Masks

MIT Researchers Find That ‘Skeptics’ Value Data Literacy and Scientific Rigour

Throughout the pandemic, governments have claimed to be following “the science”. But of course, many aspects of “the science” were never settled. 

The WHO, as well as the UK Government, initially told us not to wear face masks. They then decided that face masks were essential. Countries like Australia and New Zealand introduced border controls in early February. Meanwhile, UK scientists were advising against port-of-entry screening. Researchers predicted there would be 96,000 deaths in Sweden by July. But as it turned out, there were fewer than 6,000. 

Of course, many people have been sceptical of “the science” (by which I mean the officially endorsed science) from the very beginning. And of course, they’ve formed communities online with other like-minded persons. (Lockdown Sceptics would be one example of such a community.) 

In an unpublished paper, researchers from MIT sought to understand how the users of these communities obtain, analyse, share and curate information. Surprisingly (to them), they found that users place a premium on data literacy and scientific rigour. 

The researchers used a mixed methods design. First, they analysed a large sample of pandemic-related tweets sent between January and July 2020. Second, they employed ethnographic methods to study users on “anti-mask” Facebook groups. (Note that they use “anti-mask” as a “synecdoche for a broad spectrum of beliefs: that the pandemic is exaggerated, schools should be reopening, etc.”)

In their analysis of Twitter data, the researchers found that sceptics “share the second-highest number of charts across the top six communities”, and that they are “the most prolific producers of area/line charts”, while sharing “the fewest number of photos”. They also found that such individuals “often create polished counter-visualizations that would not be out of place in scientific papers”.  

In their study of “anti-mask” Facebook groups, the researchers found that users “value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over “expert interpretations”, and that “their approach to the pandemic is grounded in more scientific rigour, not less”. 

“Most fundamentally,” the researchers write, “the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution”. They note:

While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist.

According to the researchers, “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries”, and data literacy is a “quintessential criterion for membership within the community they have created”.

Based on these descriptions, one might assume the paper was written by a cadre of undercover sceptics. But the researchers make clear they are “not promoting these views”. Overall, it’s a fascinating study which is worth reading in full

Arizonan Parents Take Over School Board and Reverse Mask Mandate

Earlier this month Arizonan Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order lifting the requirement for staff and pupils to wear face masks at school. The order also permitted school districts and charter schools to “institute and enforce” mask-wearing policies – among other “anti-Covid” measures – if they so wished. The Post Millennial has published a great report on how some parents in Vale, Arizona, responded when they found out that their local school board had decided to keep the mask mandate in place.

The school board in the town of Vail, Arizona, had implemented a mask mandate in public schools. Parents weren’t having it, so they showed up at the Vail School Board meeting to tell the Board to make the masks optional. Even before the meeting began, the Board walked out in protest.

So what did the parents do? On Tuesday, they voted in a new School Board on the spot, then voted to end mandatory masking in Vail Schools. Parents gathered outside the School Board meeting to make their positions known…

Vail was one of those school districts that decided to continue the mask mandate through the end of the school year, noting that they intended to discuss the plans. In response, parents showed up at the scheduled meeting to state their preference for the masking orders to be lifted.

With parents in the parking lot, carrying signs that read “unmask the kids”, the School Board cancelled the meeting right before it was set to start. They cited “safety concerns”.

After the Board cancelled the meeting, the parents demanded to speak with the Board. Only a few were allowed to do so, while the rest crowded into the building. The Sheriff was called in. It didn’t quell the parents or their demands to free their kids from masking in schools.

One parent told local news: “These are my rights as a parent and they don’t get to decide how I raise them and what I believe is true and factual. It’s disgusting what’s being done and I don’t agree with it. I don’t. When you look at the flu, it also causes death. It also hurts people.” …

A video of the aftermath of the School Board walkout shows parents organising and taking charge in a very orderly, if impassioned way. They figure out how many School Board members are needed, and go about nominating, seconding, and confirming School Board members who are eligible to serve, based on the Roberts Rule of Order.

Once the fifth School Board member was elected, the brand new Vail School Board took up a meeting, and the first order of business was to do exactly what their predecessors had refused to do – make masking optional.

One of the new Board members, Anastasia, says: “I motion that the entire Vail School District be free of mask policy and it will be optional to all teachers and students alike, with no fear of retribution.”

Amid cheering, another Board Member seconds the motion, and it passes unanimously.

A great example of change being brought about from the grassroots up. But will the local authorities allow it to pass?

“School officials say district leaders are working on a letter to send to all parents as a reminder that the mask mandate remains in place,” reported local news.

Worth reading in full.

CDC Says Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Now Go Maskless Outside – but Not in Crowds

When Joe Biden became the President of the U.S., he asked Americans to wear face masks for his first 100 days in office. Thursday marks his 100th day as President, but new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that only fully vaccinated Americans can do away with face masks outdoors – and even then, only when not in crowds. The Mail has the story.

Fully vaccinated Americans can now safely go without masks outside, the CDC said on Tuesday.

“If you are fully vaccinated, things are much safer for you,” said CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky during a Tuesday White House press briefing. 

“There are many situations in which Americans do not need to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated, particularly outdoors.”

As long as they are outside, people who are fully vaccinated can now exercise, go to small gatherings or restaurants with people who are vaccinated or unvaccinated. 

It comes amid mounting evidence – finally acknowledged by the CDC on Tuesday – that outdoor transmission of coronavirus is exceedingly rare, accounting for less than 10% of cases. Those risks are mainly linked to crowded events that can turn into super-spreader events, or people who were in close range of one another. 

However, in crowded places like concerts, parades or sporting events, even vaccinated people should still wear masks, the CDC’s new guidance says. 

The guidance is merely that – advice about what the health agency has deemed safe – and is not enforceable. It’s up to states, counties and cities to issue mask mandates and other restrictions. 

Several states, including Massachusetts and Kentucky rolled back their guidelines on mask-wearing outdoors on Tuesday morning, in anticipation of the update to the guidelines. 

Unvaccinated people can shed their masks too, if they are outside exercising or at small outdoor gatherings with vaccinated friends and families.  

In order to “make a point” about the new mask-wearing guidelines, President Biden took off his mask when giving a speech at the White House on Tuesday and kept it off until he was back inside.

Worth reading in full.

Leading Scientists Call For End to Lockdown Restrictions

Twenty-two leading scientists and health experts, including Lockdown Sceptics contributors David Livermore, David Paton and Anthony Brookes, have put their names to a letter calling on the Government to end all restrictions on June 21st, including mask wearing and social distancing, and to stop mass testing of healthy people and abandon its vaccine passport proposals. The Mail on Sunday has more.

Leading scientists are calling on the Government to remove all coronavirus restrictions and allow people to ‘take back control of their own lives’ when the ‘roadmap’ to freedom ends in June.

With real-world data showing vaccines reduce the risk of death by 98 per cent and hospitalisations by more than 80 per cent, the experts say Covid-19 is being turned into a ‘mild’ disease in Britain, akin to the flu.

In an open letter to The Mail on Sunday, they criticise ‘confused and contradictory’ messages from Ministers and scientific advisers about the virus, which they say are exaggerating the real threat.

The 22 signatories include Professors Carl Heneghan and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford University, Emeritus Professor Hugh Pennington from the University of Aberdeen and Professor Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University.

“We are being told, simultaneously, that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true,” the scientists write. “We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines.”

You can read the letter in full here.

The full list of signatories is as follows:

  • Professor Ryan Anderson, Translational Science, Medicines Discovery Catapult
  • Dr Colin Axon, Mechanical Engineering, Brunel University
  • Professor Anthony Brookes, Genomics and Bioinformatics, University of Leicester
  • Professor Jackie Cassell, FFPH, Deputy Dean, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
  • Professor Angus Dalgleish, FRCP, FRCPath, FMedSci, Oncology, St George’s, University of London
  • Professor Robert Dingwall, FAcSS, HonMFPH, Sociology, Nottingham Trent University
  • Professor Sunetra Gupta, Theoretical Epidemiology, University of Oxford
  • Professor Carl Heneghan, MRCGP, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Professor Mike Hulme, Human Geography, University of Cambridge.
  • Dr John Lee – formerly Pathology, Hull York Medical School
  • Professor David Livermore, Medical Microbiology, University of East Anglia.
  • Professor Paul McKeigue Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor David Paton, Industrial Economics, University of Nottingham
  • Emeritus Professor Hugh Pennington, CBE, FRCPath, FRCP (Edin), FMedSci, FRSE, Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Gerry Quinn, Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster
  • Dr Roland Salmon, MRCGP, FFPH, former Director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (Wales).
  • Emeritus Professor John Scott, CBE, FRSA, FBA, FAcSS, Sociology, University of Essex
  • Professor Karol Sikora, FRCR, FRCP, FFPM, Medicine, University of Buckingham
  • Professor Ellen Townsend, Psychology, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Chao Wang, Health & Social Care Statistics, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London,
  • Professor John Watkins, Epidemiology, Cardiff University
  • Professor Lisa White, Modelling and Epidemiology, University of Oxford.

Stop Press: Lucy Johnston, the Health Editor of the Sunday Express, has more on the letter. In addition to asking the Government to drop all restrictions on June 21st, the signatories have demanded that schoolchildren stop being told to wear masks on May 17th.

Stop Press 2: The Sunday Telegraph has splashed the letter on its front page.