We need scientists to quiz Covid consensus, not act as agents of disinformation - 2020-11-22
There are the libertarian thinktanks and politicians who, on principle, resist any regulation that could protect people's health, such as the American Institute for Economic Research, which has promoted unscientific claims about herd immunity. And there are the shameless populists who will embrace any cause that allows them to consume ever-increasing amounts of political oxygen, such as Nigel Farage.
But the most puzzling motivation in the disinformation ecosystem are of the scientists who get caught up in it. In this pandemic, a trio of scientists wrote the "Great Barrington declaration" that claimed that governments can control the spread of the virus simply by segregating the vulnerable and their carers from society. This despite the fact it would be pretty much impossible, and ethically questionable, for 30%-40% of the population to lock themselves away for what at best would be well over a year. This magical thinking has lent a sheen of legitimacy to those who wish to corrupt the legitimate debate about social restrictions with the assertion that they are not needed.
Masks are another area where scientists have been co-opted into the disinformation wars. There is growing evidence that masks are effective in preventing the transmission of coronavirus by reducing the risk of mask-wearers who have the virus passing it on to others. First, we are learning more about how the virus spreads, primarily through droplets and aerosols that we all expel into the air by breathing and talking; we know that even quite basic masks can significantly reduce this. Second, observational studies that compare areas where people are required to wear masks in public spaces with those where they are not suggest that masks slow spread. Third, there is little evidence that wearing a mask leads people to engage in riskier behaviour; in fact, wearing a mask seems to be associated with other protective behaviour such as social distancing.