Book review of The Face Mask Cult by Hector Drummond, CantusHead Books 2022
I bought this book as a show of support for a fellow traveler, not knowing if I’d read it as I was already skeptical about facemasks, but I opened it while bored on a train and ended up reading the whole thing with great interest.
In 2020 I already knew that the evidence for masks was sparse because I’d looked it up many years earlier, when I lived in Asia and was curious about the phenomenon. At that time, I’d concluded that masks went in parallel with gargling green tea to ward off influenza, stretching your left knee in order to get rid of a wart on your right hand, and thinking Westerners are fat because they eat bread instead of healthy white rice: Oriental arguments-from-authority that persist through the generations, impervious to scientific evidence, and reinforced by socially unassailable, octogenarian doctors who wouldn’t know what a Cochrane was if they found one sitting in their high-waisted underpants.
Mask skepticism was the evidence-based position of Western experts cough cough when coronadoom began in China. Then the scientific method was thrown out in the mad rush by our rulers to show they could do something – anything – to Stop The Spread.
This is where The Face Mask Cult starts from.
Part 1 begins with an FAQ to set the scene, answering questions like “Why does wearing a mask for a few minutes in a shop bother you?” and “You people just have to suck it up, because masks work.”
The chapter goes on to explain the risks and downsides of masks.
Hector does not pull his punches in order to gradually win over maskers. It’s a full blast in the face of plain-worded arguments not targeted towards the sensitive.
I arrogantly thought I wouldn’t learn anything new from the book, but then I found out that surgical masks worn by actual surgeons probably don’t reduce the chances of infecting the patient:
There has been quite a bit of research on [the effectiveness of surgical masks.] Not as much as you might expect, but enough for us to conclude that surgical masks probably do nothing much to prevent virions from being transmitted to their patients . . .
Inner quote from a study published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England:
“No masks were worn in one operating theatre for 6 months. There was no increase in the incidence of wound infection . . . The conclusion is that the wearing of a mask has very little relevance to the wellbeing of patients undergoing routine general surgery and it is a standard practice that should be abandoned.”
How about that.
Hector challenges readers to ask those doctors recommending masks to name some randomized controlled trials showing that any of them work, which I found funny because in the UK it’s apparently hard enough to see a doctor for a broken leg, let alone for cheeky questions. Perhaps keep it in mind for when you get transitioned.
I also learned that masks were shown to have no effect back during the Spanish Flu. Inner quote from the American Journal of Public Health, 1920:
“The failure of the mask was of course of disappointment, for the first experiment in San Francisco was watched with interest with the expectation that if it proved feasible to enforce the regulation the desired result would be achieved. The reverse proved true. The masks, contrary to expectation, were worn cheerfully and universally, and also, contrary to expectation of what should follow under such circumstances, no effect on the epidemic curve was to be seen. Something was plainly wrong with our hypotheses.”
Part 2 of the book is similar, answering additional questions, objections that might be raised to the first section, plus some Dorothy Dixers like: “How have children with autism and other learning difficulties coped with being forced to wear face masks?” (Poorly.)
This section also goes into various side-issues like reusing masks, chemical risks (it is moderate on this issue), pollution and so on.
Part 3 examines the strange case of the Gesundheit-II machine, which I leave the reader to explore for himself.
Part 4 goes into reviews that were influential in the UK.
Part 5 examines the mask literature, piece by piece. I confess I did not make it all the way through this section as I was already convinced and there were no particular studies that I really wanted to double check. If you know someone who’s still arguing the toss on these, this section will be useful.
After the release of this book, the Cochrane Library released its findings on the matter. It reached about the same conclusion.
Some mainstream media outlets dared to cover it; most ignored it or published deboonkings that cling to a few outlier studies left out of the review for being of too low quality or not being randomized control trials.
Some clung to the fact that there was low certainty about the results due to lack of research. Imagine clinging to that flotsam after a three-year plague. If you haven’t proved it in that window, there’s nothing there. Masks sit alongside bloodletting, phrenology and telekinesis in terms of the scientific evidence available to support them.
Here are some other things I wonder about the mask issue, foolish though it is to keep thinking about this nonsense:
True masking has never been tried
I can report that in the Philippines, people often take off their masks to cough, sneeze or spit, apparently thinking that the mask is some kind of magical talisman with no mechanical function, like a charm bought outside a cathedral.
In Japan, clearly ill people will get on crowded trains and cough their way to work, perhaps thinking that the mask completely eliminates the risk.
What I’m getting at is, masks turn up in a society where a lot of other things are going on, thus creating an inevitable forest of confounding variables for those wanting to figure out their efficacy.
True experiments have never been tried
If we could fund the best possible randomized control trial to test mask efficacy, what would it look like?
An unethical experiment might be to get a large bunch of people (how many?) in a model village, infect a few with Covid, make half wear masks consistently and half never wear them, then monitor them closely for compliance. Let them go about their daily activities and see what happens.
This doesn’t seem realistic. People don’t live in model villages, they live in the real world.
A better experiment would be to have countries set up masking and non-masking regions. This happened naturally, but it tended to be urban areas that masked and rural areas that didn’t, thus setting up an obvious confounding variable. Instead, countries might have enforced mask mandates in some cities but banned their use in other, fairly similar cities. There would be some cheating on the masks but that would be a good way of measuring real-world effects.
Obviously this would have been dismissed by our rulers as unethical, not because of forcing some people to wear masks but because of forcing others not to!
I would consider it unethical for the first reason.
What if they did work?
If RCTs proved that masks really did have some fairly significant impact on infection rates, would you then support mask mandates?
In this case, I don’t think I’d even support the voluntary wearing of masks. They would have to have an uncanny impact to actually wipe the disease out. More likely they would just slow it down a bit and stretch the whole thing out. Everyone would eventually become infected anyway.
Pandemics like this end when most people have already had the bug and there’s enough natural immunity in the population to dull its worst effects. In the meantime, encouraging young, healthy people to cover their faces for extended periods will have all sorts of unintended consequences that we are still learning about today. This is especially so for children, both in terms of covering their own faces and not seeing those of others.
The awful truth
The real plague of modernity is our unwillingness to accept reality: we are multi-cellular, carbon based life forms. We are vulnerable to injury and disease. We get sick, we get old and we die.
When did it become bad manners to say this?
A lot of modern maladies stem from the failure to accept biological reality. We seem to think we’re already living in some sort of cyber world where nothing bad ever happens. Or perhaps we’ve regressed, thinking that if anything bad ever happens it’s because someone has angered the gods by not performing the proper rites.
We get sick, we get old and we die.
We have some good tricks to help these days, but in the end all three are still true.
Masking is a rejection of reality. It reflects a folly that we are some sort of post-biological, purely spiritual beings. “You can be whatever you want to be!” And masking is not the only sign of this attitude.
We get sick, we get old and we die.
“We get sick, we get old and we die. When did it become bad manners to say this?”
This goes beyond bad manners. It’s being used as a cudgel to beat the reality-based life forms into submission.
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“in the Philippines, people often take off their masks to cough, sneeze or spit, apparently thinking that the mask is some kind of magical talisman with no mechanical function, like a charm bought outside a cathedral.”
Here in the US too. Masks haven’t been required where I live for over a year except at some medical offices, yet to this day when I’m out shopping I still sometimes see people wearing a mask with their nose poking out.
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When the infamous ’70 studies’ that supposedly showed that masking worked came out, I started at #1 and read until it was obvious the study was worthless. Didn’t usually get past the abstract. I stopped around study #5 – I was getting dumber just looking at these things.
The first one was a meta study of masking across several states, Ignoring the cherry-picking that doubtless went on, the study concluded there was about a 1% improvement in the chosen metrics where masking was mandated. Given the dozens of confounding variables that leapt to mind – states are different, one from another, not to mention time of year, etc. – a 1% difference is noise. They only possible conclusion: masks make no difference. But that’s not what they concluded, of course.
But the real kicker: 70 studies come out within weeks of each other, all supporting the same policy and contradicting the last 100 years of studies on the same subject – yea, that’s how science works, sure. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
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[…Everyone would eventually become infected anyway….]
Another trope that is worthy of being killed.
Quite a number of cases have been reported, in which people living in close quarters have not been infected, allthough one person clearly was infected. The thing is that we don’t really understand how this can happen. Some argue that some people have a very quick immune response in their upper airways, which kills the virus, and it never shows up in their blood immune response. Some argue that some people’s immune systems react strongly to similiar viruses their immune system already knows, so that a specific immune response never shows up. ETC…
The point I’m making is, that we don’t know what the heck we are talking about. We can explain basically all physics, all chemistry, plenty of biology, but we have no general understanding of all the inner workings of an organism. We pretend to have this general understanding, teach it to medical doctors, but we should know that all medical interventions are little more than a good guess. If a medicine or a surgery works out well in 90% of the cases, we tend to believe that it works and why. Actually we usually have no clue why it doesn’t work in 10% of the cases. Imagine that in Newtonian physics – you can’t.
We think of ourselves as a category (carbon based life form, NPC, human, male/female, etc.) and overlook that there is truly no end to diversity among us. I don’t mean constructed diversity, I mean true biological diversity as organisms. If you accept this, you would never come up with any medical solution that fits all.
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Yes, some people would never catch the thing no matter what.
Indeed! A family member caught the coof early in 2022. As per regime rules we all had to stay home for 2 weeks (or a week, I don’t remember – the “Science” was changing week to week). I sat on the couch beside the unwell person (mild, better in 2 – 3 days thank you horse dewormer) and never got so much as a sniffle.
Early this year I did catch something which may have been the coof as I lost my sense of smell. We’ll never know as I didn’t test, I just did what people used to do back in the olden days. I took it easy and bummed around the house until I felt better.
I was a chemical weapons defense guy in the Army and have been working in hospital for the past ten years so I have some experience with masks. For a mask to work in the way the covidians hoped, it would have to filter the air. Very few masks do this. Further, for the ones that do (N95s) they have to be in good condition, and fit tightly to the face to form a seal. If there is no seal, air goes around the mask, not through it, rendering it useless. This is easily tested by performing a “fit test”. Someone wears a mask, a plastic bin is inverted over their head, and some form of smelly chemical (frequently banana scented) is sprayed into a mist under the hood. If you smell anything the mask doesn’t fit and you need to try a different size. Not shaving can prevent a seal, loose straps, worn out mask, etc… Surgical masks don’t make any sort of seal. The idea is they route your breath backwards so you don’t sneeze directly onto the sterile field, that is all they are good for. But like you said, they became magic talismans once the ‘rona hit town.
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The Cochrane paper wasn’t too positive about N95s, either.
I know, but I’m suspicious that people in the studies weren’t all wearing them properly. It’s hard to wear a mask properly and any break in the seal renders it ineffective. Especially nowadays where people wear their N95s all day or for multiple days. The straps wear out, the masks get soaked with respiratory secretions. Although I haven’t read the review yet so I might be wrong. I’ll check later today.
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My (admittedly very limited understanding) is that the coof virus is 2nm, hence wearing a N95 mask, no matter how well fitted is like throwing a tennis ball through a doorway for the virus particles. That never deterred a covidiot that I met.
N95s can filter particles down to the size of the coronavirus. There are conventional experiments that show this. From the EPA website “Researchers tested how well different masks and modifications filter out airborne salt particles, which are the same size as the smallest SARS-CoV-2 particles, but are not harmful. Members of the research team wore the face coverings to do the testing themselves” N95s were 98.4% effective. Testing filtration is strightforward and can be done in a lab. Testing effectiveness in humans is a whole other ordeal and can not really be done properly. To Nikolai, I went a read a bunch of the studies and they had a bigger issue I didn’t think of, human test subjects get to leave work at some point and live their lives. This basically screws up any study to the point of uselessness unless participants are going to wear the same quality mask in the same way all the time through the study. Also, some of the studies had the issue with people not wearing the masks consistently, and only one I read had people making sure the masks were worn correctly. Overall I would say masking the general public is completely worthless and actually harmful, as I saw studies about masks causing decreased exercise tolerance and etc… However I still say, if a mask is worn correctly, and if it is in good repair, and the person wearing it doesn’t make any sudden head and neck movements to break the seal, then the n95s work well. The problem is that this is a fairly high bar to clear and even most hospital workers can’t clear it.
Bravo, nice work. I particularly like your conclusion. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it makes sense.
I agree with lemmiwinks. Nice article, NV!