On April 20, the Facebook account “Bolo Zhamis Kristianebi” shared a post, according to which, wearing masks not only is ineffective in protecting from virus infection but can cause serious harm to health and even early death. The Author of the post names a new study by Stanford University as a source.
The article disseminated on social networks as Stanford University’s study was actually published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, which discusses radical and speculative claims. Moreover, Stanford university states that they are not affiliated with the published study and author of the article.
The article about the dangers of wearing a mask was first published in November of 2020 in the journal Medical Hypotheses. According to the aims of Medical Hypotheses, the journal is created to discuss radical, speculative, and non-mainstream scientific ideas and its goal is to “publish Theoretical papers”.
As for the author of the article, he is Baruch Vainshelboim, who, according to the website description, is a representative of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. This facility is affiliated with Stanford University, but the University itself denies cooperating with Vainshelboim. It is noted in a comment with Politfact that the author hasn’t been affiliated with VA or Stanford since 2016, before that he served as a visiting scholar for 1 year. According to a statement of Stanford University, Stanford has nothing to do with the paper and moreover, they asked the journal for a correction.
On his LinkedIn profile, Vainshelboim identifies himself as a clinical physiologist, who obtained a doctorate degree at The University of Porto, Portugal.
What are the shortfalls of the research?
The author of the article claims that there is no proof that wearing masks are necessary to prevent COVID-19, but negative health effects caused by them are already “established”. The paper claims to summarize scientific evidence about mask-wearing in the COVID-19 era, according to which, masks do not help in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, they also cause hypoxemia and hypercapnia that can result in physical and psychological health problems. To prove these claims, the author uses the very same sources that prove the opposite of what he describes.
For example, Vainshelboim claims, that “clinical scientific evidence challenges further the efficacy of face-masks to block human-to-human transmission or infectivity”, but the paper cited to prove this point, says that “surgical masks prevent coronavirus and flu transmission from people with symptoms”.
According to Benjamin Neuman, a biology professor at Texas A&M University and chief virologist of the university’s Global Health Research Complex, no new experiment or analysis of appropriate data was conducted within the scope of the above-mentioned study and fragments shown as evidence from different scientific research is cited incorrectly. Moreover, Neuman says, that this is not a scientific paper, but a personal opinion of a person that does not have appropriate experience and knowledge.
“The Medical Hypotheses article “does not provide any strong evidence for the statement,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Wearing surgical masks creates a barrier against particles that are spread when sneezing, coughing, or talking.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation, using a mask is particularly important in public spaces, especially at times when practicing social distancing is difficult.
Similar claims about masks have been disseminated on social networks and other media outlets in the past. Read more about masks in old publications of “Myth Detector”:
Is It Possible to Measure the Level of Carbon Dioxide Behind Mask with a Gas Detector?
Disinformation, as if face masks cause intoxication and that they can only be worn in the sterile environment’
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