An awful lot of people ended up reading my Oodles of Data substack, especially following its publication by Gript Media. There were, surprisingly, very few criticisms of it - I think most people must know the jig is up at this stage. We have, after all, spent two years watching masks utterly fail right in front of our eyes. It’s hard to keep pretending.
The few challenges that I did see consisted mainly of people posting a link to some study that says masks are great - a study that, invariably, was already considered and discussed in my article. The entire point of my article was to give context to all these studies and to understand what they’re actually saying and the relevance of their data. Reposting them with none of that context as a “gotcha” is, therefore, rather redundant.
On the other hand, quite a few people reposted my article declaring versions of “See, there is NO evidence for masks.”
Well, that’s not quite true. There is evidence - I spent over seven thousand words going through it. It’s just that it’s weak evidence. It’s observational studies that could mean anything. It’s mechanistic studies that show how a mask can catch a droplet in a lab but which means nothing much at all in the real world. It’s computer models which are told masks are effective and so produce results that, unsurprisingly, repeats that assertion in their conclusions. Worst of all, it’s cute little stories about hairdressers in Missouri.
All of this flimsy evidence is contradicted by much stronger evidence in the form of random controlled trials (RCTs) which demonstrate time and time again that, whatever your hope or expectation is, masks do not work to stop the spread of respiratory viruses.
A lot of the pro-mask studies are, I suspect, heavily politicised towards finding a benefit in masking. I think this is the case for the Bangladesh study where its incredibly unconvincing findings were shown, subsequently, to be clearly biased. Even in its original form, the study showed nothing at all to really recommend masking (indicating the tiniest of benefits) yet it was plastered all over the media as proof positive of the Power of the Mask. The subsequent reanalysis of it showed even its modest results couldn’t be taken seriously at all. Furthermore, the treatment of that study contrasted markedly with how the DANMASK-19 study was initially suppressed. While the dubious conclusions of the Bangladesh study were headline news even in pre-print form, the findings of the DANMASK study (that masks are useless) struggled to be published. Even when it did eventually find a journal to print it, that journal took the remarkable step of publishing a rebuttal to the study in the very same edition. They were trying to get ahead of the backlash they knew would come.
You see, governments and public health authorities around the world have invested huge amounts of their reputation in the effectiveness of masks. In most cases, they actually forced people to wear them and arrested and jailed those who did not. They, therefore, need masks to work (even just a little bit) to justify those actions. It would be ruinous to them to admit they do not. So, they likely never will - not when they can generate misleading media headlines from biased and puffed-up studies.
Even a lot of the pre-Covid evidence (meagre as it is) was likely politically motivated, coming, as much of it does, from China. Ridiculous telephone surveys of an intimidated population are presented as worthwhile data by a totalitarian state that has long since sought ways to control and subdue its people.
So, all of that is to say, again, that there is evidence for masking. It’s just terrible evidence. It’s the kind of evidence any semi-literate person can easily dismiss. However, it’s also not entirely unreasonable for someone to look at that evidence and say: “Well, it’s not clear at all that masks work but since we’re in a pandemic and I want to do anything I can to stay safe, no matter how unlikely it is to work, then I think I’ll choose to wear one.” I would disagree with such a person but that’s fine - we’re allowed to disagree.
It might even be reasonable for a Health Minister, like Stephen Donnelly, to look at the data and say to his citizens: “The data on masking is not good. It’s not clear they work but as we’re in a pandemic and we want to take every precaution, we suggest that, if you can tolerate wearing a mask, you might want to consider doing so.”
However, what is absolutely unreasonable is to look at this data and tell your citizens that masks will protect them, that they are a powerful weapon. Those conclusions are not remotely supported by any reading of the data. Had Donnelly stopped there, it would have been bad enough but, of course, he did not. He went on to force masks upon the population. He made it a crime not to wear one and people were arrested and jailed under his legislation. He forced them not just onto adults but onto children too with secondary school pupils wearing them all day in classrooms for a year and a half. They were even forced onto many primary school children during a few months of particular madness in late 2021 and early 2022 that people probably just want to forget now.
Meanwhile, way back in August 2020, I wrote to the Department of Health and asked them what their data was to support masking at that point. They replied with two quotations, one from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and one from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC). In their response to me below, I have highlighted in yellow what we already know - that both these organisations acknowledged the lack of evidence to support masking.
However, the part highlighted in red is even more important. In light of the lack of evidence, the WHO merely recommend that governments “encourage the general public to wear masks” and the ECDC advise that the “use of masks in the community should be considered”. Note the tentative language. NPHET and Donnelly took “encourage” and “consider” and turned them into “force” and “compel”.
Because they had to - they had no evidence with which to convince people. They only had force with which to compel them.
This is, in any language, an abuse of power. They forced a measure upon the population for which they had no good evidence and they can’t even blame these stateless bodies since they, at least, had the sense not to recommend the use of force. And, yet, there are many people who are unconcerned by this behaviour. In what has genuinely been one of the most bizarre interactions I have had during Covid, an Irish Independent columnist and one time deputy editor replied to my article by simply saying “Who cares?” He went on to liken my article to complaining about an offside decision in a football match.
No wonder a Health Minister can lockdown a country, confine people to their homes, close schools, delay cancer treatments, legally introduce segregation into society, and arrest OAPs for not wearing masks when this is the state of journalism in the country. If other professions have let us down badly these last three years (politicians, doctors, lawyers, to name a few), I think the failing of journalists is the most profound. It is, after all, their job to keep the others in check, to force them to be accountable. To be, in other words, a check on power.
But they forgot all of that. They either became cheerleaders for the power-hungry or, like Frank, they just stopped caring altogether.
In such states do bad things happen.
Maybe in several decades, when one of the current crowd writes his or her memoirs, or publishes the diaries he/she kept during the last 3 years, we may learn the truth about masks.
If the scientific evidence in favour of masks during a pandemic was weak at best, then we have to look for another reason why governments around the world, including Ireland, made it an offence not to wear one. Some kind of mass hysteria that spread rapidly across the world could be one explanation. But Occam's Razor suggests another.
For the best part of 2 years in Ireland seeing one's neighbours masked up in shops and on buses was a daily reminder that we were in the middle of a pandemic, and that we should be afraid, very afraid. There were no dead bodies littering the roads and rivers, no ambulances collecting corpses during the night. So without the daily sight of mask-wearing people, would we have believed a deadly pandemic was at loose in our community at all?
The visibility of the mask made it easy to police too, if not by the actual police then by the mask-wearing social shamers ready to shoot a disapproving glance at anyone they saw not obeying the law.
Making mask-wearing mandatory was a psychological weapon directed at the people by their government. But if ministers and officials had no interest in protecting citizens' health - they had before them the data that said masks were pretty useless - why did they want to instil fear in the community?
You might as well ask why governments want a docile citizenry who do what they are told. But that's another story.
Gript should publish this one too. The first was great for the thorough analysis of the studies and the clarity with which the conclusions were presented. This one gets solidly at the why this really really matters.l