On Saturday night, Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) tweet-claimed that “the data shows masks don’t work.” But a bunch of things didn’t really agree with him. Namely, the data and grammar. Yep, studies and the data have actually shown the opposite: that face masks can significantly reduce the transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The data have shown, because data is plural, that masks do indeed work.
So why the heck did Massie tweet that about the data in the first place? What data were Massie referring to when he made that Twitter post? Well, here’s Massie’s tweet, which sounded very confident:
As you can see, Massie pointed out that “The Biden administration is still fighting in federal court to reinstate the airplane mask mandate.” That’s because the number of daily new reported Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have been rising, up by 24% and 26%, respectively, over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times. The weather has gotten colder and drier and activities have moved indoors, which may be raising the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Massie then claimed that “The data shows that masks don’t work. The Constitution says POTUS doesn’t have this power. And the American people have moved on.” Well, it’s up to the courts to decide whether the POTUS has this power, not Massie. That’s the whole separation of power into the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches that everyone learned about in elementary school, right? And does Massie really speak for the American people? He didn’t really cite any data, polls, or surveys from the American people. Maybe, instead he should ask public health experts and other relevant scientists as well as, you know, the American people before speaking for them. After all, the hashtag #CovidisNotover has been trending on Twitter with tweets such as the following from @catladyactivist:
It’s been trending because, well, Covid is not over. No real expert or relevant organization has declared the pandemic as over. The Covid-19 coronavirus certainly hasn’t decided that it’s time to move on because the virus has kept spreading and spreading and infecting and infecting. That’s what such viruses do when you don’t really do enough to stop its spread.
And study after study has shown that face masks do work in stopping the spread of the virus. For example, a study published in February 2022 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) showed that wearing a cloth mask indoors in public settings reduced the risk of turning Covid-19 positive by 56%. Wearing a surgical mask reduced this risk by 66%, and wearing a N95 mask brought it down by 83%.
That certainly hasn’t been the only study published in a reputable journal to provide evidence strongly supporting face mask wearing. A review of existing studies published in PNAS on January 11, 2021, found that “The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.”
Since then even more studies have emerged supporting the use of face masks. For example, on November 24, 2022, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that revealed, in the words of the authors, that “Among school districts in the greater Boston area, the lifting of masking requirements was associated with an additional 44.9 Covid-19 cases per 1000 students and staff during the 15 weeks after the statewide masking policy was rescinded.” Again, these are just a few examples of the preponderance of evidence showing that face masks do indeed work.
Contrast that with the fact that when Massie stated “the data shows,” he didn’t even mention what data he was talking about in his tweet. Isn’t that a bit like saying model Adriana Lima finds you hot without actually asking Adriana Lima? Or insisting that actor Jason Mamoa will be having dinner with you without actually having spoken to Jason Mamoa?
Sure, Massie may not be “maskie,” and he’s entitled to state his opinion. But shouldn’t he then make it clear that it is his opinion and not what the data actually show? Massie has “MIT 93 BS EE, MIT 96 Master of Science” in his Twitter profile but to truly master science, one should know that you shouldn’t say that the “data shows” without being able to produce the data. And that means showing the totality of evidence, what peer-reviewed studies in general have shown and not cherry-picking individual pieces of data that may not have been peer-reviewed.
It may be tempting to try to win arguments by making very confident and definitive statements. For example, you may state on your dating profile, “The data show, I am awesome” or tell your crush, “The data show that in the alphabet, the letters ‘U’ and ‘I’ go together” or whatever letters you want to smash together. But it is not a winning strategy in the long run when you don’t really produce that data and in fact the data show the opposite. In other words, the data may actually show that the letter “F” instead of “I” go together with the letter “U.”