Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t have an easy time explaining away a study showing masking wasn’t effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in an interview on CNN earlier this month.
He’s going to have an even harder time doing it now that the author of the study has come out against Fauci’s defense of masking measures.
In an interview with Austrian scientific investigative journalist Maryanne Demasi published on Substack Sept. 4, Oxford epidemiologist Tom Jefferson, the lead author of the study that got Fauci cornered during a Sept. 2 appearance on CNN, said the reason the former National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases director is still pushing masks is that it was part of a “whole agenda to control people’s behavior.”
Fauci’s latest moment in the spotlight came when host Michael Smerconish — who passes for centrist on CNN — asked the former chief medical adviser to the president to respond to criticism that masks “don’t work and that the data concludes that they didn’t work in the first go round.”
“Yes, well, that’s not so. I mean, when you’re talking about at the population level, that the data are less strong than knowing that, if you look on a situation as an individual protecting themselves or protecting them from spreading it, there is no doubt that masks work,” Fauci said.
“Different studies give different percentages of advantage of wearing it. But there’s no doubt that the weight of the studies, and there have been many studies, indicate the benefit of wearing masks.”
However, Smerconish then quoted from a scathing New York Times column by in-house conservative Bret Stephens, published in February, that discussed a study by Cochrane, an institute both the Times piece and Demasi call the “gold standard” for its reviews of health data.
“The most rigorous and comprehensive analysis of scientific studies conducted on the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — including Covid-19 — was published late last month. Its conclusions, said Tom Jefferson, the Oxford epidemiologist who is its lead author, were unambiguous,” Stephens wrote.
“’There is just no evidence that they’ — masks — ‘make any difference,’ he told the journalist Maryanne Demasi. ‘Full stop.’
“But, wait, hold on. What about N-95 masks, as opposed to lower-quality surgical or cloth masks? ‘Makes no difference — none of it,’ said Jefferson.”
In an interview with the British news channel GB News in April, Jefferson said the “quality of the evidence” for mask-wearing “was abysmal.”
Now, mind you, since that study came out there have been plenty of attacks on it — including from an opposing opinion piece in the Times, this one by Columbia University sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci.
Tufekci wrote that the “calculations the review used to reach a conclusion were dominated by prepandemic studies that were not very informative about how well masks blocked the transmission of respiratory viruses.”
“While the review assessed 78 studies, only 10 of those focused on what happens when people wear masks versus when they don’t … Of those 10 studies that looked at masking, the two done since the start of the Covid pandemic both found that masks helped,” Tufekci wrote.
Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky, meanwhile, told an April hearing of the House Appropriations Committee that Jefferson’s study had been “retracted,” according to Demasi. It hadn’t been, but Cochrane editor-in-chief Karla Soares-Weiser backed down from Jefferson’s conclusions.
(Demasi called it “capitulat[ing] to pressure.” It’s unclear whether this is her opinion, Jefferson’s opinion or something shared by both of them; either way, it’s certainly a plausible explanation of why the conclusions were watered down.)
“Many commentators have claimed that a recently-updated Cochrane Review shows that ‘masks don’t work’, which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation,” Soares-Weiser said in a statement in March, two months after the study had originally been published. “The review authors are clear on the limitations in the abstract: ‘The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.’”
Jefferson still has strong opinions about the validity of this, which we’ll get to in a bit.
The point, however, is how Fauci chose to respond to being hit with the Cochrane study — which is still unretracted and still posits that mask-wearing interventions were, at best, “inconclusive,” to use Soares-Weiser’s words.
Fauci used pretzel-like logic to get himself out of proving or disproving the Cochrane study.
“Yes, but there are other studies, Michael, that show at an individual level for individual when you’re talking about the effect on the epidemic or the pandemic as a whole, the data are less strong,” he told Smercomish.
“But when you talk about as an individual basis of someone protecting themselves or protecting themselves from spreading it to others, there’s no doubt that there are many studies that show that there is an advantage.
“When you took it to the broad population level like the Cochrane study, the data are less firm with regard to the effect on the overall pandemic. But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about an individual’s effect on their own safety. That’s a bit different than the broad population level.”
In other words, his take on the Cochrane study is that it shows masking may work at an individual level, just not on a group as a whole — but studies based on a group as a whole show whether or not an intervention is effective on an individual level, so how does that figure?
Jefferson was not impressed with Fauci’s logic, he told Demasi.
“So, Fauci is saying that masks work for individuals but not at a population level? That simply doesn’t make sense,” the Oxford epidemiologist said.
“And he says there are ‘other studies’ … but what studies? He doesn’t name them so I cannot interpret his remarks without knowing what he is referring to.”
Jefferson added that Cochrane had only included randomized trials conducted since 2011 in order to weed out bias — something the good doctor Fauci may not have been doing.
“It might be that Fauci is relying on trash studies,” he told Demasi. “Many of them are observational, some are cross-sectional, and some actually use modelling. That is not strong evidence.”
“Once we excluded such low-quality studies from the review, we concluded there was no evidence that masks reduced transmission,” Jefferson concluded.
Now, again, Cochrane’s editor-in-chief, at the very least, seems to be less strong on this point than Jefferson is, whether she adopted that position under pressure or not.
Furthermore, the study certainly has its critics, including Fauci.
The problem is that Fauci, the man who essentially served as COVID czar for almost three years, couldn’t come up with better logic than that the data don’t look good at a group level, but at individual level it could work.
By the same logic, any medical intervention that coincides with a positive health outcome without necessarily contributing to it — crystals, essential oils, smoking three packs a day — could be touted as individual causality when they would merely be coincidence.
Fauci was supposed to be the guy who showed up with his A-game all the time, and he clearly didn’t here.
And, as Jefferson pointed out to Demasi, the former NIAID director was in a unique position to discover whether masking actually worked.
“Fauci was in a position to run a trial, he could have randomized two regions to wear masks or not. But he didn’t, and that’s unforgivable,” he said.
Jefferson also took issue with the fact that Fauci had previously taken different positions on masking, saying early on in the pandemic that masks didn’t stop the spread of the virus and later on that they did. “When the facts change, I change my mind,” Fauci said when asked about the inconsistency.
That would be fine, but Jefferson has one question: “What facts changed?” he asked.
“There were no randomized studies, no new evidence to justify his flip-flop. That’s simply not true.”
“What Fauci doesn’t understand is that cloth and surgical masks cannot stop viruses because viruses are too small and they still get through,” Jefferson added.
As for Fauci’s motives, all the Oxford epidemiologist could say is that he knew that the former White House medical adviser was in a position to run the kind of randomized test he suggested and didn’t.
“Could it be part of this whole agenda to control people’s behavior? Perhaps,” Jefferson said.
All we know now is that the same “experts” who brought us masking in the first place are now trying to bring it back thanks to a recent uptick in cases and a new variant.
Fauci may be gone from the government, but his acolytes certainly aren’t — and evidence or no evidence, they still want us to mask up all over again like it was 2020. That’s why it’s more important than ever that “the experts” are asked these tough questions, particularly when the answers turn out to be this untenable.