Cochrane Shoots Back at Media Influencer Zeynep Tufekci’s Claims of a “Correction”
And what caused the great mask-science flip flop of 2020?
5 minute read
Back in March, social media influencer Zeynep Tufekci ignored peer reviewed research published in a Cochrane review to plug her own findings in a New York Times essay pronouncing that masks stop virus transmission. She then began a month-long Twitter campaign to beat back critics, while ignoring a new study by physicians that found requiring masks in hospitals made no discernible difference on COVID-19 transmission, before proclaiming that she had forced some kind of correction to Cochrane.
This is quite a bit to unpack.
“There is no correction to the review,” an executive at Cochrane told me. “There have been comments on the review which the authors will respond to … these will appear published with the review.” In fact, you can just look at the review for yourself and see there’s no correction.
“I cannot comment on what Tufekci is meaning or the veracity of her tweets about a correction—that is her choice of a term and is open to many interpretations,” said John Conly, the professor of infectious diseases at the University of Calgary and corresponding author for the Cochrane review that Tufekci keeps harping about. “Comment contributors should be encouraged to submit their comments via the Cochrane Library to ensure [conflicts of interest] by any person submitting comments can be openly and transparently provided.”
Instead of following this path, Tufekci did science on Twitter and in essays, shooting down research to plug herself as the expert’s expert. As I previously noted, the New York Times reported that a March 2020 Tufekci tweetstorm followed by a Tufekci New York Times essay convinced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to alter federal guidance and advise all Americans above the age of 2 to wear masks.
Again, you don’t need an advanced degree in epidemiology to be alarmed that the CDC sets pandemic policy because of Tufekci tweets and an essay, but Tufekci also tweeted that she promoted masks in two 2020 meetings with the World Health Organization.
Tufekci has a minimal track record in academic publishing, but I found she helped co-author a lone 2021 paper on masks—a study which did not meet inclusion criteria for Cochrane. That paper argued, “We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.”
What may now surprise readers is that a month before she began campaigning for masks in March 2020, Tufekci tweeted a February 2020 essay in which she advised her followers to not worry about masks
I know this is funny, but I’m really not joking.
The Great Mask-Science Flip Flop of 2020
What Tufekci lacks in knowledge about epidemiology and infectious diseases, she compensates for with a large Twitter following and a knack for cultivating editors looking for social media influencers to market clickbait essays to the Ted Talk and NPR tote bag crowd.
Before she went all out on mask mandates, Tufekci previously told her following in a February 2020 Scientific American essay to not worry about masking:
However, don’t worry if you cannot find masks; those are most important for health care workers. Masks are useful for protecting others from your germs and also for making it harder or reminding you not to touch your face. For non–health care people, washing your hands often, using alcohol-based hand-sanitizer liberally and learning not to touch your face are the most important clinically-proven interventions there are (and teaching this to kids is priceless, as they may well be healthy but they are quite the germ vectors!). Clinical studies show amazing results to just washing hands regularly and well (at least 20 seconds!). Of course, if you yourself have any illness (cold or flu!), don’t sneeze or cough on people!
This is exactly what Cochrane concluded in numerous reviews since 2006: masks do little to stop virus transmission and the best evidence is for hand washing.
So wash your hands!
As I pointed out in February, Anthony Fauci did this same flip flop, changing his “scientific” view on masks after sending the former head of Health and Human Services a February 2020 email, stating, “I do not recommend you wear a mask.”
But Tufekci and Fauci aren’t the only media ordained COVID clerics who first sided with the science before undergoing a mask mandate conversion. Sometime in early 2020, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, said much the same in a briefing to reporters: "Tam on why Canadians don't need to wear masks."
Putting a mask on an asymptomatic person is not beneficial, obviously, if you’re not infected…what we worry about actually is the potential negative aspects of wearing masks, where people are not protecting their eyes or other aspects of where the virus could enter your body. And that gives you a false sense of confidence.
So what happened? Some hints can be found in a July 2021 tweet from BBC medical correspondent Deborah Cohen reporting on what caused the World Health Organization’s pivot away from the science.
And who would that have been lobbying the WHO? Zeynep Tufekci, of course.
Here’s the question: If everybody who claims to “follow the science” knew that masks weren’t that important, why the shift to mask mandates? Please leave your views in the comments below.
Oh, and here’s social media influencer Zeynep Tufekci taking on her most dangerous scientific opponent: social media influencer Zeynep Tufekci.
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The mask mandate crowd follows the same patterns as the Trump Derangement cult and the cruise missile liberal jingoists. There's a lot of overlap. They all organize and discipline each other through moral panic campaigns. Ambitious types, like Tufekci, try to get out in front of the moral panic and direct it. It's a smart career move for people whose aptitude for perception management exceeds any real qualifications.
I used to work in "medical education" which was sometimes legit but often just marketing in disguise.
Cynicism and contempt for your audience are both great helpers in the process. Especially the idea that data and information are yours to twist as you please.
This whole mask episode reminds me of nothing so much as that. (Cochrane was a Bible to us as a legit source)