Truth Can Be Misrepresented Rather Easily

This past week our province, British Columbia, announced the dropping of mask mandates, as of Friday, March 11. Masks will still be required in medical facilities.

On Friday my husband suggested we go to a mall to see how people were responding to the lifting of mask mandates. About 65% of the people we saw were not wearing masks. I entered two business with staff who were not wearing masks. Most staff were still wearing masks.

Last year BC briefly dropped the mask mandate but then re-instated it to coincide with a surge in the Delta variant.

During the early months of the pandemic B.C.’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, held back on mandating and encouraging mask wearing. We found comfort in Bonnie Henry’s daily, almost motherly, encouragement and admonition at the beginning of the pandemic as we sat isolated in our homes. It was reassuring to learn she has a background working with pandemics. When her approach differed slightly from that of other provinces we concluded that she was looking at the bigger picture and was in particular concerned about the psychological impact of a pandemic. She knew how important it was for us to remain calm and hopeful. She knew the necessity of health officials being able to maintain the trust of the public. And she knew it was crucial for people to be a support to one another during these trying times.

So much has changed since then. 

Two specific decisions eroded my trust in Dr. Henry. Both exhibited a change in what were once her strongly held beliefs. The first was implementing mask mandates after repeatedly telling us for weeks that masks did not offer significant protection against covid-19. The second was bringing in vaccine passports after saying on May 25, 2021 that “there is no way that we will recommend inequities be increased by the use of things like vaccine passports for services with public access here in British Columbia.” I wrote a letter to her, asking for an explanation, and received no response.

Not everyone is happy with the lifting of mask mandates. This is how the World Socialist Web Site news media and other sites responded to her decision:

“Thursday’s announcement is just the latest in a crush of decisions by provinces from coast-to-coast over the past five weeks that effectively implement the far-right Freedom Convoy’s demand that all anti-COVID public health measures be rescinded and the potentially deadly virus be allowed to run rampant.” (Note “far-right” is an opinion and does not accurately describe the truckers. Note also that the government-funded Canadian Broadcasting Company recently retracted two articles, one with a false claim that the Freedom Convoy had Russian influence and the other claiming that hefty donations to the truckers GoFundMe came from foreign sources. Both false insinuations originated with our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and served as his justification for employing the Emergencies Act against the truckers protest.)

In Burnaby Now you can read a similar opinion article that voices the fear that Henry is not “following the science” by lifting mask mandates.

The trouble is that we don’t know where to find the truth about the science anymore. It may not be so far-fetched to think that our governments and health officials are actually following opinion polls and have been doing so for some time.

Another question I have concerns the science. Is the science being communicated faithfully? This week I read an article referencing five instances of wrong conclusions being reported in “the science.” What led me to the article was my own observation when I decided to look for scientific research and scholarly reporting on the efficacy of masks.

I first went to the Mayo Clinic website where I found a recommendation that a cloth mask have multiple layers and is tightfitting in order to prevent “droplets” from escaping. Initially we were told that the virus was spread by droplets but a few months later scientists informed us that the virus was in fact spread by aerosol particles. This changed the whole mask-wearing paradigm since evaporated respiratory particles can get through a porous surface. Note, if we want to inhale air, we will have to use a mask with a porous surface.

On the Mayo Clinic website I read, “Can face masks help slow the spread of the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)? Yes. Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

My search for data on the protectiveness of masks alone against the spread of the coronavirus was unsuccessful. I found a lot of discussion on comparisons between masks. I found studies done in labs, but no assurance that lab results translated to effective protection by masks worn by the general public. In fact there was evidence to the contrary.

I went to the CDC website where I read, “Masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask.

OK, that is like saying, “any condom is better than no condom.” Would you say a leaky condom is a “critical public health tool” in the prevention of transmissible disease? Because masks are “leaky.” There is scientific evidence for that. Hence the insistence on “layers” and “tight fitting.”

But how many layers of a “leaky” mask are enough? The Mayo Clinic website also says, “Don’t add layers if they make it hard to breathe.” So, added layers can make it hard to breathe and when a child says, “I can’t breathe,” we should listen. I have low blood pressure and a low oxygen level and sometimes I find I am just not getting enough air with a mask. But that is another issue.

The CDC advises us to “Wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.” And it further states, “Wearing a well-fitted mask along with vaccination, self-testing, and physical distancing, helps protect you and others by reducing the chance of spreading COVID-19.”

Wherever we read of the effectiveness of masks, note that it is always mentioned in conjunction with other protective measures. That is because, masks, on their own, are not sufficient protection. It has never been proven that masks are effective to prevent infection. Every reference to masks has a qualifier such as “tightly fitting”or a comparison of the fabric or weave or construction (N95 KN95 medical masks). One of the most troubling pieces of guidance offered is for people with hearing disabilities to wear a “clear mask.” We’ve always been warned not to put plastic over our heads. This is the same, unless there are breathable parts of the mask where air can enter. But do they not get the point that it is not the hearing challenged person who needs to wear a clear mask? They need to lip read others and they cannot do this if other people are wearing masks.

The CDC website goes on to say, “Masks and respirators are effective at reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, when worn consistently and correctly.” Medical staff have to be trained to put on their masks, and they have masks that are rated for higher protectiveness. Masks prevent droplets from escaping, so, in the case of surgery, I would want my surgeon to wear a high quality mask.

I looked at an article referenced on the CDC site entitled, An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19. The authors claim to have synthesized the relevant information and conclude 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.” Preponderance of evidence in a court of law means that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true. Another research article referenced on the site states this result: A total of 3030 participants were randomly assigned to the recommendation to wear masks, and 2994 were assigned to control; 4862 completed the study. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 42 participants recommended masks (1.8%) and 53 control participants (2.1%).

Another article listed on the CDC site concerning masks states, There is moderate certainty evidence that wearing a mask probably makes little or no difference to the outcome of laboratory-confirmed influenza compared to not wearing a mask (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.26; 6 trials; 3005 participants). This is the “preponderous” evidence we have. It makes little or no difference. The “little” might tip us above the 50% threshold of evidence of truth.

Here is something more of interest I discovered. “While laboratory tests generally suggest that N95 masks are superior in performance to surgical masks, population studies in healthcare workers have not documented significant differences. This discrepancy may be due to the lack of proper fit when using N95s. Conversely, cloth masks generally perform poorly compared to N95 and surgical masks in laboratory tests. However, in part because of the global PPE shortage, cloth masks have become the most commonly used PPE by the general public. Despite their shortcomings, community-based research has demonstrated the efficacy of cloth masks in slowing down the spread of COVID-19.”

Do you want to hear about the community-based research on which mask wearing has been based? Here it is, from the same article:

As of July 2020, the CDC recommended that all Americans wear masks in public settings [20]. This recommendation was made, at least in part, due to a report from a hair salon in Missouri that demonstrated the efficacy of wearing masks [21]. In May 2020, two hairstylists in Springfield, Missouri received positive test results for SARS-CoV-2 and were exposed to 139 clients in total since the onset of their symptoms [21]. Both stylists, as well as all 139 clients, wore some kind of facial covering while in the salon, with the stylists wearing either a double-layered cotton face covering or a surgical mask. Despite their proximity to the infected stylists, for appointments ranging from 15 to 45 min in duration, it was found that none of the 139 clients developed COVID-19 symptoms within the two-week quarantine period. Furthermore, of the 67 clients tested, all results were negative. Interestingly, the type of face mask worn by the 139 clients varied, with only two clients wearing N95 masks, 46% wearing surgical masks and 47% wearing cloth masks [21]. Although anecdotal, this incident suggests that consistent and proper usage of facial coverings can help minimize symptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during close contact, as at a hair salon. In fact, it appears that COVID-19 transmission rates are generally lower in countries and regions where citizens are accustomed or required to adopt universal masking, such as many parts of Asia [22,23]. Simulations and mathematical models have also predicted that the adoption of universal masking would substantially curtail the spread of COVID-19 [24].

Yes, it is as a result of an anecdotal survey done by two hairstylists and because it “appears” that COVID-19 transmission rates are lower in regions like Asia…. This is the science behind mask wearing. Then, again, the article says, “Although there is a lack of published work evaluating the efficacy of universal masking by healthcare workers to prevent spread of SARS-CoV-2, the continuous use of masks by healthcare workers in clinical settings is widely supported.”

We wear masks because the continuous use of masks is “widely supported.”

It is important to take careful note of wording when you read anything. It is, after all, the truth we want, is it not? And, as I have discovered, truth can be misrepresented rather easily. There is sufficient evidence for that.

Viewing An Example of Biased Journalism

We have a strong political divide and it’s not healthy. But this is not about politics. It is about journalism. Having said that, journalism has become political. Nothing has exposed this as well as the Trump election and his failure to be re-elected. This piece points out not only bias, but complete loss of journalistic objectivity.

When it is only acceptable to write one view, then journalism becomes suspect.

When it is only acceptable to write one view, then journalism becomes suspect. It trespasses the high journalistic standard–the code of objectivity–which is ultimately the foundation of public journalistic trust.

You’ve all seen them–the articles covering Trump’s claim of American election fraud. Maybe the election was stolen. Maybe it wasn’t. But one thing I know. It’s not up to journalists to print a verdict before the evidence is examined and tried in court. However, this is what happened, right out of the election gate, and we all witnessed it.

I’m not American. I hope the election wasn’t stolen. But how can I know, if nobody is willing to examine the evidence, much less give it credibility?

From the perspective of the media, election fraud is completely preposterous. The obvious bias of journalists, supported by–probably encouraged by–the news outlets, is almost laughable, but for the implications. Journalism that is influenced can be corrupted. When the public feels that journalism is influenced, it loses confidence in the reporting of news. In recent years there has been a shocking erosion of public trust in media.

I’ve taken an article printed on various new sites such as The Guardian, the Business Insider and The Washington Times for my illustration of media bias. The articles look much the same and there are numerous similar articles in print, with different angles, regarding the US election.

The article headline is Steve Scalise, No 2 House Republican, refuses to say election was not stolen. Below is the complete article with my personal observations in bold.

In a television interview aired Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, Scalise, the House’s second-ranking Republican, stood by Trump’s lie (should be “claim”) that Democrat Joe Biden won the White House because of mass voter fraud.
By Hope Yen – Associated Press – Sunday, October 10, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House’s second-ranking Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, repeatedly refused to say on Sunday that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen, standing by Donald Trump’s lie (should be “claim”) that Democrat Joe Biden won the White House because of mass voter fraud.
More than 11 months after Americans picked their president and almost nine months since Biden was inaugurated, Scalise was unwilling during a national television interview to acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, instead sticking to his belief that the election results should not have been certified by Congress.


“I’ve been very clear from the beginning,” he said. “If you look at a number of states, they didn’t follow their state-passed laws that govern the election for president. That is what the United States Constitution says. They don’t say the states determine what the rules are. They say the state legislatures determine the rules,” the Louisiana congressman said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Pressed by moderator Chris Wallace on whether the election went beyond a few irregularities to be considered “stolen,” Scalise responded: “It’s not just irregularities. It’s states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they’re supposed to follow.”
Trump left office in January a few weeks after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in a violent riot in an attempt to prevent Congress from formally declaring Biden the winner. (placed here for effect)

As Trump mulls a 2024 presidential bid, he has been intensifying efforts to shame – and potentially remove – members of his party who are seen as disloyal to his bogus claims (should leave out bogus) that last year’s election was illegitimate. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is vying to become speaker if the GOP takes control after the 2022 midterm election, continues to defend Trump and his false assertions (should leave out false).
At a rally Saturday in Iowa, Trump spent almost 30 minutes arguing falsely (should leave out falsely because this is inserting a belief of the author) that he had won Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds stood by and welcomed his return to their state.

In fact, no election was stolen (appropriate wording would be, “According to….no election was stolen”) from Trump. His former attorney general, William P. Barr, found no evidence of widespread election corruption. Allegations of massive voting fraud also have been dismissed by a succession of judges and refuted by state election officials and an arm of the Homeland Security Department during the Trump administration. (A good journalist would dig into this and also include information from those bringing the allegations. There is a story here.)

Scalise on Sunday appeared to be referring to the legal argument, made in several lawsuits backed by Trump before and after last November’s election, that the Constitution gives the power of election administration exclusively to state lawmakers. (What exactly does the Constitution say? Why not a quote here?) The suits sought to invalidate a number of pandemic-era accommodations including expanded mail voting that were put in place by governors, state election officials and judges. (Did Trump have a case, based on the Constitution? Was there any question of legality here? We need more information. We rely on journalists for this information.)

The high court ultimately turned away the cases, declining to rule on the matter. There’s no indication in any of the suits (not one example is given of a suit…bad journalism) that changing the COVID-19 accommodations would have altered a state’s election results.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who is serving on a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, on Sunday slammed Scalise for spreading Trump’s “Big Lie.”

“Millions of Americans have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen,” Cheney tweeted. “Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.”

END OF ARTICLE

It is the responsibility of journalists to present evidence and then to trust the public to have the intelligence and insight to come to a reasonable conclusion.

“Journalists and the news outlets have the responsibility to tell the American people what to believe.” –False

The beauty of the article is that the last two paragraphs reveal the logic of the writer. We might rephrase, “Journalists and the news outlets have the responsibility to tell the American people what to believe.” This, of course, is false. It is not the role of journalism, in a democratic society, to push a certain narrative. We see this happening in totalitarian states where news sites and journalists are the propaganda arm of the government and must tout the party line, or face consequences.

Readers want information. We want to be able to trust journalists to give us both sides. We want to examine the evidence for ourselves. We don’t want to be told what to believe. And we would like to see journalists’ opinions reserved for Commentary and Opinion columns.