Misinformation: as meaningless and misused as masks

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Nearing the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched stated, ‘The best thing we can do is to go on with our daily routine.’ It was the final straw for poor old Randle McMurphy (or Jack Nicholson, if you prefer the film) leading to the disastrous climax. The Victorian Bureaucratic Nurse Ratched has seemingly started to ratchet itself back up again this week, with media reports of continuing inoculation mandates within the firefighters (amongst others) and a rather hysterical NewsCorp media piece suggesting that mask rules might (or should) become a piece of health policy indefinitely, for everyone, whenever you leave your house, regardless of the burden of disease within the population.

Nothing justifies the mandatory imposition of a medical intervention upon a population, small or large. Ever. There could only be a few reasons for making something mandatory. The first would be an utter failure in communication. If something is effective in preventing disease, with no (or minimal) safety concerns and very few barriers to access, anyone would seek it out of their own volition, particularly if the threat of disease is severe enough. If they do not, the logical explanation is that communication with people has been so poor that they do not understand what they are missing out on.

‘Ah, but there is so much misinformation about now, particularly in the digital age!’ Might be a potential response. Misinformation: a word so ubiquitous and misused (if the alliteration is pardoned) to become almost meaningless. If such a word truly still exists, it should be combated with more information, not censorship and dogmatism. Sensible language, respectful discourse, and rational debate should, in any reasonable mind, prevail if such medical treatments truly perform as well as they supposedly do.

‘Well… It’s for the common good. Individual freedoms should take a back seat to that!’ Might be the next objection. The latter sentence could take up a whole piece of its own but even if the premise is morally accepted, it neglects the natural human inclination toward the common good provided people are intellectually treated with respect. There are many historical examples of this from very high-risk activities assumed to be toward the common good (think young men signing up, willingly, in huge numbers, to trench warfare for the first world war) to somewhat lower-risk activities (think altruistically donating blood in case a fellow human requires a transfusion).

Other potential reasons for making something mandatory are potentially far more sinister and may link us back to the foolish current policy of censoring anything deemed ‘misinformation’. Whoever is the final arbiter of this is shrouded in mystery and the human mind is naturally curious: if something is censored, the natural inclination is to explore it further to find out what caused such offence (or what is being hidden and why).

The mantra ‘masks work’ is rarely, if ever, accompanied by a statement quantifying the magnitude of their effect and wilfully ignores the evidence suggesting they either have a very small effect or do nothing at all. The latter includes at least one specifically designed randomised controlled trial and a (gold standard) Cochrane meta-analysis, the level of evidence required for even considering the potential use of repurposed medications. It is a reasonable position (although not one I hold) to prefer the studies that suggest masks play a role in disease prevention. It is a fabrication or a blind misinterpretation of medical evidence to state that this subject is settled or even that the evidence points only in one direction.

The Australian ‘medical expert’ recommendation to wear masks in one’s own home (and tape up the area around the doorway if you live in an apartment) came, at the time, with a citation of a retrospective, anonymised, survey-based study in a single area in China. Such stuff, a few years ago, would probably not have been published and should never have been cited by anyone with more than a couple of functioning brain cells. As for the recent insinuation about wearing them indefinitely: yes, it was based on ‘modelling’.

How anyone can claim to be an environmentalist, but also support the universal use of these synthetic, disposable devices that are overflowing public rubbish bins, often strewn in the gutter and inevitably filling up our landfill sites and waterways (before we even begin to consider the energy requirements and location of their mass manufacture) is the height of hypocrisy. In this article, we haven’t even begun to explore the potential harms, of which there are many. They should absolutely never have been recommended outdoors and absolutely never enforced on children.

Is the ‘best thing’ for us Victorians to ‘go on with our daily routine’ or, even worse, regress to the daily routine of a year or two ago, uncritically and unquestioningly, like we have already undergone the sad treatment that befell poor old Randle (Jack)? I think not.

This article was first published on Spectator Australia here.

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  • Dr Thomas Cade

    Dr Cade has been a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RANZCOG) since 2015 after completion of training predominantly at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. He has been on the RANZCOG Board of Examiners since 2015 and is a member of the Victorian State Committee. His research doctorate in the management of gestational diabetes was completed in 2018 and won the Arthur Nyulasy prize for most clinically impactful thesis: he also completed a masters degree in biostatistics. He has previously been a Head of Unit and a member of the Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the Royal Women's Hospital and now contributes primarily to research at the Pregnancy Research Centre and on the institutional Research Committee. He is a graduate research supervisor and advisory committee chair at the University of Melbourne. His clinical work is predominantly in private practice at Epworth Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne.

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