Admit what you do not know and embrace uncertainty. The public will understand that more than parroting your public health talking points. Paradoxically, your credibility increases. Masks are the latest example.

Medical Mythbusting Commentary for April 7, 2020

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
— John Adams

Just five month’s ago, the public health message to reduce the spread of the flu virus recommended you sneeze or cough into your elbow fold instead of your hands. If we think about this logically, why would we not use a mask, even one made at home, to reduce the chance of infecting others with SARS-CoV-2? The purpose is to capture larger droplets. Does the use of a face mask not accomplish a similar outcome as using your elbow?

Even if the risk reduction is small, there is no significant downside. The argument that we would touch our face masks does not change the fact that we touch our bare faces many times a day because it is our built-in autopilot primate behaviour.

The claim of a false sense of security is easily countered by reinforcing the reason for wearing them is to reduce transmission and not self–protection. Explain this with consistent and up-to-date information and most people will go along.

The face mask issue is one where officials were slow to acknowledge the growing body of evidence suggesting it helped reduce the spread of SARS-Cov-2 in countries, like South Korea that used them early during their outbreak. Granted other concurrently enacted public health measures could certainly confound the results but nonetheless, they noted faster control of their situation. How much did the masks help? Not entirely sure. Was their a downside to public use? Not in those countries?

Admitting that we do not have all the answers is what makes science an endeavour of discovery and understanding of our world. It reveals the world in small increments: a never-ending story with twists and turns, subplots, tangents, and unintended consequences.

It can throw you for a loop and lead us to revelations that are astounding not only from its factual foundation but to the wonder and exhilaration of life and of the world and universe within which we live.

It is the only system amongst all the inaccurate reporting, armchair analyses, and now health misinformation that can be used to challenge claims.

This link provides a toolkit you can use to prevent and challenge unscrupulous individuals health care claims and fake cures ( now for Covid-19). We have seen and continue to see numerous examples of this during the pandemic from a U.S. President who is a stand-in for the Dunning Kruger Effect, to poorly conducted studies used as the basis for treating people, in effect rejecting the scientific principles and strict methodologies that we as a society have used to create today’s medical advances.

Believing that something works is not evidence. Figuring our why something works and showing the logical steps in the discovery/research process is inherently more satisfying, useful and at times stranger than fiction. It also can be mind-blowing and a hell of a lot more fun.

Links:

Ryerson University Misinformation Watch

The Coronavirus Collection: Fact-Checking COVID-19 …

How to Spot Coronavirus Misinformation

Misinformation related to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

Centers of Disease Control

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