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Masks for the public: laying straw men to rest
  • Trisha Greenhalgh
Trisha Greenhalgh
University of Oxford
Author Profile

Peer review status:Published

28 Apr 2020Submitted to Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
28 Apr 2020Submission Checks Completed
28 Apr 2020Assigned to Editor
28 Apr 2020Reviewer(s) Assigned
05 May 2020Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
05 May 2020Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
05 May 20201st Revision Received
06 May 2020Submission Checks Completed
06 May 2020Assigned to Editor
06 May 2020Editorial Decision: Accept
26 May 2020Published in Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. 10.1111/jep.13415

Abstract

This paper responds to one by Graham Martin and colleagues, who offered a critique of my previous publications on masks for the lay public in the Covid-19 pandemic. I address their charges that my co-authors and I had misapplied the precautionary principle; drawn conclusions that were not supported by empirical research; and failed to take account of potential harms. But before that, I remind Martin et al that the evidence on mask wearing goes beyond the contested trials and observational studies they place centre stage. I set out some key findings from basic science, epidemiology, mathematical modelling, case studies and natural experiments, and use this rich and diverse body of evidence as the backdrop for my rebuttal of their narrowly-framed objections. I challenge my critics’ apparent assumption that a particular kind of systematic review should be valorised over narrative and real-world evidence, since stories are crucial to both our scientific understanding and our moral imagination. I conclude by thanking my academic adversaries for the intellectual sparring match, but exhort them to remember our professional accountability to a society in crisis. It is time to lay straw men to rest and engage, scientifically and morally, with the dreadful tragedy that is unfolding across the world.