Dr. Tom Jefferson: Why I won’t talk to ‘Fact Checkers’ about our mask study

In my recent post, I gave reasons why I am very wary of talking to the media. I thank those who sent messages of support. While I do not give two Hancocks for what the establishment thinks, I do care about what our supporters think and am deeply grateful for the responses.

So I have more for you. We, the co-authors of the Cochrane review on “physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses” (such as masks and PPE), known for short as A122, have received several requests described in my previous post: “Can I please check the main facts and, by the way, tell me what your review says because I cannot be bothered to do my job” type of messages.

However, we recently got another query which underlines the points made in the previous posts. This request comes from a very powerful press syndicate:

I’m reaching out because I’ve been seeing some posts [links redacted by TJ] spreading widely on social media that seem to be misrepresenting the conclusions of your recently published study on physical interventions and respiratory viruses. 

Do you think it is a misrepresentation to claim (as the tweets I link to above do) that your study definitively proves that masks don’t work in preventing the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 and the flu? If so, I’d be interested in debunking these claims to set the record straight and would love to speak with you more about the study.

The disturbing aspect of this request is as follows: the stringer is making contact with one of us. After exchanging pleasantries, he or she will ask a few superfluous questions.

We have an abstract, a plain language summary, Trust the Evidence posts and a podcast and Carl and I have written a Spectator piece covering the review. If you are a real masochist, you can read all the 300-plus pages of the review. I even gave the interview I mentioned previously, but I am not planning any more outings. So there is nothing to explain or fact-check. But the stringer is not really interested in checking facts. What they want to do is to write truthfully that they have spoken to one of us and then put the spin required in the release to ensure the ‘misinterpretation’ of twitterati is set straight. ‘Debunking’ is the term used, and it will be actioned if the stringer thinks the twitterati have ‘misinterpreted’ our findings. 

I am not on Twitter, never have been and never will be. I have no idea what these folk have written (I redacted the links without opening them). What disturbs me, though, is the idea of ‘debunking’ or ‘normalisation’ of the information flow. 

We have done the tough work over two decades, reporting results separately from our interpretation, as in all Cochrane reviews. The studies’ results are the results reported by the authors of the single studies included in the reviews. Our interpretation is one you can – and should if you want – challenge.

However, successfully challenging our interpretation requires hard work, elbow grease, graft, focus and application. So picking up the phone and speaking to someone, then deciding how to ‘debunk’ or normalise the message, is so much easier.

The reach of this particular press syndicate is global and powerful. I wonder why the stringer wanted to “debunk” the interpretation of the twitterati mentioned in the text. To ensure ‘truth’ triumphed? Or to ensure no more waves in the official narratives were made by a bunch of academics or Twitter dwellers?

We have met this kind of issue before: after we showed the published record of clinical trials for the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu was ghost-written, highly selected and spun, and no one outside the manufacturer had seen the raw data. Furthermore, the claims made by the manufacturer and its supporters were not based on solid evidence, and the drug’s performance was “modest”, according to the FDA. When the facts were made clear to the public and even the Council of Europe, the manufacturers hired the clean-up squad (anyone watched the movie John Wick?). Using observational data and two layers of go-between funders to provide a veneer of independence, they were able to reassure governments and the public that Tamiflu stockpiles really were a good idea, ready to roll against the next imminent influenza pandemic.

Governments don’t want ‘confusion’ over the decisions and policies they enact, especially over funds that have been already spent and when they are still spending a lot of your money. ‘Normalisation’ is needed to sort out the ‘confusion’ and to prevent the truth from getting out.

Governments really have your interest at heart, working day and night to protect you. It reminds me of Benito Mussolini, who left the lights on in his study in Palazzo Venezia so that passers by at two in the morning were reassured that the Duke worked all hours for the sake of Italy.