Don’t Trust the Washington Post on Masks

Joe Biden continues to pretend that masks are a highly effective way to prevent the transmission of viruses, while his media allies continue to perpetuate that false narrative. On Thursday, the same day that Biden extended his administration’s transportation mask mandate through mid-March, Washington Post reporter Salvador Rizzo “fact-checked” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on comments he made about masks. Rizzo gave Paul “Four Pinocchios”—the Post’s worst rating, reserved for “a Whopper”—for saying that “peer-reviewed studies of masks,” specifically an important study from Denmark, have found that masks “didn’t work.” 

In truth, the best peer-reviewed studies of masks, taken in combination, provide little support for Biden’s mandates and much support for Paul’s statement.

When it comes to masks or any other scientific question, randomized controlled trials are the gold standard in medical research. RCTs allow researchers to isolate a variable—such as the effectiveness of masks—while simultaneously making it very hard for the researchers to achieve their own desired results. Especially at a time when research has become highly politicized, RCTs are by far the most illuminating and reliable studies.

In “Do Masks Work? A Review of the Evidence,” I took a deep dive into the 14 RCTs that have tested the efficacy of mask-wearing and found the following: 

In sum, of the 14 RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive.

Paul highlighted perhaps the most noteworthy of these 14 RCTs, a Danish study conducted last year.

The Post “fact-checker” takes Paul to task for saying the Danish study found that masks “didn’t work,” and for not specifically mentioning any other studies. Paul presumably didn’t have time during a quick television interview to go through the various RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of mask-wearing. What’s more, the Danish study is the only peer-reviewed RCT to have tested masks’ specific effectiveness against COVID-19. 

That study from Denmark—which apparently had trouble getting published because it contradicted the pro-mask narrative—found that 1.8 percent of those in its mask group and 2.1 percent of those in its unmasked control group became infected with COVID-19 within a month. That 0.3-point difference was not statistically significant. In other words, the study found no statistically significant benefit from wearing masks.

The Post discounts the importance of statistical significance, treats the study as “inconclusive at best,” and accuses Paul of “twisting” the study’s findings by claiming masks “didn’t work.” The Post quotes the study’s authors as saying, “Face masks are a plausible means to reduce transmission”—a “plausible means” that the study did not find any statistically significant evidence to support, mind you—and then smugly writes, in parentheses, “(Somehow this passage did not make it into Paul’s summary of the study.)”

One could perhaps quibble with Paul’s having said that the Danish study found that masks “didn’t work,” as opposed to saying that the study didn’t find that masks did work. But this is closer to tomato/to-mah-to territory than it is to “twisting” the study’s findings or telling “a Whopper.”

Beyond that, the Post cites several non-randomized controlled trials, which are not remotely as authoritative as RCTs and were published after the question had already become highly politicized. The Post “fact check” also points to an RCT from Bangladesh that hasn’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal (it was self-published), may contain noteworthy methodological flaws, and didn’t find much evidence to support mask-wearing in any event. (One can only imagine how the Post would have responded had Paul cited a non-peer-reviewed, non-published study as evidence.) The Post ignores the other 13 RCTs that collectively suggest mask-wearing provides little to no benefit in preventing viral transmission and might even be counterproductive.

On some level, this isn’t surprising. America’s press corps and its public health officials have become even more pro-mask than some of their international counterparts. Public health officials’ insistence upon masking American children is particularly indefensible. Many localities are requiring children to wear masks this winter while actively playing basketball. In addition to the challenge of how to communicate with their teammates, such unfortunate children will also face the challenge of how to get enough oxygen. 

Such senseless mandates flatly contradict even the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), which says, “Children should not wear a mask when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn’t compromise their breathing.” But while the WHO provides this advice for kids as well as for adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and the Biden White House—continue to be zealously pro-mask at every turn.

Beyond not providing their promised health benefits, masks undermine human society in a myriad of ways. In “The Masking of America,” discussed on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” I concluded, 

[N]ot only do masks apparently not work as advertised, they are uncomfortable and unhygienic. They obscure our humanity and undermine our children’s development. They prevent us from seeing the emotions, sensibilities, and affections of others, or sharing our own. They limit communication and erode understanding. They profoundly compromise human interaction and substantially reduce our quality of life.

Joe Biden and his ideological allies ignore all of this, while attempting to impose a mask regime that defies long-standing Western norms, is unsupported by the best scientific evidence, and encourages governmental authorities to forget that we are each unique individuals endowed with certain unalienable rights. It’s time to shed the mask regime and breathe in the fresh air of freedom.

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