April 15, 2021 Reading Time: 7 minutes

[UPDATE: The paper discussed below was withdrawn from the journal following an editorial investigation. RetractionWatch explains the reasons for this decision. The authors of this article defer to the editors of the journal. We leave the text intact for reference purposes only.]

Last week, YouTube took down an AIER-linked video of a scientific roundtable on Covid held by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. The stated reason concerned some passing comments by the scholars that raised questions about the masking of children. 

Said a YouTube spokesman: “We removed AIER’s video because it included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

The ostensibly objectionable remark came from Harvard Professor Martin Kulldorff: “Children should not wear face masks,” he said. “They don’t need it for their own protection and they don’t need it for protecting other people either.”

Kulldorff and others were addressing the distressing reality that children in many jurisdictions are masked, on the streets and in classrooms, despite presenting nearly zero risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19 and in the face of substantial evidence that children do not often spread the disease.

YouTube has taken it upon itself to censor the opinions of esteemed scientists that depart from the orthodoxy on masks. This is not surprising given that masks have become dogma – a visible symbol of compliance and fealty to the medical/political agenda that elevates the coronavirus above all else.

This dogma was illustrated by Anthony Fauci’s response to the situation in Texas, which repealed its mask mandate and saw cases plummet. Asked to explain this result, Fauci responded: “I’m not really quite sure….It could be they’re doing things outdoors.” He declined to even consider the fact that perhaps masks are not effective at controlling spread of the coronavirus. In other words, the theory that universal masking stops the virus is becoming non-falsifiable. 

AIER’s content has mostly focused on other aspects of lockdowns, yet published several pieces on the topic of masks:

The masking issue is gaining importance both in terms of the scientific issues involved and concerns for liberty and social function. First, there are increasing calls for mask-wearing to be a permanent part of our lives. This article, for instance, suggests that masks should be adopted during flu season, spikes in coronavirus cases, and when a person is ill. Second, one of the many journals linked through the National Institutes of Health’s suite of scholarly works, Medical Hypothesis, has accepted for publication a devastating analysis of the harms caused by widespread, universal masking. The citation is: Vainshelboim B. Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2021;146:110411. 

True, this is not a conventional journal and that is precisely why it exists. It was founded out of a concern that valid scientific observations that depart from current trends will not make it through the conventional peer review process with a thesis that is radical or breaks an emergent mold. The journal, published by the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, has a prestigious editorial board that utilizes high standards in selecting material for publication, and can provide a home for unorthodox scientific papers. Indeed, given the state of censorship and the vast scientific confusions that have followed in the wake of lockdowns, such journals are needed more than ever. 

Tellingly, this paper is written by a single author, which is to say that one person has stuck his neck out to take responsibility for its contents. John Ioannidis has demonstrated that a feature of problematic studies is that they are performed and reported on by large teams of researchers rather than a single author. This makes sense: large teams can distribute responsibility for truth claims. Not so with single author papers. This enhances, but does not prove, the credibility of published research by single authors. 

The well-published and cited author Baruch Vainshelboim works in the Cardiology Division, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System/Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, United States, and has had an affiliation with Pulmonary Institute, Rabin Medical Center, Beilinson Hospital, Petach Tikva, Israel. He obtained his Ph.D. (Universidade do Porto) in clinical exercise physiology in pulmonary rehabilitation and hence has a strong interest in the relationship between health and masking. 

The entire paper is worth reading. It cites most known studies and knowledge in the scientific literature prior to the Spring of 2020, including the WHO: “Facemasks are not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons.” 

The author goes on to explain a myriad physiological dangers associated with mask wearing:

In addition to hypoxia and hypercapnia, breathing through facemask residues bacterial and germs components on the inner and outside layer of the facemask. These toxic components are repeatedly rebreathed back into the body, causing self-contamination. Breathing through facemasks also increases temperature and humidity in the space between the mouth and the mask, resulting in a release of toxic particles from the mask’s materials. A systematic literature review estimated that aerosol contamination levels of facemasks including 13 to 202,549 different viruses. Rebreathing contaminated air with high bacterial and toxic particle concentrations along with low O2 and high CO2 levels continuously challenge the body homeostasis, causing self-toxicity and immunosuppression. 

And some psychological harms of masks:

As described earlier, wearing facemasks causing hypoxic and hypercapnic state that constantly challenges the normal homeostasis, and activates “fight or flight” stress response, an important survival mechanism in the human body. The acute stress response includes activation of nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, and the immune systems. These include activation of the limbic part of the brain, release stress hormones (adrenalin, neuro-adrenalin and cortisol), changes in blood flow distribution (vasodilation of peripheral blood vessels and vasoconstriction of visceral blood vessels) and activation of the immune system response (secretion of macrophages and natural killer cells). Encountering people who wear facemasks activates innate stress-fear emotion, which is fundamental to all humans in danger or life threatening situations, such as death or unknown, unpredictable outcome. While acute stress response (seconds to minutes) is an adaptive reaction to challenges and part of the survival mechanism, chronic and prolonged state of stress-fear is maladaptive and has detrimental effects on physical and mental health. The repeatedly or continuously activated stress-fear response causes the body to operate on survival mode, having sustained increase in blood pressure, pro-inflammatory state and immunosuppression. 

And the conclusion: 

The existing scientific evidences challenge the safety and efficacy of wearing facemask as preventive intervention for COVID-19. The data suggest that both medical and non-medical facemasks are ineffective to block human-to-human transmission of viral and infectious disease such as SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, supporting against the usage of facemasks. Wearing facemasks has been demonstrated to have substantial adverse physiological and psychological effects. These include hypoxia, hypercapnia, shortness of breath, increased acidity and toxicity, activation of fear and stress response, rise in stress hormones, immunosuppression, fatigue, headaches, decline in cognitive performance, predisposition for viral and infectious illnesses, chronic stress, anxiety and depression. Long-term consequences of wearing facemasks can cause health deterioration, developing and progression of chronic diseases and premature death. Governments, policy makers and health organizations should utilize proper and scientific evidence-based approach with respect to wearing facemasks, when the latter is considered as preventive intervention for public health.

This article represents a new challenge to the pro-masking position. It argues that masks are not merely a “talisman,” as the Journal of the American Medical Association said in April 2020 (before the authors were forced to retract three months later). The situation is far worse: masks are not just useless, but actively damaging to individual health and social well-being. 

To be sure, anyone is free to challenge the conclusions, attack the extensive footnotes, take issue with the interpretation, or otherwise blast what is clearly a hypothesis. However, the journal editors chose to publish this unconventional perspective because it is consistent with vast amounts of the consensus at this time last year, before the orthodoxy suddenly changed, and the evidence that has accumulated during the past twelve months. In addition, taking this position today involves serious professional risk: NYU communication professor Mark Crispin Miller is being investigated merely for suggesting that his students think critically about masks by reading studies that conclude masks are not an effective means of curbing the spread of respiratory viruses as well as those that reach the opposite conclusion. 

The paper appears in the midst of an ongoing effort on the part of Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden, and others to normalize and universalize mask wearing, even as many states are repealing their mask mandates with public support. The evidence that doing so has had any effect on the trajectory of the virus is scant at best. The most commonly cited study from the CDC barely finds a 0.5% difference in transmission rate over 20 days and 1.8% after 100 days. The longer the time the more variables are a concern; a simply and extremely weak correlation between two data points stretches credulity, especially when used to push a radical masking of the population. 

In addition, many aspects of our emergent mask culture are implausible, such as the idea that you don’t catch or spread Covid while seated and eating and can thereby be unmasked but standing and walking are too risky and therefore require masks. As to wearing them outdoors or even alone on a hike in the woods, does one even need to comment? 

Given that masking of healthy populations for long periods of time is a new policy, it is astounding that the media and scientific journals decided within a matter of months that the efficacy of the practice could not be questioned or studied, nor its adverse effects discussed.

Anyone who thinks that “science” is settled after a year of implementation of a mechanism that ostensibly reduces disease spread does not understand the meaning of the word. Science is a process, by which new information and evidence are incorporated as they are discovered. Anthony Fauci and Andrew Cuomo are exploiting the term “science” to convey to the public that certain beliefs cannot be questioned, and they are being assisted by big tech platforms like YouTube, which obviously seek to control the parameters of the discussion. 

No matter how many times these people repeat the word “science,” they are promoting precisely the opposite of science: dogma. By contrast, Dr. Baruch Vainshelboim is pushing us to think more broadly and fundamentally, in a way that connects with pre-2020 intuition, and for this he deserves immense credit, as does Medical Hypothesis for having published this paper. Both make a courageous attempt to analyze the costs of adopting universal masking, which is to say advancing real science.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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Jenin Younes

Jenin Younes

Jenin Younes is a graduate of Cornell University and New York University School of Law.

Jenin currently works as a civil liberties attorney in Washington DC.

She enjoys running, restaurants, and reading in her free time.

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