With a little effort, we can understand why millions of Americans have problems accepting mask wearing as a major weapon in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most Americans are dismally uneducated about even the most basic elements of scientific inquiry and investigation. We need to cut them some slack because our public schools have so miserably failed us.
They also are glibly led astray by journalists who abandon fundamental foundations of their craft. This is especially true of television where it is almost impossible to find meaningful news about anything, much less science.
Major metropolitan newspapers also are failing. They are not only failing to provide good journalism for readers, but are failing as institutions, reducing news staffs in futile efforts to remain profitable..
About a year ago, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson predicted the end of print newspapers within 20 years.
Some former print and delivered newspapers are now digital only. No paper. No ink.
In 2009, after 149 years of printing newspapers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became digital only. The Salt Lake Tribune ended 150 years of delivering news on paper when it went digital only this year. There are others.
The PEW Research Center reported June 29 that employment in America’s newspaper newsrooms declined 57 percent, from 71,000 jobs in 2008 to 31,000 in 2020. Shriveling news staffs is leaving newspapers too short-handed to perform the customary service of vetting news.
This deplorable trend is leaving citizens without means to judge truth and falsity, especially with social media and news organizations dishing up outright lies, fantasies and conspiracy theories.
How can we expect ordinary citizens to understand scientific news better than people with masters and doctorate degrees in science?
Unfortunately, scientists can be as obtuse outside of their discipline as people without scientific training; especially when the science is conflated with politics and political rhetoric as it is on social media and news broadcasters such as FOX News.
Chuck Pezeshki, a Washington State University mechanical and materials engineering professor, served up a classic example in the July 17-18 Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
His column, “Do we choose to obstruct breathing in the fall?,” was a broadside of unsupported and unsupportable attacks on wearing masks to reduce COVID-19 cases.
Interestingly, it was published just as resurgent COVID-19 infections are making it necessary for a return to mandatory mask wearing and achieving herd immunity via vaccinations.
Pezenshki asserts that masks are breathing obstructions, which is utterly false. “Obstructing kids’ breathing makes no difference in societal outcomes,” he writes, saying that wearing masks is a function of “mental pathology.”
Pezeshki also spouts another fallacy, which is that vaccinated people don’t need to have others wear masks. Limited column space doesn’t allow for providing proof here, but anyone with the interest and access to the internet can quickly find the evidence.
A Google search took me less than three minutes to access solid scientific evidence that mask wearing is effective against COVID-19. Search ”CDC,” “Cloth masks” and you will find the article, “Science Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2.” It was last updated May 7, 2021. The article reports analysis of 15 different studies on the effect of mask mandates on COVID-19 infection risks.
Authors found “no significant adverse health effects on wearers,” including both elderly and children as young as 2 years old. One cited study found no adverse cardiopulmonary parameters of masks “at rest and during maximal exercise.”
So much for “breathing obstructions.”
Study authors concluded: “Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”
Day is a former journalist with 32 years on the Washington State University faculty charged with communicating sciences to lay audiences. This included serving on national committees addressing the issue. He and his wife have been Pullman residents since 1972. He encourages email to firstname.lastname@example.org.