Pro-mask crusader Professor Trish Greenhalgh recently plumbed new depths of distortion and misinformation in her relentless mission to force humankind to hide their faces behind strips of cloth or plastic. In a nine-minute interview with Rachel Burden on BBC Radio 5 Live on January 4th 2023, Greenhalgh (Professor of Primary Health Care Sciences at the University of Oxford) starkly revealed much that is awry with the official wear-a-mask narrative. Indeed, the untruths were so blatant that the official ‘fact checkers’ intervened.
To convey the flavour of Greenhalgh’s warped take on the science of masks in reducing viral transmission, here is a transcript of part of the interview:
Rachel Burden: What is the evidence that masks reduce spread, because this is a thing that a lot of our listeners have a real problem with?
Trish Greenhalgh: It’s got to reduce spread, hasn’t it… there’s absolutely no doubt that the virus can’t get through the holes in the mask.
RB: Can you point to scientific data to show this?
TG: Yes, absolutely… there are many studies that show if people are wearing a mask, if I’m wearing a mask and you’re wearing a mask, the chance of me passing on the virus to you goes down dramatically to about 2% of what it was if neither of us was wearing a mask. So the idea that masks don’t work is a sort of meme; it’s disinformation. … Over time, [mask wearing] is going to bring the virus under control very quickly.
If you go back to when we introduced mask mandates first – I think it was back in June/July 2020 – cases were going up very, very rapidly and then the mask mandate brought them under control, oh, within weeks, within a couple of weeks.
RB: Did it? Was it just the mask mandate? Was it not other factors at play?
TG: Of course it was other factors at play. This is a mathematical thing… you have to feed all that data into a computer… the science is really clear… [If you’re wearing a mask] you’re much less likely to catch the virus from the air.
Let us highlight, and respond to, a few hotspots in her distorted rhetoric:
1. “It’s got to reduce spread, hasn’t it“
This seems to be based on a perverse kind of reasoning, one that assumes that if something sounds plausible it must be true. With regards to COVID-19, Greenhalgh’s thought process seems to follow the sequence of: (a) SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus spread via the breath; (b) we breathe through the nose and mouth; (c) masks provide a physical barrier that covers the nose and mouth; (d) therefore mask wearing must reduce viral transmission. This bears little resemblance to the scientific method, an approach based on the generation of specific and testable predictions (hypotheses) followed by relevant data collection that will either support, or refute, the prediction.
Greenhalgh offered clues as to her own version of science back in 2020 when she asserted that the rigorous search for empirical evidence was the “enemy of good policy“. In her science-lite world, she seems to be championing an approach we have witnessed all too often during the Covid era: implement a policy that – for ulterior reasons – is desirable to those in power, and then, as an afterthought, try to find evidence to support it.
2. “there’s absolutely no doubt that the virus can’t get through the holes in the mask“
Really? Greenhalgh’s claim is akin to suggesting that a tennis net can prevent grains of sand falling through it.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is spread mainly via microscopic particles that are far too small for cloth and plastic (surgical) masks to act as an effective barrier. Despite concerted attempts to censor their views, expert scientists have asserted that the type of masks worn by the general public in the community contain perforations that are far too big to act as a viral blockade and therefore “offer zero protection”. Furthermore, one study concluded that cloth face coverings can amplify the spread of infectious particles by acting as a “microniser“, transforming large droplets – which would ordinarily fall to the ground close to the person – into smaller, truly airborne ones.
3. “there are many studies that show if people are wearing a mask, if I’m wearing a mask and you’re wearing a mask, the chance of me passing on the virus to you goes down dramatically to about 2% of what it was if neither of us was wearing a mask“
Computer-modelling alert! We can all recall the catastrophic legacy of epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson and his wildly inaccurate predictions that COVID-19 would kill 2.2 million Americans and 500,000 British citizens – astrological prophecies that spooked Western governments into unprecedented restrictions that caused huge collateral damage. It seems that Greenhalgh is relying on similar computer modelling methods to justify her extreme pro-mask views.
Resorting to modelling to predict what will happen within complex human systems is problematic in many ways. One of the major flaws is its sensitivity to initial assumptions, which then leads to circular reasoning. So if one starts with the (highly dubious) premise that masks act as an effective viral barrier and feed this into a computer model as a given, it is inevitable that the ‘prediction’ will be that face coverings will provide significant benefits – 98% protection in Greenhalgh’s fantasy world.
Dame Ruth May (England’s Chief Nursing Officer) makes the same error in her recent attempt to defend masking in hospital settings. What Greenhalgh and May conveniently ignore is the wealth of more robust scientific evidence that concludes that masks achieve no meaningful reduction in the levels of viral transmission.
4. “So the idea that masks don’t work is a sort of meme; it’s disinformation“
Oh the irony! An abundance of empirical evidence now testifies to the ineffectiveness of masking healthy people. For example, there are: randomised controlled trials (here, here and here); real-world studies (here, here, here and here); and comprehensive literature reviews (here, here and here). Only in Greenhalgh’s surreal world could this established body of knowledge be seen as a disinformation meme.
5. “If you go back to when we introduced mask mandates first – I think it was back in June/July 2020 – cases were going up very, very rapidly and then the mask mandate brought them under control, oh, within weeks, within a couple of weeks“
This is the whopper of all whoppers. Indeed, this assertion was so blatantly untrue that it was corrected by the official ‘fact checkers’ – one of the rare occasions that these guardians of the official narrative have challenged one of their own.
As succinctly described by Dr. David Paton (Professor of Economics at Nottingham University), when the mask mandate of July 24th 2020 was introduced, Covid cases were rising slowly, only to sharply accelerate about five weeks later – so the reality could not be more at odds with Greenhalgh’s version.
6. “This is a mathematical thing… you have to feed all that data into a computer… the science is really clear“
A further reference to the surreal world of computer modelling (see point 3, above).
Why would Professor Greenhalgh, a healthcare expert, espouse such glaring distortions about the effectiveness of masks in preventing viral transmission? Is she a victim of the relentless fear propagation, orchestrated by the behavioural-science ‘nudgers’, to the extent that her terror of infection has compromised her scientific faculties? Or has her affinity with collectivist ideology – promoting top-down control of the populace – led her to conclude that, though ineffectual, mass-masking (a powerful weapon for levering compliance with the state’s diktats) can be justified for the long-term greater good? Perhaps time will reveal the true reason why she craves for us all to mask up.
Finally – given the glaring inaccuracies – I submitted a formal complaint to the BBC, requesting that the Radio 5-Live presenter (Rachel Burden) should draw Greenhalgh’s misinformation to the attention of her listeners so as to put the record straight. Alas, the BBC has declined to do so; some things never change.
Dr. Gary Sidley is a retired NHS consultant clinical psychologist and a co-founder of the Smile Free campaign.