The Downside of Openness

Chris Mooney finds much to admire with this list of Steve Jobs revelations, leaked from Walter Isaacson’s forthcoming biography:

He gave up Christianity at age 13 when he saw starving children on the cover of Life magazine. (AP)
* He was returning from an apple farm on one of his fruitarian diets when he chose the name of his company (AP)
* He told John Sculley (the former Pepsi exec who ousted Jobs) that if he hadn’t started Apple (AAPL) he might have been a poet in Paris (Huffington Post)
*He told Barack Obama he was headed for a one-term presidency (Huffington Post)
*He offered to create Obama’s ad campaign but became annoyed because Obama’s strategist David Axelrod wasn’t sufficiently deferential (HuffPo)
*Gates was fascinated with Jobs but found him “fundamentally odd” and “weirdly flawed as a human being” (HuffPo)

Oddly, Mooney didn’t include this nugget:

He [Jobs] came to regret having delayed surgery when his cancer was first diagnosed — turning instead to fruit juices, acupuncture and herbal cures, some of which he found on the Internet.

Anyway, Mooney goes on to write:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Apple’s success, and the Jobs phenomenon, from the perspective of the study of human personality. And I’m willing to bet that Jobs was a person who would have scored very high on the trait Openness to Experience““fractious, rebellious, innovative, intellectual, unconventional, determined to change the world and be noticed.

Umm, yeah, and openness to woo might have ended up killing Jobs prematurely. Kinda odd that science blogger Mooney didn’t have anything to say about that.

20 Responses to “The Downside of Openness”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    People who are ‘open to new ideas’ tend to downplay the risk of being ‘open to new ideas’. Some new ideas end up being worse then the old ideas.

  2. thingsbreak says:

    I brought up the alt-med woo thing up to some friends when I read this blog post:
    I was told it was inappropriate and none of my business! And these were not alt-med believers or anything. I think they thought it was ghoulish to bring it up so soon after he died, and not legitimately sourced.
    I don’t think that Mooney was listing admirable traits (e.g. look at the Obama bullets considering Mooney’s political orientation), though I agree that the article as a whole slants that way, especially towards the end.
    I think that Chris made a mistake in not mentioning the alt-med woo. Then again, I don’t think that Jobs was such an admirable person in the first place, so it wouldn’t challenge my preconceived notions like it might Chris’s.

  3. hunter says:

    It is fairly common, tragically, for people with cancer to avoid taking early, relatively low risk-high success interventions and then suffer and die. I have seen this up close and personal and it is difficult to fathom.

    as to Bill Gates talking about someone being fundamentally odd and weirdly flawed ……….

  4. Keith Kloor says:

    Hunter (3)

    Agreed. It is unfortunately common and I’ve seen it up close, too. 

  5. huxley says:

    When it comes to human beings just about all our qualities have upsides and downsides.

    I’m a bit puzzled by all the Jobs hagiography since his death. Like TB I don’t think Jobs was such an admirable person either, although Apple products played a big part in my career.

    Jobs died at his peak and while America was in difficulties and doubting itself. Jobs was a great man in his way and it was good to take our collective minds off our troubles and honor this successful, driven innovator.

  6. Mary says:

    Agree on the woo problem. But then he did a 180 and ended up having a very cutting-edge thing done: DNA sequencing of both the tumor and the normal tissue to compare and aim the treatments better. I’ve seen a bit more of that in the last year, but it was very rare until now.

  7. Keith Kloor says:

    A related NYT article.

  8. Jeff Norris says:

    Not a Jobs Hater but was not there some talk of Jobs gaming the system in order to get his liver transplant.

    To quote Mel Brooks “It’s good to be the king.”

  9. Stu says:

    “He gave up Christianity at age 13 when he saw starving children on the cover of Life magazine.”

    Imo he was a pretty lame Buddhist as well. All those personal billions, and the billions tied up in Apple, and no philanthropy program? That’s some strange values system.

    Jobs death is certainly disappointing, but mostly from a humanitarian perspective. He had the money, he had the backing, to really make a difference in the working conditions of the average tech worker. He turned his back on that. 

    His computers are flashy and nice to use. Too bad he wasn’t around long enough to do something really awesome.

    I feel soured by his death. 


  10. Stu says:

    (I am in computer graphics by trade. Most of my friends are designers of sorts. I am surrounded by Jobs idolatry. Sorry if my opinion above seems harsh).


  11. PS says:

    Do you all know the mortality rate of pancreatic cancer?  Jobs was dead man walking surgery or no.

  12. willard says:

    >   Jobs was dead man walking surgery or no.

    A specialist of that cancer disagrees: 

  13. Keith Kloor says:

    Orac is conflicted about the whole thing.

  14. Shub says:

    Please willard. You are wrong to just leave that link and provide no context. What you are doing about pancreatic cancer would become the equivalent of ‘woo’ 😉 (quoting some Harvard onc fellow for it). 

    Pancreatic carcinoma (as in, pancreatic adenocarcinoma) *is* deadly. Five year survival, even for localized disease, is ~20% (which in current standards, is a very, very bad tumor). The anatomic location, proximity to a rich vascular and autonomic nerve plexus, no doubt contributes to the unresectability of such localized disease. And few people are fortunate enough to be detected at that stage (about 10%), as the organ is so deep-seated and produces only vague clinical symptoms. 

    Jobs, it appears, had pancreatic ‘neuroendocrine carcinoma’ – an umbrella term for a group of tumors that are biologically different from pancreatic adenocarcinoma. These are indolent tumors, for the most part, and almost always symptomatic (which means they can be detected early). 

     So, Jobs’ distrust of conventional medicine probably cost him his life. But a cancer diagnosis does funny things – even to right-thinking people – so maybe, Jobs’ example can help a few others and he should be grudged. And ‘pancreatic cancer’, by which what is conventionally meant is pancreatic adenocarcinoma, is a deadly disease.

  15. Shub says:

    make that: Jobs should not be grudged.

  16. willard says:


    I pointed at a citation saying that Jobs was condemned.  I pointed at an article where a specialist disagreed.  That is all.  

    You do not need to tell me I’m wrong to educate us about cancer.  Educating us about cancer does not argue for your claim that I’m wrong anyway.  

    Both sides and every other sides should agree that we’re into counterfactuals here.  The most we can make of it is the commonsensical prescription according to which one should not waste time when one has pancreatic cancer.  Maybe this, maybe that, maybe maybe.

    Now please Shub.  It’s Saturday night.  My round.

  17. Shub says:

    “You do not need to tell me I’m wrong to educate us about cancer. ”


    You provided a link for a disagreement with “pancreatic cancer=dead man walking”. That was true in Jobs’ case only because he had a special type of pancreatic cancer.

    Indeed what he had in appears, was an insulinoma. So as in the usual case (50-60%), Jobs would have become symptomatic at some stage from the effects of hypoglycemia. At times, insulinomas can be hard to diagnose – because the symptoms of hypoglycemia are protean, and confusing. From Ramzi’s speculative post, it appears that Jobs did present with symptoms.

    From his surgical history, it looks like Jobs’ tumor was in/near the head of pancreas – again, not a common location for this tumor, as they tend to be found in the tail. This might have necessitated his Whipple’s. 

    There are some simple rules with this tumor: – >2 cm, >2% MiB1 index, and 2/10 HPF mitoses (not sure on the last one) = bad tumor. Since there were widespread metastases, it is reasonable to assume that he had a bad tumor, to begin with.

    A lot of people agonize over, ‘ah if only I had heeded my symptoms and gone to the doc earlier’ and ‘ah if only I had not gone to the alt med guy and wasted my time’ etc. While that may be valid in some cases, and certainly there is greater morbidity in some cases, it is hard to say that overall survival is affected in cancer. 9 months is however, a good bit of time though.

     If Jobs had a ‘good’ tumor, it might likely not have metastasized widely to the liver even given nine months. In bad tumors, metastatic disease can be evident even after the primary is removed. Again, there is a common thinking that getting the primary out will prevent mets. It doesn’t really work that way with many tumors.

    I think the real disservice that has been done, is that Jobs’ disease has been propagated as ‘pancreatic cancer’ and given his survival, it sent mixed signals about pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma) which in reality, is a very bad disease.

  18. willard says:


    Thank you for your précis, but nowhere it argues I was wrong.  In fact, I believe it shows I was not wrong:

    > You provided a link for a disagreement with “pancreatic cancer=dead man walking”. That was true in Jobs’ case only because he had a special type of pancreatic cancer.

    That’s what the doctor said, if I remember correctly.  So you appear to agree with him.

    So I’ll return your question:


  19. huxley says:

    …Jobs should not be grudged.

    Shub: Got to say I like this and even agree. But is that what you meant to say?

  20. Shub says:

    Well, maybe ‘grudged’ is not the right word. ‘Jobs should not be judged’ is closer to what I wanted to say.

    Lots of cancer patients turn to alternative medicine.  Imagine making fun of them for their irrationality in doing so. 

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