough space for their "self".

    They need to have the autonomy to make decisions and have a voice in the learning process. What does it mean for education?


    Reshaping the format of school

    We are at this stage in the history of the world when schools shouldn’t be just a source of knowledge. It is no longer possible to cover all important information at school, because we have much more information than any human being is able to process.

    The purpose of schools is radically changing and at this stage much more important than feeding students with knowledge is supporting them in their own learning process.In order to do it, we should give much more autonomy to students.

    In my last posts I mentioned eduScrum - framework that I am really passionate about. It is the way of teaching that supports students in learning skills like critical thinking or collaboration.

    eduScrum and critical thinking

    How does eduScrum support students in developing critical thinking skills?

    First of all, The Teacher gives Student Teams information about learning objectives that are in the form of stories and they list specific Celebration Criteria that need to be met in order to achieve these objectives.

    Decision about the way HOW these learning objectives will be achieved is owned by students. What does it mean in reality? They need to verify the information, create a list of required tasks and find their own way of learning. At the beginning it can be difficult, because they need to start analysing data and make decisions.

    They are no longer commanded by the Teacher and they need to self-organise. That is exactly the moment when students start developing critical thinking skills.

    What is more, they don’t receive the answers on the plate, so they need to start asking questions and be proactive to find the right answers.


    The value of critical thinking

    When I analyse critical thinking and its impact, I like to remind myself of Sangen. "The Principle of Sanmi-Sangen" is a Japanese explanation of the mystery of life. Based on it, square, triangle and circle explain the meaning of human life.


    Source: eduScrum library

    Willy Wijnands transformed this metaphor to show the dynamics & interactions in education.

    • The square represents a curriculum that teacher needs to stick to when they plan their work.

    • Triangle in the middle reflects the main focus, while circle is the expression of dynamics.

    As a teacher we change the focus from subject/project to individual students or to teams depending on needs. Initially the curriculum is our frame or box and all dynamics are happening within this box. But once students develop critical thinking skill, they start growing outside the box. They are able to achieve what was planned in the curriculum and much more.


    Source: eduScrum library

    That’s the moment when they become less dependent on the teacher and start learning in their own way that wasn’t prescribed by the curriculum or teacher.

    I find it fascinating and I’ve seen how creative students can be if they have autonomy and space for their own "self".


    I strongly believe that we can impact the future by making the changes in education. Let’s help our students and give them space for developing critical thinking skills. Maybe we will save them from believing in some frauds like this one done by Theranos.

    I would like to do my piece and promote eduScrum all over the world. If you find this subject interesting and would like to learn more, feel free to visit my website and register for eduScrum training.

    Let’s build this community together! :)

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