Aug 2020 | By Todd McGreevy |
In June, we published Denis Rancourt’s white paper titled “Masks Don’t Work: A Review of Science Relevant to COVID-19 Social Policy.” As of this date, the article has been viewed over 460,000 times world-wide. And, as the Reader’s publisher I pledged to publish all letters, guest commentaries, or studies refuting Rancourt’s general premise that this mask-wearing culture and shaming could be more harmful than helpful.
In retrospect, Rancourt’s specific premise is that there are no gold-standard (a.k.a. policy-grade) randomized controlled tests that prove masks work effectively to stop the spread of a respiratory virus.
The masks-may-be-more-harmful-than-helpful assertion is associated with the open questions Rancourt posed regarding unknown consequences of mandated masking being considered by thousands of local and state government officials, both elected and unelected.
We received many submissions against and for Rancourt’s paper. After reviewing the attempted refutations, we remain resolute in our original support for his conclusions. Not one proved Rancourt’s analysis of the randomized controlled tests to be false or misleading. Nor did any of the attempted refutations answer or overcome any of Rancourt’s concerns regarding potential harm from mandated mask wearing.
However, in the spirit of open debate and sharing opposing views, we provide links to several of the submitted refutation efforts below. While some submitters resorted to unpersuasive ad hominem attacks on Rancourt, we stand by Rancourt’s scientific and academic credentials, training, experience, and capabilities to provide the analysis and review of said RCT’s.
The most prevalent opposing response has been that the very RCT research papers Rancourt analyzed were primarily measuring the effective differences between surgical masks and respirators … not whether masks in general work.
Rancourt addressed this assertion in his conclusion: “Furthermore, if there were any benefit to wearing a mask, because of the blocking power against droplets and aerosol particles, then there should be more benefit from wearing a respirator (N95) compared to a surgical mask, yet several large meta-analyses, and all the RCT, prove that there is no such relative benefit.”
Advocates for masking who attempted to refute Rancourt also cited passages within the RCT research papers Rancourt analyzed that affirmed the overall benefits of masking, claiming Rancourt cherry-picked his evidence from these published works.
Yet for any seemingly affirmative statement masking advocates can point to within the seven publications Rancourt reviewed, there exists within each and every one of those papers the very qualifier that proves Rancourt is accurate in his statement “no study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public.”
For example, one submitted refutation cited Offendu (sic). The paper Rancourt cited was Offeddu, V. et al. (2017) “Effectiveness of Masks and Respirators Against Respiratory Infections in Healthcare Workers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 65, Issue 11, 1 December 2017, Pages 193-1942.
This submission asserted that Rancourt failed to give the following Offeddu statement (located in the Randomized Controlled Trials section) its due, thus proving Rancourt’s claims are false: “Compared to non-rPPE wearing HCWs, those wearing medical masks or N95 respirators throughout their work shift were significantly protected against nonspecific respiratory infection.”
Meanwhile, the submitter ignores the very next two sentences Offeddu writes in that same passage: “However, assessment of clinical outcomes was self-reported and prone to bias, as the intervention cannot be masked. Evidence of a protective effect of masks or respirators against VRI, a rarer outcome, was not statistically significant, though this may indicate insufficient statistical power in these studies, rather than lack of a protective effect.”
Not one of the seven publications on RCT’s Rancourt reviewed, or all of them combined, warrants implementing (let alone attempting to enforce) mask mandating as a mitigation policy for COVID-19.
Rancourt takes a dispassionate view of the evidence being reported within the RCT literature. He does not rely on terms such as “seem to,” “indicates,”“pretty likely,” “much less likely,” “may,” or “some evidence to support.” Rather, Rancourt selected the science-based disclaimers within each of the RCT analyses to prove his point that there is no policy-grade evidence that masks work.
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