Ginger gets dragged through a familiar routine. Shall we dance? Ginger gets dragged through a familiar routine.
Thanks to all who responded to last week’s column on the scuttling of OSHA’s ergonomic rules–particularly to those who disagreed with me. OSHA indeed might not have been the answer to workplace ergonomics. It’s a shame that its treatment as a political football in the arena of public opinion overshadowed the real issue. On to this week’s topic:
Ginger. You may have heard that this ultra-secret device (aka IT) being invented by Dean Kamen is in fact a hydrogen-powered scooter. Or that it’s a scooter powered by a Stirling engine. If you followed the hype that started up in January, you may have seen copies of Kamen’s patents, filed in December. You undoubtedly heard that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Steve Jobs had invested in it, and that it would alter the design of cities and radically change the world as we know it. (Amazon has even created a page to let people sign up to purchase this new invention.) Unfortunately, all of this will remain as fact in people’s minds, when the truth is actually much more difficult to divine.
Last week, Brill’s Content posted a story with comments from the Inside.com reporter who first broke the story, and from Kamen himself. Inside.com’s first stories about Ginger concerned a book deal–and that, ultimately, is the real story: The book is being written by a journalist and (perhaps now former) friend of Kamen’s, Steve Kemper, whose agent improperly let the proposal leak to Inside.com. Quoting only part of the proposal, the Inside.com story made it sound as though Kamen’s invention was all but in beta-testing stage, with the full financial blessing of heavyweights Bezos, Jobs and John Doerr, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. In fact, Kamen says in the Brill story, the invention is nowhere near completion, and Bezos et al. have not invested in it. (Kemper declined to talk to the reporter from Brill’s Content.) Kamen cannot talk about Ginger because he hasn’t yet filed all of the required patents for it, and talking about it could cost him his intellectual property rights.
Kamen lamented that things had gone so far out of control so quickly. All it took was the first Inside.com story. Within 72 hours, that journalist or a version of his story was on every major newsmagazine show and Web site. And suddenly, it was no longer about a publishing deal, but instead about a mysterious, life-changing invention by a proven inventor. The reality is, well, reality–imminently plainer, smaller, and a little sadder. Kamen has mortgaged his house in the past to pay his employees. He believes that scientists deserve more recognition in society, but he and his staff can’t handle 1,000 publicity phone calls by the likes of Katie Couric. Yes, he’s working on Ginger, but that’s not his FIRST priority. And two things may have irreparably damaged public perception of Kamen and his work: miscommunication or betrayal on behalf of another’s self-interest, and self-interested media hype.
For more on this story, see:
Inside.com’s initial story
Brill’s Content: “Overdoing IT,” by Mark Boal
Amazon.com’s IT page and discussion pages
Stirling engine Web site
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