Debunking Bad Science: Masks?

HEADLINE: Official Data Shows Face Masks “Made No Difference”, Says Oxford Professor

Yes, he actually said this, and yes he’s a real Oxford professor, and yes the data is real. The story still isn’t what you probably are starting to think it is.

Stories began to appear around the first of December on all sorts of alt-news sites with names like LibertyDefender and MedicalMartialLaw (dot Com) about a statement made by Professor Jim Naismith showing, by the data, that mask mandates in Scotland had done virtually nothing to slow the spread of COVID during a recent period when the rest of the island started going bare-faced.

Normally, this is the sort of stuff that would just get ignored — a deliberate misquote, maybe, or some sort of crank. Perhaps it was the Jim Naismith who invented basketball? But, no; this is the widely honored Professor James Henderson Naismith of Jesus College, structural biologist, head of his department, and director of the Rosalind Franklin Research Institute. He has published 300-odd papers in peer-reviewed journals, and is one of the world’s top experts. When he speaks about COVID, people had better listen.

At present, his major research projects include one where they’re deliberately exposing llamas to COVID-19, harvesting the antibodies, and converting them into a spray that can end the disease in a matter of hours. He’s also an extremely vocal proponent of improved ventilation systems and air filtration in public buildings, saying that this would be far more effective and, incidentally, would also prevent other diseases. And yes, in a recent and very public statement, he explained that Scotland’s mask mandate had been startlingly ineffective — and he backed it up using some very impressive charts. (And yes, the data checks out.)

He did not, however, say that masks don’t work, which is what all the alt-news articles appear to imply.


Here’s the context: Despite England dropping their mask mandates and Scotland keeping them in place after July, reports from the Office of National Statistics showed that infection rates were actually higher in Scotland. “…[S]urvey results on prevalence shows that the Scottish and English approach to masking, although formally different since July, has made no meaningful difference to Delta,” Naismith said. “In both countries, very high levels of prevalence have continued for months. Thus the new changes announced are unlikely to have much of an impact if Omicron does indeed spread rapidly.”

And Omicron is indeed spreading rapidly. Its discovery was announced from South Africa on 24 November, but dozens to hundreds of new cases have already been diagnosed in the UK, and at least one massive super-spreader event apparently took place in New York City on the weekend of the 20th, with thousands exposed. Travel bans to and from Africa appear increasingly pointless in the face of this.

Which makes it important to ask: Are masks useful or not? (To say nothing of the other question: Is Omicron a serious threat or not? The answer for now is, it’s too soon to tell; “Deaths are a lagging indicator,” as Dr. Schaffner of the NFID recently said.)

In response, Dr. Naismith said, unequivocally, yes. “Universal masking indoors has been proven to reduce (but not prevent) the spread of Covid19.  Half hearted or voluntary measures seem to have very little effect on Delta.  I wear a mask indoors everywhere but my home or when eating at the cafe where I work.”

The purpose of Dr. Naismith’s recent presentation was to explain that, since nobody bothers to enforce mask mandates in Scotland and people don’t wear them, they aren’t all that useful. He also made reference to the perfectly dreadful air filtration systems used on British Rail, and the cutting-edge 1930s technology employed in several supermarkets and similar public gathering places north of the Cheviots. His delivery was genteel and well-mannered; his conclusions were startlingly indictive: So long as people refuse to wear masks, or to take even the simplest of precautions, they will always be ineffective.

“The rollout of vaccines in the UK has clearly made a huge difference to hospitalisations and deaths… Recent weeks have seen a real drop in the number of first vaccinations. I would urge the Government, medics, and my fellow scientists to continue to explain to the vaccine hesitant the benefits of these safe and effective medicines.

“At the same time, the hot air around masking is overshadowing uncontroversial plans to improve ventilation. I realise the debate about masks generates an enthusiasm that makes ventilation seem rather mundane by comparison. However, getting more vaccinations and improving ventilation will do much more to save lives than any amount of shouting for or against masks.”

Answer: Wear a mask. Get vaccinated. And get serious about medical air filtration.


If what you just read pisses you off, that’s not because it’s wrong. People are wrong every day and it doesn’t get to you. If you’re upset by this article, it’s because deep down you’re afraid it’s true.

No, The Not Fake News did not “get the memo” to “fall in line or else”; we’d find it hard to believe that anything else would be worse. We’re not shills of the public narrative; we don’t take marching orders from major media. We’re independent, and because we don’t get payoffs, we’re poor but reliable.

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NOTE: Prof. Naismith’s quotes above were sourced from multiple media reports, and originated, best as we can tell, from two different recent public statements. The comment was in response to our query.

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