Discover more from Unmasked
"Illusion of Control: COVID-19 and the Collapse of Expertise"
My new book on pandemic restrictions and expert misinformation
I’m pleased to announce that my second book on the pandemic is available today on Amazon.
It’s titled, “Illusion of Control: COVID-19 and the Collapse of Expertise,” and it examines in detail the mistakes and misinformation from “experts” throughout the pandemic.
Unmasked is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
On masks, vaccine efficacy, passports and mandates, the experts and their media partners got virtually every major decision wrong. And this book explains how and why.
I wanted to share an excerpt from the first chapter here, and obviously there’s a tremendous amount of further information and detail, in a book that’s significantly longer than my first one, “Unmasked.”
Thankfully, many of the indefensible COVID policies have come to an end. But it’s important to stamp out any remaining measures and comprehensively dismantle any rationale for further mandates and authoritarian overreach. And that’s what I’ve tried to do here.
Illusion of Control
There was no new high-quality data or evidence suggesting masks would diminish the transmissibility or acquisition of the virus. While it’s unclear what Fauci was referring to in the interview, this messaging could not have been based on updated trial data but only on observational assumptions and mechanistic plausibility in lab assessments.
The inherent limitations of those methods are precisely why the WHO and other leading health agencies referenced the paucity of evidence regarding universal masking. When viewed in totality, the consistency with which experts and health authorities recommended against masking is important. Within the sciences, there are often disagreements about best practices and policies. And yet, major health governing bodies were essentially in universal agreement that masks did not help control rapidly spreading respiratory viruses.
Yet with no possibility of newly conducted randomized controlled trials contradicting consensus, the guidance and policy rapidly changed to claim that if masking achieved widespread adoption, the pandemic could be rapidly brought under control. Concerningly, one of the key motivations for the CDC’s dramatic about-face on masks was apparently due to public criticism not from an epidemiologist, but a sociologist and computer programmer.
Zeynep Tufekci, at the time a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in March 2020 that forcefully advocated for universal masking. Another New York Times article published that summer confirmed the CDC changed their guidance based on her criticism. The article reads, “Michael Basso, a senior health scientist at the agency who had been pushing internally to recommend masks, told me Dr. Tufekci’s public criticism of the agency was the ‘tipping point.’”
This shocking revelation, that the country’s leading public health agency could be so influenced by someone with no relevant qualifications or new evidence to substantiate her claims, was just one of many embarrassments for the CDC. In fact, Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC at the beginning of the outbreak, seemingly ignored the work of his own agency as well as the WHO and made the outlandish claim that the virus would be “under control” in a matter of four to eight weeks if everyone wore masks.
Just a few months later, after it was abundantly clear that the summer surge of infections throughout the southern US states had raged out of control despite widespread mask usage, he doubled down.
In September 2020, he implied that masks would provide greater protection than a potential COVID-19 vaccine and said they were the “most important, powerful public health tool we have.”
While many in the expert community, as well as Redfield’s own CDC, focused on masking as a preventative barrier against onward transmission, he went further, suggesting that it could have a stronger personal protective benefit than being vaccinated: “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine. Because the immunogenicity may be 70%, and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine’s not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
He then repeated his timeline, claiming that in “6, 8, 10, 12 weeks,” the pandemic could be “under control” if everyone embraced masking. Many abundantly qualified experts, such as George Rutherford, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at UC San Francisco, and Ashish Jha, then academic dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, agreed with Redfield’s assessment despite the lack of evidence.
Mask-wearing and mandates, in accordance with Redfield’s assertions, were tried just about everywhere on earth, yet cases rose dramatically in similar patterns regardless.
The New York Times article praising Zeynep Tufekci’s influence on mask recommendations, meanwhile, was entitled “How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right.” Naturally, the article also quoted a credentialed infectious disease epidemiologist from Harvard Medical School, Julia Marcus. Marcus told the Times, “I’ve just been struck by how right she has been.” Except, of course, Tufekci was conclusively and repeatedly proven wrong about mask efficacy.
The hubris required to believe that masking could control the pandemic was also summarized by a public health expert from the University of Birmingham in March 2020. In an article on Science.org, KK Cheng presciently predicted a future in which mask-wearing would become the norm on mass transit in cities like New York. However, in doing so, he unwittingly highlighted that his belief that it would have a positive impact was entirely guesswork: “Just imagine you’re traveling in the New York [City] subway on a busy morning. If everyone wears a mask, I’m sure that it would reduce the transmission. Don’t ask me to show you a clinical trial that it works.”
This poor-quality decision-making process—abandoning evidence in favor of wishful thinking—unfortunately became standard practice for administrators, authorities, and experts throughout the pandemic.
That same article contains several other important revelations that contradict consensus opinions and assertions that were made just a few months later. According to the author, “Even experts who favor masking the masses say their impact on the spread of disease is likely to be modest.”
This was published towards the end of March 2020, highlighting that even those pro-mask experts who believed masking could be beneficial were forced to admit that they would have, at best, a “modest” impact. Yet just a month and a half later, on May 8, Vanity Fair breathlessly published an article on a modeling study that claimed that if 80 percent of the public wore masks, “infections would plummet.” There was no new high-quality evidence that emerged between the end of March and the beginning of May to justify these new, optimistic beliefs.
Just as experts accepted newly created modeling estimates of hospitalizations from educational institutions such as Imperial College London or the University of Washington, they also unquestioningly accepted hyperbolic estimates of mask efficacy.
Once again, the Science article illustrates the inaccurate arrogance of epidemiologists throughout the pandemic, as many stated definitively that aerosol transmission of the coronavirus was not common. “Although there is some evidence that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can persist in aerosols—fine particles that remain suspended in air— aerosol transmission is likely rare, says Arnold Monto, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. It’s mostly spread by larger droplets…”
The WHO also made similar statements, posting an authoritative “confirmation” on Twitter that same day that COVID-19 did not transmit through airborne aerosols: “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne. The #coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.” Even though scientific consensus quickly confirmed that this was entirely false, the WHO’s assertion that the virus was spread through droplets may have provided a possible justification for mask-wearing.
Yet as their tweet continued with recommendations on how to protect yourself from infection, they didn’t mention masking once: “To protect yourself: • keep 1m distance from others • disinfect surfaces frequently • wash/rub your hands• avoid touching your face”
Given that many experts later claimed that masks were a scientifically proven intervention backed up by years of research, it would seem to be strange that the world’s leading health agency didn’t mention it while discussing how to protect yourself. But it wasn’t mentioned because there was no evidence to suggest it would work.
Their unshakable certainty on droplet versus aerosol transmission also became a hallmark of expert beliefs, where definitive, declarative statements were made and then almost immediately contradicted. While masking was one of the more visible failures, their remarkable belief in the importance and accuracy of pandemic modeling also caused unspeakable damage.
Fauci and others seemed to believe that modeling suggesting hospitals would be overwhelmed was a likely scenario unless mitigation steps began immediately. In March 2020, during an interview, he described the early days of the pandemic as being like wartime: “But this is—this is a very unique situation we are in. You can almost make it analogous to what was happening in a war.”
In the same interview, he made conclusive statements that schools should be closed due to community transmission: “So, clearly, in certain circumstances, particularly in areas where there’s community spread, the schools should be closed.” Such assertions would have long-lasting, horrifying consequences with regard to learning loss, mental and emotional development, nd economic collapse. Naturally, he later would deny that he had anything to do with schools being shuttered.
Despite the very limited amount of accurate information and data available, models were based on terrifying, extremely outlandish estimates of disease severity. As such, taking their possible projections as likely outcomes was irresponsible and unjustified. But many experts did so anyway. Of course, Fauci, in that late March interview, never once mentioned masking as an important community intervention strategy to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Because he knew the evidence suggested it wouldn’t make much of an impact.
That same unnecessary fear persisted long after it was clear COVID-19 did not pose an extreme threat to most of the public. In May 2020, he was strongly warning states not to reopen too quickly. “If a community or a state or region doesn’t go by those guidelines and reopens…the consequences could be really serious,” Fauci claimed. He continued by saying it could cause more economic damage to open too soon.
Inevitably, he was proven wrong as states like Georgia reopened without experiencing significant surges. The fatalistic, unjustified confidence in modeling and the resulting fear contributed to his profession’s near-universal refusal to revisit their misguided assumptions. Despite the obvious failure of their policies, nothing was able to cause any apparent introspection or self-examination. Beyond accepting culpability, experts needed to attempt to understand why they got it wrong. But their hubris and arrogance were to become a common theme throughout the pandemic.
Despite the unequivocal failure of lockdowns becoming apparent by 2020 and 2021, Fauci maintained that harsh restrictions could be necessary even into 2022. As late as March 2022, he said new variants could lead to lockdowns or strict policy changes. “If in fact, we do see a turnaround and a resurgence, we have to be able to pivot and go back to any degree of mitigation that is commensurate with what the situation is,” he suggested.
Unsurprisingly, he claimed soon afterward that despite his forceful advocacy, we may never know if the closures and mandates he promoted were worth their ancillary costs. “You know, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to determine what the right balance is,” he said when asked about lockdowns.
So Fauci, in the spring of 2020, strongly warned against opening the country too soon, stating that the risk of a surge could be so severe it could derail an economic recovery.
But just two years later, he had no idea if the results of his world-changing recommendations were worth the ancillary costs. That may be understandable, but his public criticisms of governors and politicians who didn’t listen to his advice make it far less forgivable, especially when considering his claims to be the physical representation of science.
Illusion of Control: COVID-19 and the Collapse of Expertise is now available on Amazon.
Unmasked: The Global Failure of COVID Mask Mandates is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other outlets.
Unmasked is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.