Idea and innovation
Not that anyone asked me, but . . .

Unsolicited Science

We're scientists. Every now and then one of us responds to an internet comment. Here is one such an occasion.

Seat belts in a high-speed car accident are very different from a mask for a disease with a low mortality rate for a majority of people. How did our ancestors survive without mask mandates? Remember duck and cover against nuclear attack from the 1950s through the early 1980s?

Just like masks it was a feel good, do something response that gave a false sense of security. Typically, the left is more prone to government edicts while the right questions the legitimacy of mask mandates and the unintended consequences that stem from blind obedience.

Authentic internet response in the comments section of an academic research article on masks

Sept 2020


The distinction to make is that our ancestors did not have the population density we now face. Had they reached the number of people that live on the planet now with no mask, the consequences would have been devastating. That’s the whole point.  Infectious disease has ever followed humankind into civilization and shaped the course of history. Wherever we dared to concentrate high-numbers of people, diseases appeared.

When we look at animal species, we recognize this phenomenon where a disease counters uncontrolled population increases. Animals who populate an area too densely may soon suffer from a contagious outbreak that persists until it no longer spreads effectively among the species. 

Ultimately, you’re correct that our ancestors did not require masks to prevent these types of pandemics. They also lacked global trade, air travel, paved roads, and daily commutes. We populated cities with less density, and rural communities were far more common, with more people spread over more land.

This seems to be an argument for allowing a pandemic infectious disease spread uncontrolled. The economic state that it would bring would be far worse than many realize [1, 3,4]. It is also the case that a low mortality rate is a pandemic feature, not a comfort. Diseases with high-case fatality rates are much less likely to cause a pandemic for several reasons. We wore masks in 1918, and people raised many of the same objections, and we took many similar precautions to contain polio.

Polio has much more similarity to the behavior and implications of Covid than does seasonal influenza. Poliovirus spreads asymptomatically, and a minority of people experienced serious illness or death, but we know the disease today by its least common symptoms. 

With every pandemic/outbreak, we see the alternative theories about the source and “motivation” for the crisis. When you read theories from other outbreaks, it’s striking how similar they are outbreak-to-outbreak [2] A quick search of the history of infectious disease in the United States shows the reality that truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Some quotes from 1918 case studies were so close to things said by people today that most would struggle to guess what year someone said it. Masks are far from feel good as they both reduce transmission such that semi-normal society can return, and they may also reduce the proportion of severe cases in the population[5].

Although we knew that the economic consequences of slow action would be grave, I believe it was not until July when we saw reports and studies from WSJ [3] and Goldman Sachs[4] that we saw previously resistant decision-makers embrace masks. Perhaps more than testing or distancing, masks have the power to allow us to have a normal life.

I’m unsure what the last sentence relates to as the recommendations arose from continually reassessing the body of evidence, hence the requirement for adapting our position. We can decide as a society to leverage the advantage of evidence and save our economy, kids’ in-school education, and mental health, and join nearly every other country in finding our new normal, or we can refuse, clinging to a world that no longer exists, that got us where we are now.

0 Snap-Facts

In 1918, Minnesota went so far as mandating a certain number of windows open in passenger cars. In the middle of winter--again, in Minnesota.




 1.Correia, Sergio and Luck, Stephan and Verner, Emil, Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu (June 5, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

2. Sell, T.K., Hosangadi, D. & Trotochaud, M. Misinformation and the US Ebola communication crisis: analyzing the veracity and content of social media messages related to a fear-inducing infectious disease outbreak. BMC Public Health 20, 550 (2020).

3.DeBarros, H., 2020. WSJ Survey: Strong U.S. Recovery Depends On Effective Covid-19 Response. [online] WSJ. Available at: <;

4. Hatzius, J., 2020. Face Masks And GDP. [online] Goldman Sachs. Available at: <> 

5. Li-Rodenborn, E Rosalie. “Research Shows An Unexpected Benefit of Universal Mask-Wearing.” NOVEL SCIENCE, NOVEL SCIENCE, 26 Aug. 2020,


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