Tag Archives: masks

Mask Equivocation

            Do masks “work”? We keep hearing that term thrown around by the politicos, talking heads, and media nags, but they never bother to define it. There is a reason for this. The reason? Equivocation. Equivocation is the deployment of ambiguous language so that one may never be called out for inaccuracies. If a word can have multiple meanings then you can safely call up whichever meaning gets you your get of jail free card. So when they say “masks work” what they are factually referring to is the ability of a properly fitted N95 mask to offer limited utility in limited situations for a limited duration. But they don’t mention those details. Rather, they reference that term without context in order that you the listener (or reader) will assume the discussion relates to the policy, not science, position regarding masks. Namely that they have been shown to effectively halt or diminish the rate of infection and death among populations that deploy them universally. This belief, however, is not supported by empirical evidence. Positive claims such as these (X does Y) are subject to the scientific method because they are falsifiable. That means it is possible to conceive of an experimental outcome that would not support the claim. For example, scientists once thought that electromagnetism travelled through a medium known as the ether. Experiments were done that supported the claim. Then one day an experiment was done that did not (Michelson-Morley). That one experiment overturned the entire theory of the ether. That is how falsifiability works. It does not matter if you have a thousand studies that support your claim. It only takes one piece of empirical evidence that does not and that claim is void or must be adjusted to conform to the new evidence. 

            This is the situation with “masks work.” Yes, the New York Times may cherry pick some locality that introduced masks followed by declining “cases” (I’m looking at you selectively charted Kansas counties). They may even find dozens of those. But we only need one that doesn’t conform to the narrative (all things equal). We have hundreds (numerous examples can be found at twitter.com/yinonw and here). But I’ll share just a couple of the most damning ones here. 

            Connecticut (97%), Massachusetts (97%), and California (94%) all have had continuous mask mandates for the chart period (compliance rate%). Florida (89%) ended theirs at the point shown. If you weren’t told could you pick out the state with no societal restrictions (masking, gatherings, school, sports, etc.)? Not only did cases rise among all four, they rose concurrently. That seems like an odd coincidence for such geographically disparate locales (Northeast, West, and South). Almost like the virus follows a well-established seasonality profile that is invariant to our various mitigation measures. And to be fair we can see that even though there is no state mandate in Florida the masking rate is still quite high (89%) in Florida (86% in Georgia for the curious). But this still doesn’t really help the masks work camp; all four states are rising (indeed the more compliant masking states are rising faster). There is simply no correlation of the proposed measure with the desired outcome. You may claim crowing roosters cause the sun to rise and cite numerous correlated examples; but I only have to provide one example of the sun rising in silence to settle that argument.

            If the masks “worked” then the “cases” would remain at baseline noise and never rise. Or would rise in some clear relationship between mask compliance rates and cases. Not even that is seen. Clearly something else is at work here. Clearly the masks are not having the effect that the “experts” tell us they should. At this point the masks serve no other purpose than as an externalized reminder from the state that we are in a self-made “crisis” that only the state can save us from. That’s quite convenient. But for the masks we would be unaware of anything amiss. A true crisis doesn’t require daily reminders that there is in fact a crisis. Ask yourselves then, why does this one?

Postscript to Unmasked 10-19-2020

Shortly after the release of my article a paper appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports that investigated the suitability of various types of masks (N95, surgical, cloth, etc) to compare their efficacy in decreasing particle expulsion (source control). This is one of the better of the “pro-mask” type articles in that they are completely open and honest about the limitations of their studies as well as raising a very interesting hypothesis that if true, could very well mean masks are making the spread worse.

The idea is this: you breath out and the masks captures the particles. Ok. Where do they go? They don’t simply vanish into another universe. If they are adhered to droplets and aerosols (water) then once that material builds up on the mask interior further breathing will actually re-aersolize it through the mask spraying it out like a spray can. This would have the effect of creating a much broader and more disperse ejection of material given that it is now concentrated in one spot. Likewise, even if the water particles evaporate leaving the viral particles behind – they still exist – on the mask. They are now attached to the fibers etc of the mask. These are no irreversible chemical bonds, they are loose electrostatic interactions. This is important because this study showed that cloth masks actually produced more particles than no mask at all. The reason for this being that breathing through it cause mask material itself to become dislodged and break free. So if a virus can attach to these then the virus will be hitching a ride on them.

This casts serious doubt on the mitigation effects of masks insofar as it demonstrates the very real possibility that at best they are doing nothing whatsoever and at worst they could be amplifying the spread. The only way to avoid this scenario would be to use N95 or surgical masks and change them out for new ones over the course of a few minutes. We know this is not happening nor is it practical in an real sense to expect that. Therefore the best approach is to only mask the vulnerable with suitable masks and use such masking as a signal to others to maintain a wide berth and take other protective measures. If every tree is marked then which tree has the pot of gold?