Masks - evidence, trust, and axes to grind

TotalHealth is fortunate to have some of the most senior medical specialists, many from the teaching hospitals contributing articles to help people who find themselves diagnosed with an illness, and would like to know what their treatment options are. Over the past twelve years the editorial stance has tried to remain underpinned by the need for trustworthy medical information. We know that 'trust' can hang by a fragile thread and so we do not ask readers to trust everything they read, but we do ensure that the information is authoritative (you know who the author is), and that there is usually more than just one author's stance - for example, with the many different approaches to knee surgery.

Testing trust to the limits

Over the past few years trust in medicine has been tested to the limits - quite literally. The daily reports of covid 'case numbers' and deaths, were largely meaningless, and serious questions were raised over the quality of the testing - even by the BBC. It did not help that all of the routine lab testing was immediately taken away from the NHS and public health laboratories and transferred to new 'lighthouse laboratories' - operated by commercial entities - using PCR methods that the CDC then withdrew. The evidence for whether something works or not - normally becomes apparent.

As widely reported, the main cause for the breakdown in trust has been the pressures from commercial entities, the influence swayed over policy makers and the use of extreme propaganda combined with psychological techniques such as mass formation psychosis and, of course, use of direct psy-ops.

When in doubt, TotalHealth also often relies on the Oxford Centre for Evidence-based Medicine (CEBM) and The Cochrane Library to provide an independent and properly evaluated assessment. 

Is there any evidence that wearing masks reduces transmission of viruses?

The Cochrane Library recently published its review on whether there is any evidence to support the policy for mask wearing Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses

The review concluded that there was little if any evidence to support the use of masks and that the harms associated with physical interventions have been under‐investigated. This conclusion seems to have upset the editorial team at the Guardian, who said, "Don't believe those who claim science proves masks don't work". 

axe to grind over masksSo, it is weirdly interesting that a huge scientific review from an independent body with no particular axe to grind other than the motivation to review all the evidence can be attacked in such a shallow fashion. As the 'Trust the Evidence' newsletter points out, " It’s the editorial team at the Guardian who obviously have an axe to grind and, blinded by their ideology, has let through a piece that is not only flawed in much of its reasoning, it is also factually incorrect.

Here is a copy of the newsletter and link, which should help anyone who is confused by the contrasting stances to form their own opinion:

Are opeds going to take over the scientific process?

It is not that we have an issue with the author, a biochemist who has stepped forward to give forth his opinion. It’s the editorial team at the Guardian who obviously have an axe to grind and, blinded by their ideology, has let through a piece that is not only flawed in much of its reasoning, it is also factually incorrect. 

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No, Jefferson does not ‘works for the Brownstone Institute.’ No, the Cochrane study is not ‘a classic example of cherry-picking.’ Systematic reviews are designed to address the issue of cherry-picking the evidence. And no, the study is not ‘flawed’ because it mixes together studies ‘conducted in different environments with different transmission risks.’

The author ignores how systematic reviews work and how rigid the Cochrane process is, where every exclusion and every assessment is accounted for (which is why the review is over 300 pages long). Editors at the Guardian seemingly don’t know or have overlooked the importance of systematic reviews to healthcare decision-making. They may want to reflect on the extensive use of Cochrane Reviews to inform WHO guidelines. In 2021, more than three-quarters of new WHO guidelines were informed by Cochrane review evidence.

Cochrane reviews are published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) and are run as modules by the relevant review group. In this case, the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) Group with an editorial structure similar to that of a journal. This includes a Comments Editor who independently manages all comments submitted to the CDSR via a link to the review page. All comments must be answered, and follow the version of the review forever. So, you will find comments on the, e.g. 2007 version published and answered within the 2007 version page.

This system is known as post-publication peer review and, in one case (in another of our reviews), has led to a complete 4-year rewrite of the review amidst a wordwide media campaign to access unpublished data. We are going to document this in detail in a forthcoming series. If seriously and impartially done, post-publication peer review is a powerful check on the quality of our output.

The purported criticism in the Guardian op-ed is not scientific practice for engaging with the content, especially when there are tried and tested channels for challenging a scientific report. The fact that governments cite op-eds as a defence or justification for their actions is surprising and worrying, indicating their grasping at straws instead of engaging in proper discourse.

The arguments put forward are virtually all the same: loud, strident and based on the poorest quality evidence available. 

The Guardian is trying to coerce the world into believing their “truths,” and by not admitting their past mistakes, its editors double down on their fixed positions despite the emerging evidence. Most of the recruits to their cause have no long-standing expertise in ARIs and have produced no science of note on the topic, relying on op-eds and dogma. 

So thanks to the Guardian, the scientific process can go jump: Instead, they have op-eds that trash what took 20 years to accomplish in the flick of a switch. On the way, they make countless mistakes and errors in attempts to do away with the best available evidence. 

An abbreviation for diabetes mellitus. Full medical glossary
A viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Full medical glossary
An element present in haemoglobin in the red cells. Full medical glossary
Polymerase chain reaction, a technique that involves the isolation and analysis of genetic material or DNA. Full medical glossary
A severe mental disorder in which the person affected loses contact with reality. Full medical glossary
A microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. Full medical glossary
Microbes that are only able to multiply within living cells. Full medical glossary