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The uncertainties of mask use demand that no one be forced to wear them

The uncertainty of science: Regular readers of Behind the Black will know that I have made it very clear I consider the requirement to wear a mask by government officials to be an incredible and inappropriate overreach of their authority, partly because they don’t have that legal right, and partly because the science is very uncertain, with some studies strongly suggesting that the mask could have serious negative health effects.

Still, the science remains uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, it seems to me in a free society, where everyone respects the idea of freedom, wearing a mask must be left up to each individual.

Sadly, the social justice warriors of our society no longer believe in freedom, and will try to shame and discredit you if you say publicly you will not wear a mask. In the past week I have had two friends tell me bluntly that they will never again be in the same room with me, because they insist that everyone should wear a mask in public, all the time. (This saddens me because I had considered them friends, and it appears those friendships are now over.) One even said “Not wearing a mask in public or with people who are not your immediate family is a true sign of disrespect for others, to put it mildly.”

The context of that last quote is important. It had been triggered because I had sent out a request on our local caving listserv, looking for carpool buddies for a cave trip, and wanted everyone to know that I do not wear a mask, and that I also did not want people in my car wearing them, based on my reading of this research. I said this specifically so that those uncomfortable with my position would not be surprised by my position later. I was leaving the choice up to each person.

That wasn’t enough for these petty dictators. I must obey them, or I clearly intend to infect old and sick people with COVID-19 and am evil.

That same person at first refused to read the research link above, which was a nice summary of many peer-reviewed science papers outlining the ineffectiveness and potential dangers of too-much unsterilized mask use. Instead, he researched the writer to see if he could discredit him. When he discovered that the writer was not part of the modern liberal orthodoxy, his work could now be ignored. That I even cited him also meant that I personally was now “fully discredited.”

This is a typical modern close-minded debate tactic. The facts and data mean nothing. If we find we disagree with the politics of the writer, all their work and the data they gather can be discounted, forever.

Later he did read it, after probably realizing he had over-reacted. He then stated that the cited peer-review papers were all old, and therefore that justified discounting them. He did not cite newer peer-reviewed research, however, suggesting instead I read this op-ed by an AI data scientist, one of a hundred academics demanding that everyone wear masks, and that the government should require it.

That AI data scientist makes some good points, but once again, the science is uncertain, and I can demonstrate this by simply citing a different op-ed published today, written by a neurosurgeon who argues that the effectiveness of masks is unproven, that they do pose some known health risks, and that they should not be used. He also makes some good points. He is also an actual doctor, so it seems reasonable to give his opinion more weight.

Either way, it remains a he-said-she-said debate. In such a situation the individual must take personal responsibility, and be left to make the decision, for themselves. To require everyone to use masks, all the time, by force of law, is not only tyrannical, it is bluntly irrational.

And then there is the historical context of mask use. Until the revolution in medicine in the 1800s no one ever wore a mask. Then scientists learned the value of disinfection and sterility during surgical procedures. Wearing a mask in these situations made good scientific sense, especially because the mask was well-designed, sterilized, and properly used for only a short period.

For the general population, however, the idea of wearing a mask all the time was considered absurd. How could one live that way? Moreover, it was recognized that children needed to get infected to many diseases that had no cures in order to build up their immune systems. When young they can fight the disease off, and then be immune, having antibodies. If they don’t get those antibodies when young, however, when they are older they will be much more vulnerable to the disease. It went without saying therefore that to force children to wear masks all the time would have guaranteed that their immune systems would grow up weak, and would leave them as adults far more vulnerable to diseases of all kinds.

This was why people would hold chicken pox parties to get their kids infected. Everyone knew that the chicken pox was harmless to kids, but deadly to adults. Give the kids a mild sickness early and you help them grow up strong.

And you also help them grow up brave. Such an approach taught them that life carries risk, but if you face it with courage, those risks are often not that scary. Confront those risks, and you will come out ahead far more often, and in the process have the chance to achieve great things. Hide in your room, and you will accomplish nothing, and lead a very sad life.

I prefer the courageous approach. I’d rather risk dying of COVID-19 then live my life in fear, afraid of my own shadow. In fact, if you live your life in fear you really are already dead.

Live bravely, and you will have the chance of achieving greatness. Just take a look at my website banner at the top of this page. Those were not fearful men.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Andrew_W

    From the first paper Dr. Rancourt sights:

    Face mask use in health care workers has not been demonstrated to provide benefit in terms of cold symptoms or getting colds. A larger study is needed to definitively establish noninferiority of no mask use.

    From the second:

    We reviewed the English-language literature on this subject to inform public health preparedness. There is some evidence to support the wearing of masks or respirators during illness to protect others, and public health emphasis on mask wearing during illness may help to reduce influenza virus transmission. There are fewer data to support the use of masks or respirators to prevent becoming infected.

    The third:

    Seven studies were conducted amongst healthcare workers and two were community-based. All but two of the case–control studies in healthcare workers reported that wearing masks and ⁄ or respirators appeared to protect workers from acquiring SARS.14–17A retrospective cohort study of nurses who worked in two Toronto hospital intensive care units found that the relative risk of SARS for nurses who consistently wore a N95 respirator was half that for nurses who consistently wore a surgical mask; however, the difference was not significant because of a small sample size

    None of the studies we reviewed established a conclusive relationship between mask ⁄ respirator use and protection against influenza infection. Some useful clues, however,could be gleaned. Sub-analyses performed for one of the larger randomised controlled studies in a household setting found evidence of reduced rates of influenza-like illness if household contacts consistently wore the mask or respirator.

    From the forth, which did dealt only with comparing surgical masks with N95 respirators, not with comparing masks vs no masks.

    Results of our systematic review and meta-analysis show that there was no significant difference between N95 respirators and surgical masks when used by health care workers to prevent transmission of acute respiratory infections from patients. However, wide 95% CIs from our meta-analysis must be interpreted as insufficient evidence to determine whether there is a clinically significant difference. Findings from the surrogate exposure studies suggest that N95 respirators are superior to surgical masks for filter penetration, face-seal leakage and total inward leakage under laboratory conditions.

    I found nothing there supporting the contention that wearing masks could be dangerous to other people, so, while it’s your car, I see no scientific justification for your not want[ing] people in [your] car wearing them.
    What’s done is done, but if these friendships were important to you, perhaps just requiring regular changes of masks would have been a possible compromise.
    The masks showed a decrease in efficacy after a 4-hour wearing time.

  • Tom R


    You mention several times that “the science remains uncertain” on masks. So my logic says that is the current fact…that “the science remains uncertain” (until there is definitive knowledge). Right?

    And if it’s “uncertain” then masks being a bad thing is not yet a fact. It’s a possibility. It could even be a strong possibility.

    If someone thinks masks are helpful in preventing the transmission to the vulnerable, are they really against you? Are they not your friend? Or are they just against the possibility that your breath without a mask (again because it’s uncertain right now) might inadvertently transmit the virus to someone they don’t want to see die?

    I don’t think this is a bravery issue. At this moment, it sounds more like risk management.

    To me (and I could be wrong) It looks like you make a choice to believe something where the science is uncertain but compelling to you and that is your right. If your friends are on the other side, are they not justified in believing what they do….just as you do?


  • Tom R: My problem is the demand that everyone wear masks, accompanied by shaming, and slander, and an unwillingness to consider the possibility they could be wrong.

    The second link provided by our unnamed friend as evidence that masks must be used was not detailed scientific research or peer-reviewed, it was a lobbying letter signed by 100 academics demanding that mask use be required. They weren’t recommending their use. They really weren’t trying to persuade people to use them. They wanted the government and business to require their use, by force of law if possible. To quote:

    [W] ask that government officials require cloth masks to be worn in all public places, such as stores, transportation systems, and public buildings as soon as possible. This action will prevent people who are infectious from unknowingly spreading the disease.

    We also ask business leaders who offer products and services to the public to require their employees and customers to wear masks whether or not it is required by local law. This vital step will help protect workers and customers. [emphasis mine]

    Since I have found it very easy to find contrary conclusions, it is is downright offensive for anyone to be demanding this requirement in a free society.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Andrew_W said:
    “…perhaps just requiring regular changes of masks would have been a possible compromise.
    The masks showed a decrease in efficacy after a 4-hour wearing time.

    The link points to a bacterial study, not viral. It does not apply to this discussion.

  • Andrew_W

    The link points to a bacterial study, not viral.
    True, but the point stands, fresh masks are not a hazard to other people, I’ve no idea how long a surgical mask can be worn before it becomes a medium of bacterial growth, but if efficacy against bacterial transmission is 4 hours, I would expect a mask growing bacteria becoming a hazard would take longer.

  • wayne

    Unless you have people who know how to appropriately & correctly use medical grade masks and gloves, this mask fetish is all largely psychological.
    The “N95” masks have an effectiveness rating of 10, compared to self-contained breathing apparatus which have a rating of 1,000.
    Personal protective equipment used outside of a sterile-environment, only provides a physical barrier to blood & fluid splatter, and to prevent people from touching their faces with their hands. (which folks do instinctively and without thought) They are not filtering viruses out of the air you inhale. And if they aren’t fitted properly 100% of the time, one is fooling themselves.
    Ref: gloves– if you see people wearing the same pair of gloves, all day long—they have no idea how to correctly use them. (same goes for masks—one use and you dump them.)

    Tangential question:
    How many people sanitize their phones, their keys, cigarette lighter, etc.?
    I bet, very few.

  • Andrew_W

    The “N95” masks have an effectiveness rating of 10, compared to self-contained breathing apparatus which have a rating of 1,000.
    Yep, what does that mean, that the N95 reduces transmission 10 ten fold ie. to 10% of that with no mask of any kind? That breathing apparatus is reduces transmission 1000 fold, to 0.1% of no mask?
    If so, for Covid, with an R0 of 2.5, wearing surgical masks with an effectiveness rating of just 3 should push R0 below 1 without any other measures being necessary.

  • Cotour


    Let an Irishman instruct you as to the Zmans point.

    Its just a matter of degrees once you allow them the power to do what ever they determine is “In the public interest”.

    “If it saves just one life”.

  • Cotour: Not only do I not do Twitter, my browser does not even allow me to see anything on it. (It is a technical issue that I have zero desire to fix.) Is there a non-Twitter link to what you link to above?

  • Cotour

    Its just something that a friend sent me who has connections in Ireland, I do not know.

    I will see if I can find it somewhere else.

  • Cotour

    This appears to be a longer version on Youtube of the Twitter video: Man being stopped related to the Corona virus and he refuses to give any information.

    Gemma O’Doherty I believe is an Irish journalist who fights for transparency and freedom in Ireland.

  • FC

    You say Rancourt is “not part of the modern liberal orthodoxy”. His own words show he is an Israel-hating loony.

  • FC: Hey, I never said I have to agree with him on all issues, or whether he is a saint. He wrote a reasonable paper on masks, with a lot of good peer reviewed references.

    As a general rule I read the research first to see if it is creditable. If it is, that’s sufficient for me. I find it bad policy to dismiss anyone a priori, because I find I don’t like their politics.

  • FC

    In that paper Rancourt cited a previous blog post of his which states, “From the evidence available, the only thing keeping it from all out genocide of the Palestinians and nuclear extermination of Muslims in the region is public opinion in combination with Israel’s desire to be accepted as part of the broader community of nations.”

    And he elaborates on this theme at great length.

  • FC: I repeat: this is a typical close-minded tactic of debate today. Ignore the actual information, attack the messenger.

  • FC: Let me add that I did not cite him for his Middle East expertise. It is clearly junk. That doesn’t however change the topic at hand, as nothing you have cited discredits the actual mask research he cites.

  • commodude

    Dr. von Braun was, to be kind, amoral. His status as a human being, however, doesn’t mean his work in rocketry can be dismissed.

  • John Piper

    I’m a mask-in-top pocket non-user, to state my civics & science positions up front. If a store owner asks me to wear a mask (such as Costco), I will put it on to do my shopping. The issue I find compelling in your post is the moral stance of your critic: “Not wearing a mask in public or with people who are not your immediate family is a true sign of disrespect for others, to put it mildly.” The argument is that a duty is owed. As in, “you owe me this behavior, out of respect.” Is that true? Certainly mankind deserves a duty of respect, as in the respect for life itself, and more generally the core values inherent in mankind, values we share equally and which we deserve equally by virtue of respecting them in others. Yet I can’t reach these core values negatively in the case of wearing masks. How is humanity disrespected in my choice to not wear a mask? One reason I don’t wear a mask is to show respect and encouragement for other non-wearers, with whom I feel a sense of solidarity. I use the word “solidarity” in the sense Vaclav Havel used it. I have reasons (like yours) for not wearing a mask, grounded in my reading of the science, and the key is that the reasons are mine, my choice of credible sources, my take on what they mean, my judgement. Your critic denies me (and you) those choices, arguing instead that the aggrieved party has the privilege of deciding what others ought to do out of respect. So our critics’ privilege is to assign what we justly can read, think, judge, act, in order to … to what, exactly? To do right? Doesn’t common sense say that the aggrieved party is the one who should be recused from performative judgement in the first place, for the obvious bias inherent in the grievance? My own take is that our moralizing critics have abandoned the high ground and instead seized the lowest position where ignorance, fear, and perceived authority demand fealty to the irrational self-interest one finds alternately in pathological liars and victims of mass hysteria. The simpler way to put it is that you did not send the behavioral message received by your critic (the “I disrespect you” message). What you said, out of respect, was ride in someone else’s car pool if that is your choice.

  • D3F1ANT

    The Constitution demands that nobody be forced to wear masks.

  • Phill O

    Bob will wear a mask; of this I am confident. However, there must be logic behind wearing it. I could see him, (if he had a cold or something) wearing one to the hospital emergency to capture the effluent from his coughs or sneezes.

    To wear masks in public makes little sense especially when they are worn improperly or not sterilized. I wonder how many change of masks were employed by the surgeons who did my back over the 7 hours of the procedure. Probably few as team members would have rotated.

    At this point, there are at least 68 corona viruses hosted by bats. Getting a vaccine for one will not help for the next one that emerges.

    From the comments of many on this site, I would surmise we could come up with a SYSTEM strategy to deal with the next outbreak of a disease.

  • m d mill

    Are “prohibition of public nudity” laws constitutional and legal?
    The answer has been yes for hundreds of years (thankfully… consider the HORROR, the HORROR).
    Is the prohibition of the public “nudity” of the mouth and nose (ie must wear face mask) constitutional and legal?
    Yes in principle, unless the laws were enacted outside a legal and constitutional process.

  • ADStryker

    If your “buddy” was claiming that he could ignore the “Masks Don’t Work” report because the “cited peer-review papers were all old,” then I would guess that he didn’t actually read the report.

  • m d mill

    I would highly recommend the Covid-19 strategy papers presented by Nic Lewis on Judith Curries blog Climate Etc…especially :

  • Phill O

    I am looking for a rational and simple strategy, sort of like a cooking recipe which could be implemented with little background argument. KISS.

    What would you do.

    We know forcing people to wear masks across the board, will not work.

  • ADStryker: As I said, the goal is not to learn anything new, but to justify a refusal to learn, to rationalize a willful ignorance.

    Sadly this is quite normal behavior in intellectual circles nowadays.

  • Phill O wrote, “Bob will wear a mask, of this I am confident.”

    Want to bet?

    You remind me of a leftwing software writer I knew back in the mid-1990s, who when I told him I hated Windows and preferred the 1980s DOS-based word-processing program Xywrite and intended to keep using it, arrogantly insisted that “I will be forced to give it up.”

    Not only have I not used Windows now for almost fifteen years, I still use Xywrite.

    I will not be told what to do, especially by people who don’t make their decisions based on rational thought, and make no effort to persuade me.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “He then stated that the cited peer-review papers were all old, and therefore that justified discounting them.

    Does he believe that physics, biology, or science change over time? The only reason to reject an old paper is when there are papers that contradict it. Ben Franklin’s observation that lightning consists of electricity is still valid, after all these years.

    As recently as March they told us to not wear masks, then they just changed their minds. They just said so. “Because I said so” may work with parents on their children, but we are all grown up, now, and we deserve respect from our unelected dictatorial overlords.

    Interestingly, both op-eds (not papers) referenced by Robert’s (ex?) friend failed to address the prime concern behind Robert’s linked, peer reviewed, and published paper, Masks Don’t Work (Rancourt): droplets too small to be stopped by masks can contain enough virus to spread the disease. Instead, the op-eds admit that they are based upon the assumption that small droplets are not infectious.

    [J]ust how much of a role these small particles play in transmission remains to be seen,” and: “Cloth masks obstruct a high portion of the droplets from the mouth and nose that spread the virus” respectively. Should small droplets be infectious, after all, then these op-eds come to the wrong conclusion.

    The first op-ed even recommends that we be limited to data and papers produced before the Wuhan outbreak. “However, it is impossible and unethical to test mask-wearing, hand-washing or social distancing during a pandemic.” Thus, old papers are the only trustworthy papers that we have, right now. The Rancourt paper references papers written before this Wuhan flu outbreak, but the op-eds seem to rely heavily upon opinions or science performed under the influence of the Wuhan flu and the promise of the Great Oppression.

    Robert’s friend was quick to dismiss the Rancourt paper once he discovered the political persuasion of the author, but what if the op-eds are influenced by a desired outcome rather than actual science. It seems to me that the op-eds are not based upon questions (e.g. do masks work?) but upon the predetermined conclusion that everyone should be required to wear a mask. They may be more biased than Robert’s friend thinks the Rancourt paper is.

    There are those who believe that society should require the use of masks in public places. That is fine for those who have found masks, but when 300 million Americans are sharing 30 million masks (maybe a few more, by now), It will be difficult for a large portion of Americans to go to the grocery store, the drive-through, the doctor’s office, or the pharmacy.

    It took seven weeks for me to find and get a mask. It is an eight-hour, one-use mask. It was required at my dentist’s office, for nearly half an hour’s use. I used it at the grocery store (which does not require masks), for another half hour, and again to get take-out at a restaurant that I hope survives this Great Oppression. That burned another half-hour of mask time.

    As I stood outside the restaurant waiting for my order to cook, in the sun and fresh air, another customer came and ordered. He was sans mask, and I began to realize that I was using up half an hour of precious mask time for naught. If I use up my eight hours in sixteen frivolous uses then in the first week of June will I be able to go back to the dentist for scheduled dental work? Or could I find another mask in four weeks (three, now)? This was a task that had taken seven weeks to do before. So if I save my mask for my dental appointment, am I disrespecting others or desperate to replace a crown before I lose the tooth? Either way, this delayed healthcare is an example of the devastation of the response to this virus.

    Then again, do the op-eds that insist that masks work still say the same thing when the masks have been worn many times and are, presumably, full of the Coronavirus that they are supposed to collect from our breath? After we are over the asymptomatic Wuhan flu, is our mask now spreading the disease that we ourselves do not spread? That is the study I want to see.

    In another thread, recently, I pointed out that science has its limits. The science behind masks seems to concentrate on them as though they are used properly, not as we are using them during the Great Oppression. This is an example in which the test conditions do not adequately conform to the conditions of the real world. It could be that the mask solution works, but only for spherical masks in a vacuum.

    Even if masks are useful, what is their usefulness when there are not enough of them to achieve the desired results?

    Then again, with the deaths that regular flu and other diseases cause, why have we not been required to wear masks for the past century or more?

  • Andrew_W

    m d mill, the article by Nic Lewis misconstrues the Gomes et al. paper that it relies upon for credibility.

    The Drop in R0 to about 1 observed in Sweden is almost certainly mostly due to practices in social distancing that people have adopted voluntarily and the modest rules that have been imposed by the government there.

    The need for many to take near absolutist positions on the effectiveness of strategies like lock-downs and social distancing, and on characteristics of the virus such as fatality rates and asymptomatic rates, in the face of stronger evidence is starting to look like fanaticism.

    Voluntary social distancing works – in Western societies, given the example of Sweden it looks to be able to cut transmission rates to less than half that which occurred with pre-covid social behaviour.

    Lock-downs work better – typically countries can, under lock-down cut transmission rates to about a fifth of that which occurred with pre-covid social behaviour. See my comment behind-the-black the-epidemic-has-passed-its-peak on the drop in death rates in the countries Willis at WUWU references.

    About half of cases are asymptomatic, over 90% of cases are mild enough that people will ignore the symptoms or choose not to report their symptoms or seek medical support.

    Fatality rates are about 1%, in typical Western populations, if it were to be possible to not expose the most vulnerable in a population fatality amongst everyone else would be similar to that of the flu (0.1%) – but that’s based on current understanding of flu infection rates, which are typically only 7% of a population in any year, without a vaccine infection rates to herd immunity would be about 10 times that of the seen from the flu in a year, so mortality numbers would also be 10 times a seasons flu mortality.

  • LocalFluff

    A colleague who has lived several years in Japan said that Japanese often wear masks, not because they have a cold, but because they want to show that they want to be alone. Women do so to get some space from groping in the subway! Japanese psychology is difficult to understand for a westerner, but this mask thing is certainly mostly a psychological issue. Creating a sense of safety in a situation which one only handles with one’s emotions. An emotional solution to an emotional problem. I mean, for the healthy to wear them when shopping.

  • wayne

    reference “effectiveness ratings for masks,” — I don’t have time to look up my previous post on this, from some time ago. (end of March/early April)
    See the Federal OSHA website for specifics on “effectiveness of masks in the workplace.”
    The rating of “10” for the N95 masks also assumes they have been properly fit and with no leaking around the nose, chin, or cheeks.
    –I do not believe the scale they utilize is as you suggest (orders of magnitude) but I don’t recall specifically.
    (haven’t yet watched that video you suggested from the other link, but I do have it downloaded.

  • wayne

    ah, here we go–

    scroll down for “Table I: Assigned Protection Factors”

    “Assigned Protection Factors” for the Revised Respiratory Protection Standard

  • Phill O

    “Phill O wrote, “Bob will wear a mask, of this I am confident.”

    Want to bet?”


    Knowing you, this is what I think you would do.

    If you were symptomatic, you would isolate yourself until you were on the mend.
    If you were doing surgery, you would were a mask.
    If you were hacking and coughing, and had to go into a public place like an emergency room, you would were a mask.
    If you were symptomatic, you would not go visit the elderly.
    If I were an ambulance driver and I had to pick you up when you were symptomatic, you would were a mask (or be left)

    Come to think of it, these precautions, if applied to everything, would be my list of strategies to combat this and every other flu bug going. No more fighting through a cold. It would be far cheaper for the government to pay sick leave for everyone than what has happened with Covid-19. FAR FAR cheaper.

  • Andrew_W

    The APF is based on the type of mask and size. An APF of 10 means that no more than one-tenth of the contaminants to which the worker is exposed will leak into the inside of the mask. … A properly-fitted full-face mask with an APF of 50, would reduce the exposure inside the mask down to 0.4 ug/m3

  • Cotour

    This condition, “A properly-fitted full-face mask”, N 95 or otherwise, is a rare at best condition and for the most part people wearing “Masks” in the street and in doors among other humans is not ideal, not by a long shot. The mask primarily serves to keep the virus from potentially being emitted from the wearer. And that is pretty much it.

    Once again Andrew W sees everything as a switch, on or off. Freedom or servitude, light or dark. All with the best intentions of course.

    IMO the best thing you can do during this current situation is wash your hands, don’t touch your nose, eyes or mouth and have a fan on if you are indoors with the door open and generally give a wide birth to most other humans, for a while anyway.

  • Andrew_W

    Sorry, I forgot the quotation marks.
    “The APF is based on the type of mask and size. An APF of 10 means that no more than one-tenth of the contaminants to which the worker is exposed will leak into the inside of the mask. … A properly-fitted full-face mask with an APF of 50, would reduce the exposure inside the mask down to 0.4 ug/m3”

  • Alex Andrite

    Whoa Mr. Z. !
    At this time 35 Comments.
    Which subject gathered the most comments, regarding anything, so far, in your past experience ?

    I still tend towards your “Cool Image” subjects.
    Uh … rotated and cropped no less.

    The Struggle Continues !


  • Alex Andrite: These days the political posts routinely get 30 to 60 comments. I think several posts over the years have topped 100, once again mostly about political issues. One on climate change went I think over 120.

    The lack of comments for my science posts tends to get discouraging. I know many people come here for the science. I also know that’s one of the main reasons I do this (but as you can see not the only reason). Not getting lots of comments however does tend to leave me with the sense that there is less interest in those science posts.

    No matter. The number reason I do this is to explore topics that interest me. I write what I want. No one will ever shut me up, and those that try have repeatedly regretted it. And if something that interests me doesn’t interest others, so be it. One must do what one must do.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Not getting lots of comments however does tend to leave me with the sense that there is less interest in those science posts.

    I understand the feeling, but please keep in mind that most of your science posts are on topics that do not bring about much controversy but are mostly interesting or just plain cool imagery. Please keep them coming.

    Occasionally you get questions about some of the science, but I suspect most of us don’t know enough on the topic to know what questions to ask or comments to make. It reminds me of school, when the teacher asks “any questions,” but we are too overwhelmed with new information to know what to ask.

    On the other hand, the social or political topics that affect us all tend to draw a lot of opinions and controversy. It is nice to see the varied viewpoints being expressed, and it is wonderful that there are an increasing number of commenters as time passes.

    But the best part is that the comments are well thought out.

  • Edward: Agree with all your points, especially the last. I am quite proud that my site has attracted such a nice collection of thoughtful commenters, even those I strong disagree with.

  • wayne

    Mr. Z.,–
    I tend to think Edward is correct, ref: science-posts. They tend to be non-controversial.

    A suggestion—just go straight to the Federal OSHA website and skip the middle man.

    Tangential, but Fun—
    Prof. Sean Carroll has been cranking out some excellent Physics video the past 2 months. His current series is “The Biggest Ideas in the Universe.”
    Episode 8 just released is on “Entanglement.”
    -He releases a video, and then follows up with a Q&A video a few days later.

  • commodude


    When I found the site (courtesy of your appearances on the John Batchelor show) I was impressed by both the content and the commentary. It took me quite a while until I commented on anything due to the depth of knowledge from the other commenters here.

    It’s rare that I comment on the hard science pieces because in most cases I’m simply not qualified to discuss the articles, however, I do read 90+% of what’s posted with interest. The articles and essays are a nice break from the cesspool of the interwebz.


  • Marlene

    Thank you for writing this article and for taking so seriously this Mask Wearing issue.
    As Usual (to me the laymen eyes) the science is ambiguous. Maybe this maybe that. This paper says, that paper says.
    I guess it is valid to argue each one, but let’s not forget the mask (like the gun) is an inanimate object. It is the wearer/user that must be questioned.
    1. If the N95 mask is not fitted properly – a tight fit and all that, it is apparently ineffective. The taste test for proper fit must be done.
    Once the mask is on a spray of scent is put in the air and if you cans taste it, the mast doesn’t fit properly.
    2. I have read the Sars-2CaronaVirus is .125 microns – that will go through most masks people are wearing.
    3. People are not (I am guessing here you could say, but let’s play along) putting on a “brand new” surgical mask, or a “brand new” N95 mask
    or a “brand new” bandanna mask or whatever the hell they came up with at home.
    They are not sterile, people hang them on their rearview mirror after they come out of the store, then put them on to go into another store.
    4. I have seen people here in GA wearing a mask WHILE they are driving ALONE!!. Gee I hope they don’t faint or get dizzy when I am driving anywhere
    near them.
    5. All in all it is an imperfect system. If it gives people a sense of control over their own lives, I don’t care if they wear one. If it is psychological warfare that
    those of us who will not wear one will be shamed into wearing one, I have a problem with that. People are viewing it as a sign of submission, and of shutting
    the sheeple up. Not being able to see one’s entire face is disturbing to me.
    I have not been wearing a mask, I will never wear a mask in public, ever!!

  • wayne

    Good stuff!
    very well done summary!

    –Few to none of these masks (‘coverings’) in widespread usage actually FILTER viruses.
    –At best– they discourage inadvertent touching of the face, rubbing the eyes, finger-in-the-nose, etc., and act as a physical barrier for blood-splatter and other bodily fluids.
    (I used to teach the Red Cross Bloodborne Pathogen class…. but they don’t have a “airborne pathogen class,” and for good reason.)
    -If people were using these coverings appropriately, they’d be using more than one per “potential exposure event.” (This goes triply for gloves, and there is a procedure for removing them without self-contamination. Personally I haven’t seen anyone taking them off correctly.)
    -And if your wearing the same pair of gloves all day = worthless. You are busily (potentially)cross-contaminating everywhere you go in the day.
    –This “wearing masks in ones own Car,” ‘thing, is amazing. (amazingly ridiculous!)
    –I wonder how many people have sanitized the inside of their car, or their keys? (Or bother to correctly remove their gloves before they (potentially) contaminate the inside of their cars?)
    (tangentially– I drive a Nissan, just had some service work done and they also replaced the HEPA-filter for the air-conditioner. The air inside my car is cleaner than the air outside my car.)
    –personally, in my home– (I have allergies, smoke, and kept Cat’s for some years) I use a 4 inch thick furnace filter with a MIRV rating of 13, and my furnace also has a UV-C light unit with 3 bulbs, which destroys pathogens at the molecular level, and that effect is cumulative.

    It all comes down to “doing, some, thing,” –as you noted– it gives folks a sense of control.

    tangentially related— one major Nursing Home in my area–100% of the residents are infected. “Heroes” may indeed work there, but they are infecting and killing older people.
    Meanwhile, my Dentist (and his 6 employees) can’t open up shop (except for emergencies) and they always wear gloves & masks, and have done so since the mid 1980’s.

  • Craig Austin

    Due to the huge amount of useless masks in circulation, I find it morally indefensible to wear a functional mask outdoors or in situations where the risks are low. Those masks that actually function should be reserved for the most vulnerable and those who attend to them. If you want to virtue signal donate those masks to someone who needs them.

  • LocalFluff

    UVC has the same wavelength as the diameter of the corona virus family, so it should hit’em smack on! It is peculiar that the only one I’ve seen who has publicly mentioned UV-light as a potential preventive measure, is Donald Trump! Perhaps UV light should routinely be installed in air conditions and in bathrooms.

    Virus figures are scary. The diameter of a corona virus is about 1/300 that of an average skin cell. That’s like a pea versus a football. There are 10 virus(*) per cell in the biosphere. The first week with symptoms, a single flu patient produces about 100 000 000 000 virus, that’s a dozen per human being in the world!

    Use of protective gear is warranted in environments with lots and lots of viruses. But if one believes that one need it in the grocery store, then one really has got a problem. If one is so sensitive to it, one won’t survive for long anyway. Then it is better to die in style, without wearing one’s pets gag muzzle.

    (*) “Virii”was never used in classic Latin. The word virus is itself plural, which signifies how very prevalent they are. It’s like air, there is not one air, two air, three air, there’s just air everywhere. Originally means “poison”, perhaps from a word for “melting away”. But virus are essential to our lives and evolution. Our immune system uses virus in our biome to attack bacteria infecting us. So keeping all virus out is not altogether good. The concept of “cells defending against virus” is a Disneyfication (i.e. like pretending that animals are humans) of the symbiosis that is going on. Virus actually don’t do anything at all, until a cell actively has helped reach it’s nucleus where the virus is triggered to destroy itself in order to release its RNA or DNA so that the cell can replicate the virus. So what actually is happening during an infection is not at all a fight between the cell and the virus. Infection is the natural way of cells doing their business.

  • Marlene

    Thank you Wayne!
    Thanks for the education on virus LocalFluff. That was eye opening information for me.

  • Phill O

    LocalFluff “But if one believes that one need it in the grocery store, then one really has got a problem.”

    Your assessment of the size of the virus is consistent with a pathologist of my acquaintance. The purpose of the mask for surgeons is not their protection, They are almost useless for protection. The surgeon’s mask is for patient protection. The mask will capture (to a large extent) the droplets produced from a sneeze of cough.

    I quit using public transportation because of catching stuff from inconsiderate others. I know those were needing to go to work so I can forgive them somewhat, just do not want their junk! If mask become mandatory, I might start to use public transportation again. Airlines are a great means of spreading junk!

    Now, I know those on this site would not think of going out if they were not well, but there are many inconsiderates who do. I was in Canadian Tire (kind of like a cross between Tractor Supply, Harbor Freight and Walmart) and an older gentleman was coughing (no mask), clearly showing symptom of a cold (or whatever) without a mask. Not a nice person!

    A mask is not for ones own protection, but for others. If you see me wearing a mask, it might be a good idea to stay away. I have not worn a mask yet!

  • Phill O

    It is time for me to eat my words (or live by them) I have an ophthalmologist appointment and will have to wear a mask. I know it does me no good but I need the inspection.

    Here are a couple of puzzle cartoons to brighten the day.

  • wayne

    Dan O’Neill
    “Mickey Mouse meets the Air Pirates”

    “If you’re going down in flames, hit something big”
    Dan O’Neill

  • I have been asked many times while being out in public here in Canada about not wearing a mask, my reply is always the same “Stay six feet away and MIND YOUR OWN Business, I will never wear a mask and NO ONE will make me period.

  • Phill O

    Mark Smith Where in Canada?

    I am just north of Calgary. Was in to Princess auto and no one bothered that I was not wearing one. Calgary has a mask bylaw. Costco at CrossIron while not in Calgary, did not bother me while almost all others were wearing: many, improperly.

    Having worked in labs with nuclides, I shake my head at the poor practices of the general population.

  • Thanks for sharing with us

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