Elon Musk would like to speak with the coronavirus test manager.
The SpaceX CEO delivered another problematic Twitter thread this weekend, this time with a series of uninformed statements about the accuracy of COVID-19 diagnostic tests. The billionaire questioned how it was possible that he had gotten two negative and two positive results from four rapid antigen tests.
Enter postdoctoral researcher Emma Bell who specializes in “bioinformatics,” which is basically analyzing biological data. Bell screen-shotted Musk’s tweet, explained why he was so misguided, and then casually dropped the devastating nickname of the year: Space Karen.
Rapid antigen tests trade sensitivity for speed. They return a result in <30 minutes, but can only detect COVID-19 when you’re absolutely riddled with it. What’s bogus is that Space Karen didn’t read up on the test before complaining to his millions of followers. pic.twitter.com/a1Snfpm03h
— Emma Bell PhD (@emmabell42) November 14, 2020
Bell’s tweet went viral, and it’s easy to see why: The more you think about it, the more Musk is a total Space Karen.
Karens think and act in their own interest, without considering how calling the cops, complaining to the manager, or casting doubt on the veracity of science, might affect others. As Bell points out, it is Extremely Karen to call out “something fishy” to millions of followers, assuming your personal experience constitutes enough information to cast doubt on the best practices of scientists.
So yea, that’s Elon. Plus space!
In this case, Musk misunderstood that the fast ‘n dirty option of the COVID-19 testing world isn’t the most accurate. Many Twitter users broke this down for Musk, and Bell even wrote a helpful Medium post with a more in-depth explanation, noting:
Rapid antigen tests work by detecting a protein found on the surface of the virus. The greater the number of virus particles in your body, the more likely you are to detect it. The number of virus particles peaks as symptoms appear. In the days, even hours, either side of peak viral load, the likelihood of a false negative increases. COVID-19 is 2 days before symptoms emerge. Thus, a rapid antigen test may well return a false negative when an infected person most needs to isolate.
Bell may not have actually coined the term Space Karen, but they certainly used it with aplomb. One Twitter user attributed its origin to a tweet from a now-suspended account, but we haven’t been able to confirm that.
This isn’t the first time Musk has spread misinformation about COVID-19. After repeatedly downplaying the threat of the coronavirus, he tweeted that children are “essentially immune.” This is not true.
Musk’s belief in his ability to know everything about everything is regrettable, to say the least. But at least we’ll always have Space Karen.
I always thought the phrase ‘won the Internet’ was a bit daft, but that was before someone referred to Elton Musk as Space Karen.
— cluedont (@cluedont) November 16, 2020