There follows a guest post by Hector Drummond, a former academic who worked in risk, who says when he came to research his new book The Face Mask Cult on the effectiveness of masks against COVID-19 the evidence was threadbare.
In 2021 I decided to write an FAQ on all aspects of Covid, lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). I started with face masks, as they seemed to be the easiest issue to deal with, thinking that the whole mask situation could be summed up in five to six pages. After a few days work I had twenty pages of text, and another twenty pages of reminder notes on further aspects of face masks that I needed to consider and research. Those notes ballooned out in the next few weeks, and I realised that the use of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was a far bigger topic than I had appreciated, and would require substantial amounts of writing, and months of research and literature-reading.
It took until the next year before I decided I’d written enough on the topic. I had read an enormous number of scientific papers and other articles on masks, and gone through some of them with a fine-tooth comb (see Part 3 of the book, for instance). I had spent considerable time analysing, synthesising and rewriting, and my short FAQ article had become a comprehensive 400-page book that tackled all aspects of the issue, as well as a unique resource with its extensive scientific literature review section.
In all my researches I failed to come across very much in the way of convincing evidence that masks work. The papers that were supposed to show that they did all turned out to be poor pieces of science. None were randomly-controlled peer-reviewed trials. Some were observational studies, with inadequate controls for dealing with the possibility of faulty or biased recollection. Some were ‘modelling’ studies, in which a computer program was used to ‘model’ the effect of face masks on disease spread. Modelling studies are generally hopeless at providing any confirming evidence for the effectiveness of face masks as they require the modellers to make assumptions about how effective the masks are when writing their programs. Some were mannequin studies, in which a dummy in a lab with artificial breathing functions, rather than a real person in the real world, was used. Some were simply tests of the porosity of various materials in regard to salt aerosols.
Most studies ignored the issue of face mask gaps, despite it being well-known in the field that gaps around the sides of masks will let such large amounts of virions in and out that any effect that the masks do have will be completely negated. (This is why medical institutions require ‘fit tests’ for masks – not that fit tests are very reliable, as I explain in the book.)
Even these dubious studies that claimed to show an effect for masks didn’t show much of an effect. The less wild ones would typically claim that the cloth masks would stop 5% to 15% of virions, but they never presented any reason to believe the further claim that was often made that this would cause a 5% to 15% reduction in cases, or a 5% to 15% reduction in deaths. The closest such studies got to doing so was when an author would occasionally speculate, in an airy fashion, that if the disease in question’s R0 rate happened to be close to 1.0, then maybe widespread mask use (assuming masks had some small effect) would be enough to push the R0 rate below 1.0, in which case the disease would die out, although of course even if all their assumptions were true and masks did push the disease’s R0 rate below 1.0 it doesn’t follow that the disease would die out anytime soon. It could well be that the disease’s R0 rate would quickly come back over 1.0 again as soon as we stop masking, and so in order to stop the disease spreading again we would have to wear masks for years on end, or even indefinitely.
But what about all those government reports written by distinguished scientists assuring us that there were now truckloads of research proving that masks work? This is perhaps the most shocking part of the whole face mask con. The 2020 DELVE report and its updates, the 2020 Royal Society report, and the 2022 Department for Education’s Evidence Summary were disgraceful pieces of misinformation, as I show in detail in the book. Even more shocking, perhaps, is the fact that there have been so many acts of wrongdoing in the last two years that the scientific butchery committed in these reports is completely unknown to the general public. The fact, for instance, that the Royal Society’s report relied heavily upon a low-grade Chinese study, written in Chinese only, and published in an obscure Chinese journal, which reported fantastically unrealistic results, is never even going to briefly flit through the mind of the average person, because the average person will never come across any reference to this shameful affair in the mainstream media.
I felt vindicated as I put the finishing touches to the book when several prominent advocates of masks, such as Trish Greenhalgh, Jeremy Howard and many others, started to admit that cloth masks were useless. Not that they wanted to us to stop wearing masks – they now wanted us to move onto medical-grade respirator masks, like N95s and FFP2s, as Germany required. Needless to say, these mask fanatics didn’t bother to mention that Germany’s stringent mask policy has been a complete failure.
The book I finished up with is a serious corrective to the endless propaganda we have been fed about masks. It lays out the case against masks in detail, considers the harms done by mask-wearing (harms which are usually ignored by scientists and governments), closely examines many claims made about masks by both sides, and backs it all up with an enormous number of references to the scientific literature. Whenever anyone who wants you to wear a mask says, “Follow the Science”, just show them this book and say, “I already did”.