The False Prophets of Science

It is truly unbelievable how many otherwise intelligent men (and so far, it appears to be mostly men) have joined the Cult of the Magic Mask.

The “Science” Guy

This includes Bill Nye, the “Science” Guy, who is a mechanical engineer and definitely not a doctor, epidemiologist, or public health expert.

Yesterday, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York whose moronic decisionmaking skills led to the needless deaths of thousands of people, posted Bill Nye’s latest Tiktok video on Twitter:

It looks convincing as hell, doesn’t it? And yet it is utterly garbage science.

First of all, if you just hold your hand out a few centimeters away from your mouth and then exhale, a candle will likewise stay lit.

Clearly, your hand isn’t blocking viruses even if it is working as an air baffle. And a mask is equally useless at stopping a virus from leaving your mouth when you breathe.

Nice try, Bill Nye.

Rich Davis, PhD

But far more damaging is the June 27, 2020, Twitter post from Dr. Rich Davis:

Unlike Bill Nye, Richard Davis actually is a doctor. And he’s a doctor who specializes in microbiology at a hospital in Spokane, Washington.

Here’s the explanation of his experiment:

In the first demo, he placed agar cultures close to his face to show how many respiratory particles transferred while talking, singing, sneezing, and coughing with and without a face mask. The results are clear.

Just one sneeze without a mask fills the culture with bacteria colonies that form where the respiratory droplets fell. Coughing gave a similar effect and even singing and talking for one minute caused bacteria transfer. Meanwhile, the masked cultures were basically clean.

The only problem, of course, is that this experiment involved bacteria, not a virus.

The average bacterium is around 35 times bigger than the coronavirus.

So yeah, masks are good at stopping those “giant” microscopic particles, but not very effective at stopping viruses (which are so small that you can’t even see them with a microscope).

Furthermore, microbiologists usually only study bacteria because, unlike viruses, bacteria are alive. Viruses are not considered to be living organisms and thus don’t count as “biology.”

But hey, seeing the cool pictures of bacteria growing in a petri dish sure looks convincing, doesn’t it?

Tom Hanks

You know this guy is an actor, right?

Definitely not a doctor, even if he once played one in a movie.

But this still got liked and passed around hundreds of thousands of times, including by real doctors.

Because fuck science, am I right?

DDT for Polio

The other day, I read this story about a man who still has to use an iron lung because he contracted the poliovirus in the 1950s.

It’s a moving tale, and you should definitely read it.

But for now, check out this passage:

The summer of 1952 was hot, even by Texas standards: 25 days above 100F (38C), the “cool” days not much cooler. But across the state, swimming pools were shut. Cinemas, too, and bars and bowling alleys. Church services were suspended.

Cities doused their streets with DDT insecticide; by now, health officials knew that mosquitoes didn’t spread the disease, but they had to be seen to be doing something.

That’s right. Health officials knew that what they were doing was useless, but they “had to be seen to be doing something.”

Imposing mandatory mask rules in order to combat the coronavirus is exactly the same damn thing.

Sad But True

Meanwhile, here’s some more real science about masks and viruses.

From here:

A randomized controlled trial in Canada found no significant differences in protection against laboratory-confirmed influenza infection associated with the use of surgical masks or N95 masks among nurses [absolute risk difference −0·73%, 95% confidence interval (CI) −8·8 to 7·3] with 24% of nurses in the surgical mask arm having laboratory-confirmed infection during an influenza season.

From the World Health Organization (in 2010):

Many countries have stockpiled masks and recommended their use in community and healthcare settings. However, there is little available evidence of their effectiveness.

And from here:

The incorrect use of masks may be harmful, and mask use may actually increase your risk of COVID-19. Wearing a mask for long periods may lead to the contamination of the wearer’s face.

Look, I wish that wearing a mask was effective at stopping a virus pandemic. Masks are cheap and ubiquitous.

The truth, though, is that wearing them is just a placebo to help make you feel like you’re in control of your health. Fearing that an invisible particle could swoop down and kill or sicken you is some scary shit.

Wearing a mask has powerfully talismanic energy for many folks, and I get that.

But that don’t make it science. And real viruses only respond to real science.

Meanwhile, Tuberculosis

Do you know what cloth masks are actually good for? Stopping the spread of tuberculosis (TB).

From the WHO:

TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and it most often affects the lungs. TB is spread through the air when people with lung TB cough, sneeze, or spit. A person needs to inhale only a few germs to become infected.

Every year, 10 million people fall ill with tuberculosis (TB). Despite being a preventable and curable disease, 1.5 million people die from TB each year – making it the world’s top infectious killer.

Yep, that’s right. One point five million deaths, so way, way ahead of coronavirus. And unlike coronavirus, TB kills a hell of a lot of children.

Considering that its spread by people sneezing or coughing the bacteria into the air and masks are good at stopping the spread of bacteria, why aren’t masks being made mandatory to stop tuberculosis?

Why only for the coronavirus?

Even worse, the fear-based panicky response of governments to the coronavirus is actually increasing the risk of people dying from tuberculosis:

The global COVID-19 pandemic could significantly increase the global burden of tuberculosis (TB) due to disruptions to health services, and delays to diagnosis and treatment, according to new estimates published in the European Respiratory Journal.

In the worst-case scenario where the impact of COVID-19 on health services is severe, this number could rise to up to 200,000 additional deaths.

Real science is a bummer, isn’t it?

7 thoughts on “The False Prophets of Science

  1. I trust that living in Romanian-speaking countries for so long hasn’t impaired your understanding of English.
    The first study you quote and link to says clearly that it compares surgical masks to N95 respirators:
    “Data about the effectiveness of the surgical mask compared with the N95 respirator for protecting health care workers against influenza are sparse. Given the likelihood that N95 respirators will be in short supply during a pandemic and not available in many countries, knowing the effectiveness of the surgical mask is of public health importance.”
    “No significant differences in protection” does not refer to ‘masks’ vs. ‘no masks’..So “no significant differences in protection” is actually good news, surgical masks are as good as the more expensive N95s.


  2. Sam, since moving to Moldova, you slowly went “pe arătură”. Mate, seriously, get a grip, find again the landmarks and re-anchor yourself on what is wrong and what is right. This article was as obviously wrong in July as it was in March.


  3. Your newest obsession has landed you in the illustrious company of Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump and other such luminaries. Congratulations!


  4. I am so disappointed in you Sam. First and foremost no one claims the mask stops the virus. So you’re tossing out a red herring. What the mask does do is stop the droplets which contain the virus. The only thing false here is your logic and assumptions. I will say this, you are an excellent propagandist. I am wondering for whom are you working?


  5. Ok….your reasoning needs a rethink . Viruses are lumps of DNA that haven’t got a containment ( no cell wall ) ; so they latch onto anything handy such as dust,droplets or any other floating airborne debris out there as well as surfaces of all types ( copper is one surface that viruses don’t like) Copper was used as protective matter during the swine flu pandemic 1918-1920. Back to the masks….the virus packets could easily get through just like you said but they need to hitchhike on something bigger and that ,my friend, is why masks are more useful than not…sigh


  6. The Canadian article has a big drawback (or maybe it doesn’t make the point you want it to make). Towards the end, it states “It is also impossible to determine whether participants acquired influenza due to hospital or community exposure.”. This isn’t such a problem for the experiment, assuming that community exposure was similar across the two groups. But the experiment doesn’t show that wearing a mask (or N95 respirator) isn’t effective. Plus, staff wearing masks is more for the patients’ benefit. You’ll notice that there wasn’t a control group where the nurses didn’t wear any face covering.


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