Wear Your Mask

None of this is new, you’ve seen it all, but I hope by showing you where it comes from that you’ll be better equipped to handle anti-mask bullshit from bloviaters.

Masks make a difference. They do help. How do we know that? I’ll show you. Usual mea culpa: I’m an amateur who believes the experts – and only the experts, based on real research – not an expert myself.

I’ve gathered some of what experts have done – and then what they say. After that, we’ll check the anti-mask “evidence” spread on social media by non-experts who often say what HUGE experts they are, then tell you masks are bad without doing any experiments (cos designing, then doing, good experiments is not easy and it takes time) and without any valid evidence.

First, why even talk about masks? Because we breathe. We all know people who emit spittle as they talk, and we dodge them and stand back when they get excited! But we don’t all realise that we ALL emit droplets when we speak. Here are two graphs in the same block of someone saying the words “stay healthy” while wearing a mask and while not wearing a mask. The person’s emissions were video’d under special conditions (check the link):

– The number of flashes was highest (top arrow) when the “th” sound in the word “healthy” was pronounced –

Here’s a snapshot of one frame in the video, which corresponds to the top bigger red arrow in Panel A – the highest number of speech droplets visualized in an individual frame of the video recording.

– spit droplets from the ‘th’ in the word ‘healthy’ – so someone saying ‘stay healthy’ could kill you! –

OK, so we have evidence that we spray. Of course, your Granma knew we spray germs when she told you to ‘catch your cough’ and when she avoided you when you had a cold (which is also a corona virus).

Next we found out that COVID-19 can be found on way smaller droplets than these – called ‘the aerosol effect.’ Now you need to not just avoid being coughed on or ‘spoken on,’ you need to be wary of the air where people have been, as aerosol particles linger WAY longer and travel WAY further than the bigger droplets which led to the 2m ‘social distance’ guideline (which politicians and businessmen soon reduced to 1,5m, down to 1m, down to ‘full taxis’ – side-by-side. These reductions were NOT done for our safety, BTW!).

Next, we (“we” – scientists on behalf of “us” – humans who know the scientific method is the best way to investigate things) looked at old epidemics and noticed there was less spread in places where people are used to wearing masks. In April already, this effect was noticed in the current pandemic too.

Next, scientists looked at 172 studies on corona-type viruses. After very careful analysis they gave a sober, cautiously-worded statement (this is a tiny excerpt – click the link to read the full study): ‘We found evidence of moderate certainty that current policies of at least 1 m physical distancing are probably associated with a large reduction in infection, and that distances of 2 m might be more effective, as implemented in some countries. We also provide estimates for 3 m. The main benefit of physical distancing measures is to prevent onward transmission and, thereby, reduce the adverse outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Hence, the results of our current review support the implementation of a policy of physical distancing of at least 1 m and, if feasible, 2 m or more. Our findings also provide robust estimates to inform models and contact tracing used to plan and strategise for pandemic response efforts at multiple levels.The use of face masks was protective for both health-care workers and people in the community exposed to infection, with both the frequentist and Bayesian analyses lending support to face mask use irrespective of setting.’

The most recent study I found was in Denmark where masks were not compulsory and most people did not wear them. A trial showed that people who did wear them in a randomised trial did get some benefit, even when all others around them were not wearing masks.


SO: You’ve always known this, but which is the best mask to use? Its not important. Comfort is probably the most important consideration, as wearing it comfortably and consistently is key. Having the ‘world’s best mask’ around your chin helps a rich, approximate, earth-shattering, statistical fokol. That’s zero. May as well strap it around your wrist fgdsake.

If you want a suggestion, surgical masks are generally more protective than cloth masks, and some people find them lighter and more comfortable to wear. The bottom line is that any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of benefit. The concept is risk reduction, not absolute prevention. Don’t not wear a mask ‘because it’s not 100 percent effective.’ That’s just silly. Nobody thinks burglar guards are 100% effective, they install them to substantially reduce their risk.

Remember ‘All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten?’ Wash your hands often and well; Wear your mask; Keep more distance than you think (3m is better than 2m is better than 1m is MUCH better than french kissing); Avoid closed spaces (any indoors if you can help it; at least reduce that ‘essential’ indoor time); Avoid people (yeah, yeah, as far as you can – and that’s usually more than you do; also reduce your time spent with them); Get your groceries delivered (Checkers charges R35 to deliver up to 30 items within one hour – it costs you more to drive there and back and you’re rating your time at R0 – How much time have you got left on earth? Correct, you don’t know. But you do know that it’s precious).


What about “scientific evidence that PROVES masks are bad for you”?? Search for it. It will take you to wacko sites that tell blatant lies absolutely routinely. Always check the sites on wikipedia; and check their claims on snopes.com, and other fact-checking sites. Here are ten of the best fact-checking sites. Use them!

The Federalist is one bullshit site. They also publish false information and pseudoscience that is contrary to the recommendations of public health experts and authorities; and fake news about election results. Trump fans.

Typical of these sites’ disinformation was taking the Denmark study I mention and saying “A study in Denmark proved that masks are useless for COVID-19,” instead of the truth: The study found that face masks did not have a large protective effect for wearers — but did provide some protection to wearers, and did also provide benefits to other people. Note the difference in language: The DEFINITE conclusions by bullshitters; vs the CAUTIOUS conclusions that real scientists take, knowing things may change.

Another instance was taking one case of a driver who crashed his SUV into a pole in new Jersey on April 23. He blamed his collision on his mask. He told police he passed out because he’d been wearing an N95 mask for too long. Initially, the investigating officers believed him, writing in a Facebook post that he was the only person in the car and passed out due to “insufficient oxygen intake/excessive carbon dioxide intake.” The driver’s bulldust went viral! The police department later updated their post, stating that they didn’t know “with 100% certainty” that “excessive wearing” of an N95 mask was a contributing factor to the accident. They added that “it is certainly possible that some other medical reason could’ve contributed to the driver passing out.”  But bullshit websites crowed “masks are bad for you, you get too much carbon dioxide!’ – and people who should know better forwarded and forwarded without checking (please don’t do that). A quick check can show you: actually, you don’t.

Another website The Gateway Pundit “is known for publishing falsehoods, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories.” So when they tell you ‘All the experts are wrong, we have scientific proof masks are bad for you!’, check their research, then check some real research – and then dismiss them with the contempt they deserve.


Go and find a fact-checking site now. A slightly different ‘ten best’ are suggested here.

There’s also AfricaCheck.org for checking bullshit in Africa – we sure need them, so I sent them a donation. Go and see how they caught Herman Mashaba bullshitting.


Oh, and please note I use the term BULLSHIT very deliberately. It’s a real thing:

In his essay On Bullshit (originally written in 1986, and published as a monograph in 2005), philosopher Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University characterizes bullshit as a form of falsehood distinct from lying. The liar, Frankfurt holds, knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead instead of telling the truth. The “bullshitter”, on the other hand, does not care about the truth and is only seeking to impress.

Quote: “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

Bullshitters can exhaust you. As Alberto Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry Principle states, “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work seems like a very good and kind and decent person. Because she suggests we use generosity, empathy, and curiosity when speaking truth to bullshit (e.g. “Where did you read this? or Where did you hear this?”) can go a long way in our efforts to question what we’re hearing and introduce fact.

Birdwatching Old-Style

‘Of all birds there are few which excite so much admiration as the Resplendent Trogon.’

‘Its skin is so singularly thin and the plumage has so light a hold upon the skin that when the bird is shot the feathers are plentifully struck from their sockets by its fall and the blows which it receives from the branches as it comes to the ground.’

Aah! Nothing like a bird in the hand . . even if it is missing a lot of feathers. This description is from an 1897 book, Birds Illustrated by Color Photograph found on gutenberg.org

But that was centuries ago, right? Well, this happened in 2015:

A scientist found a bird that hadn’t been seen in half a century. Locals led him up into the forest in the remote highlands of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he and his team set up mist nets and secured a male Moustached Kingfisher with a “magnificent all-blue back” and a bright orange face. He exclaimed in delight, ‘Oh my god, the kingfisher,’ and he likened it to ‘a creature of myth come to life.’

And then he killed it — or, in the parlance of scientists, “collected” it.

When he was criticised for that crazy-ass terminal action he suddenly decided there were ‘thousands of them’ they were ‘not in danger.’ Ri-ight . . two’s company, one in fifty years is a crowd.


Right here in Natal in the 1980’s controversy also surrounded a collector shooting a rare white-winged flufftail for a museum collection.

There are other ways – alternatives; maybe better alternatives. A few years ago I read about a scientist who caught a rare bird, took careful photos, took blood and tissue samples and released it. I’m looking for the case – haven’t found it yet. That has to be a better way of doing things – at least initially, until one can work out just how fragile a remaining population is. Some collector scientists came back very strongly against a suggestion like this, and that seemed dodgy to me. Why not discuss new ways? Change will not come overnight, but less destructive alternatives should at least be explored, not dismissed.


Back around 1780 French-Dutch explorer Francois le Vaillant was begged by his local guide Piet not to shoot a bird he, Piet, had discovered for him. le Vaillant shot it and its mate. He then at least named the bird after Piet, based on its call: ‘Piet-me-wrouw’, the familiar three-note call of the Piet-My-Vrou Red-chested Cuckoo, Cuculus solitarius.


C. elegans’ colleague dies

One of my heroes died! Sydney Brenner, Germiston boykie, Witsie and a real mensch, died. Always a heavy smoker, he only lived one thousand five hundred and ninety five C. elegans life cycles. Or 92 years. He was amazing. Some colleagues called him “the funniest scientist who ever lived.”

So what was he famous for? For his research fellow Caenorhabditis elegans, who is pictured below. And also for RNA. Syd was short, but this colleague was only 1mm long – and transparent. Syd could see right through him . .

Syd Brenner realized he needed a simpler animal to study than the fruit fly, a standard organism used in laboratories. He settled on Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans, a tiny, transparent roundworm that dwells in the soil, eats bacteria and completes its life cycle in three weeks. That worm has spun off many developments, starting with the decoding of the human genome.

The worm is, of course, an invertebrate, but Syd said as it was a hermaphrodite worm with occasional males he would call it a PERVERT-ebrate. Using the worm, Dr. Brenner and his colleagues first worked out methods for breaking a genome into fragments, multiplying each fragment in a colony of bacteria, and then decoding each cloned fragment with DNA sequencing machines. His colleagues John Sulston and Robert Waterston completed the worm’s genome in 1998, and they and others used the same methods to decode the human genome in 2003.

Another major project, made possible because of the worm’s transparency, was to track the lineage of all 959 cells in the adult worm’s body, starting from the single egg cell. This feat, accomplished so far for no other animal, made clear that many cells are programmatically killed during development, leading to the discovery by H. Robert Horvitz of the phenomenon of programmed cell death. The topic assumed an importance that transcended worm biology when it emerged that programmed cell death is supposed to occur in damaged human cells, and when that process is thwarted, we call it cancer! The humble worm’s DNA has turned out to be surprisingly similar to our own, helping us understand how our cells grow uncontrollably to cause cancer and why they sometimes die in excess.

For their work on programmed cell death, Dr. Brenner, Dr. Sulston (who died last year) and Dr. Horvitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. So the worm was good for him and colleagues would teasingly call him “the father of the worm.” In his Nobel lecture, Syd remarked, “Without doubt, the fourth winner of the Nobel Prize this year is Caenorhabditis elegans; it deserves all of the honor but, of course, it will not be able to share the monetary award.”

Long before he got the Nobel Prize, Dr. Brenner had been the first to conclude that there must be some means for copying the information in DNA and conveying it to the cellular organelles that manufacture proteins. That intermediary, now known as messenger RNA, was discovered in 1960 in an experiment devised by Dr. Brenner and others. Many people, including Dr. Brenner himself, believed he should have been awarded a Nobel Prize for his and Dr. Crick’s work on the genetic code. About his Nobel Prize he said, “In fact, to me this is my second Nobel prize. I just failed to get the first one.”

For years he wrote a tongue-in-cheek column called Loose Ends and later False Starts in which he’d offer advice and comment on matters scientific. To busy scientists seeking a polite way to turn down time-consuming invitations to meetings, he suggested the following reply: “Dear X, I regret I am unable to accept your invitation as I find I cannot attend your meeting. Yours sincerely.”

He held positions at Cambridge and at the Salk Institute in San Diego, where he was appointed, as he termed it, “extinguished professor.”

Insights into the nature of the cell would alternate with his playful scientific inventions, like Occam’s broom — “to sweep under the carpet what you must to leave your hypotheses consistent” — or Avocado’s number, “the number of atoms in a guacamole.” **

For a short time he had been director of the Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology, but he did not much enjoy working as an administrator: “You become a mediator between two impossible groups,” he said, “the monsters above and the idiots below.”

In his last column he decided he’d need another job, writing When one stops doing a job, one should immediately go and look for another one, if only to provide an excuse for not doing all the mundane things one has promised to attend to after retirement, so he wrote a personal service ad: Elderly, white, male, column writer, seven years experience, self-employed scientist, explorer, adventurer, inventor and entrepreneur seeks young, naive, preferably female editor of newly formed scientific journal with a view to obtaining un-refereed access to as wide an audience as possible. Has good title for a column: ‘The Well-deserved Rest.’ Please write, quoting circulation and impact factor.

As well as a good writer he was a great talker, it was hard for any listener not to fall under his spell. He spoke slowly and precisely in a lingering South African accent, his sentences long and perfectly constructed and often ending with a joke.

He tells of abandoning religion when very young on his way to Hebrew school when he had to walk through a rough part of town in Germiston. He got beaten up by a gang. “As I stood there, I said Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad, but nothing came. I got beaten up, nobody helped me and I said forget it. That sort of thing stuck in my mind. To me it was just a lot of nonsense, basically.





**see Occam’s razor and Avogadro’s number for the real things.


Before he died Wits Review gave him a lovely write-up – and gave the worm nice coverage, too.

Brenner Wits Review
Brenner Wits Review 2

I want placebos for surgery!

Before any doc gives you a pill he should have tested that pill to make sure A). its not harmful and B). that it actually has benefit.


Randomised control trials (RCT’s) are done using the poison they want to sell vs a placebo sugar pill to see if the shit they want to sell you actually works and doesn’t kill you. *


What about surgery?

If a surgeon says “Let me cut you, it will help you, trust me, I’m a surgeon”, how do you know he’s right? In fact, how does HE know he’s right?

Answer: He doesn’t. At first. Established procedures may have accepted success rates, but new procedures don’t. So traditionally most surgery is done by trial and error. Cut, oops, bury.

So why don’t surgeons use placebos when testing new procedures?

Cos they can’t? No, they can. Especially nowadays with minimal invasive surgery (“keyhole surgery”).


The paper is called:
Feasibility of surgical randomised controlled trials with a placebo arm
This review demonstrated that placebo-
controlled surgical trials are feasible, at least for
procedures with a lower level of invasiveness, but also
that recruitment is difficult. Many of the presumed
challenges to undertaking such trials, for example,
funding, anaesthesia or blinding of patients and
assessors, were not reported as obstacles to

completion in any of the reviewed trials.

* Just know that they cheat on these trials. If the pill DOES work the trial gets published 100% of the time.
Only 14% of trials where the pill DOESN’T work get published.