I’ve been learning more about Mike Caulfield’s SIFTing moves from his site “Sifting Through the Pandemic” (https://infodemic.blog), and I’m applying his first two techniques “Let’s Hover!” and “Just Add Wikipedia” to two sources I found to answer my question about the new test.

I want to learn more about this new test that seems to give you results while you wait. This feels important because finding out who has the virus seems to be an important next step in pinpointing our response to this thing. We need to isolate people who have the Coronavirus from people who haven’t been affected yet.

Source One: Jan Heemstra on Twitter

I went to Twitter and searched for “5-minute tests.” This is the first Tweet that came up.

I hovered over Jen Heemstra’s profile and was immediately convinced that she was a source that I could trust. She is an Associate Professor at Emory University in the Chemistry Department. Following the links to @EmoryChem and @HeemstraLab confirms my impression that she is somebody who might know something from her own research about testing for the Coronavirus.

Even though there isn’t a check verifying that Jen Heemstra is who she says she is, the fact that she has almost 50K followers and that the image on her Wikipedia and her Twitter profile image match leave little question. (Oh, right, did I mention that she has a Wikipedia page that confirms all of this?)

Let’s add Wikipedia. Here’s the summary paragraph of Jen Heemstra’s Wikipedia page. I first scanned the Wikipedia page for Emory University where I didn’t find much about Professor Heemstra, then I found her page. This is the first, summary paragraph:

Jennifer Margaret Heemstra (née Cary) is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Emory University. Her research makes use of the ability of nucleic acids to self-assemble and recognize other molecules. Alongside her research, Heemstra is a science communicator and writes a regular column for Chemical & Engineering News.

Wikipedia contributors. “Jennifer M. Heemstra.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 Jan. 2020. Web. 29 Mar. 2020.
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jennifer_M._Heemstra&oldid=937080004

This left me wondering what her research into “the ability of nucleic acids to self-assemble and recognize other molecules” has to do with a test for the Coronavirus. I’m not sure at this point, but it’s enough to make me think that she has the expertise needed to evaluate the 5-minute test.

After hovering over her profile and reading the first part of her Wikipedia page, I’m convinced that I can trust Jen Heemstra’s claims about the new Coronavirus test. Further, I feel encouraged to see that she is also described as a “science communicator and writes a regular column” for a peer-reviewed journal. I can’t wait to learn from her.

Source Two: Emily Mullin on Medium

Next, I turned to Medium, and I searched for “5 min test” again, but I didn’t find anything about the Coronavirus. Then I searched more directly for anything about the “Coronavirus test” and Emily Mullin’s post was the first to appear.

When I clicked on her profile link, I learned that she is a writer “covering the intersection of biology and technology.” I thought this was certainly the area of expertise we need to assess these new 5-minute tests, but I also wondered how much of her information would be first-hand the way it is with a scientist. Almost 5,000 followers on Medium is important to note as well.

When I clicked through to her twitter profile, I found that she is a “science writing instructor” at Johns Hopkins University. This is an impressive credential, but as a writer and teacher, not as a scientist. So this gives me some pause about how much to rely on the information she relays. On twitter, she has almost 11,000 followers, so there are a lot of people who find her trustworthy, but if I’m being extra careful these days — and I am — I’ll want to verify anything she says with more direct scientific writing. Is that fair? What’s there to lose from checking things like this?

Oh, yeah, we can be pretty certain that Emily Mullin is who she says she is with the checkmark certifying here profile. And I did look for her and for OneZero on Wikipedia without much success. I could look longer, but I think this is supposed to be a quick check, and I’m not saying that I don’t trust Emily Mullin, just that I’ll need more to back up her claims than I need from a scientist.

Ready to Read

Okay. Let’s read.

With confidence, I’m going to this thread under Jan Heemestra’s tweet: https://twitter.com/jenheemstra/status/1244043096301731845

Then, with more caution, I’ll read Emily Mullin’s post on Medium: https://coronavirus.medium.com/a-5-minute-coronavirus-test-7c82ad2e8f2

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2 Comments
  1. Timmy 4 months ago

    Hello Paul,
    I enjoyed reading your article and agree with what you are saying so I thought you might find this article interesting https://time.com/5812664/5-minute-coronavirus-test/
    Thank you, Timmy Jerome

    • Author
      Paul 4 months ago

      Thanks, Timmy. I took.a look at the author, Alice Paul’s profile and given that she is a “senior writer” at a mainstream, reliable magazine, we can be pretty sure about what she relates. However, I’m leaning more toward learning directly from scientists right now, not just reliable journalists.

      Here’s an example of why:

      I’m also asking Alice Paul’s question: “Why aren’t all COVID-19 tests run using the faster technology?”

      Her answer: “One reason has to do with volume; traditional genetic tests can process hundreds or even thousands of tests a day; the ID NOW system can only run about four samples an hour.” Ah… this just sounds circular to me: the faster tests can’t process as many as the traditional tests so they are slower?

      She also says: “And while traditional tests may take longer to produce results, researchers don’t need to spend as much time developing the test itself so it can start testing people sooner.” This doesn’t help me to understand WHY the rapid test takes longer to produce. Nothing wrong with this sentence. It’s just not helpful.

      More reporting here: “The rapid test ‘takes quite a bit of optimization and refining,’ says John Frels, vice president of research and development at Abbott Diagnostics. That means it requires more up front development time and takes longer to get up and running.” I want to find out what involved int the optimization process, not just be told it’s needed.

      Do you think I’m being too picky?

      Right now, I’m thinking this might be more helpful Update: US FDA issues Emergency Use Authorization for Abbott’s 5-min #COVID19 test. See our full coverage on fast, portable tests

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