Top Scientific Journal Suppresses Study on Effectiveness of Face Masks
Some of the world’s top scientific journals are being accused of suppressing the results of a study aimed at determining the effectiveness of face masks against the spread of the coronavirus.
“They all said no,” said Christian Torp-Pedersen, chief physician at North Zealand Hospital’s research department, who was involved in the study. “We cannot start discussing what they are dissatisfied with because, in that case, we must also explain what the study showed, and we do not want to discuss that until it is published.”
Danish newspaper Berlingske ran a headline on Thursday reading, “Does a mask work? Top journals refuse to print the Danish answer.”
“Now one of the researchers involved in the study can state that the finished research result has been rejected by at least three of the world’s leading medical journals,” the Berlingske article states.
The journals refusing to publish the results reportedly include the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Washington Examiner reached out to all three journals. Only the Lancet responded, saying it does not comment on unpublished studies.
Bloomberg News reported in July that Henning Bundgaard, a Danish cardiology professor and main author, was “finalizing” the study that would examine the effectiveness of face masks in stopping the spread of the coronavirus outside of hospitals.
“All these countries recommending face masks haven’t made their decisions based on new studies,” Bundgaard said at the time.
The study’s abstract states that it “will be a two-arm, unblinded, randomised controlled trial” that “will include adults (>18 years of age) without prior confirmed COVID-19 or symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, who spend more than three hours per day outside the home with exposure to other people. “
Six thousand participants were randomly assigned to use face masks or not for a 30-day period during the pandemic. The results would be based on the difference in the number of individuals infected with the virus within the two study groups.
“This is the world’s largest study of its kind and is expected to be included as an important factor in the basis for government decisions regarding the use of masks,” Bundgaard said.
Studies getting rejected by top medical journals isn’t entirely out of the ordinary, especially if the data set is deficient. As Berlingske pointed out, the study was conducted at a time when COVID-19 infections were falling sharply in Denmark. If there were too few infections in the study, unambiguous conclusions would be difficult or impossible to draw.
As of Oct. 21, that study has yet to be published, and one of the researchers on the study, Thomas Lars Benfield, recently said that the findings would be released “as soon as a journal is brave enough,” suggesting that the results would cause controversy.
Benfield has since walked back those comments, saying, “The quote [is] a bit out of context. The article is being reviewed by a respected journal. We have decided not to publish data until the article has been accepted.”
However, Torp-Pedersen agreed with Benfield’s initial comment, saying that he “might also have dared to go as far as Benfield.”
“That’s how I want to interpret it, too,” Torp-Pedersen responded when asked if the rejection by the journals means the results are “controversial” to some.
“Can one interpret a controversial research result in the sense that no significant effect of mask use is demonstrated in your study?” Torp-Pedersen was asked.
“I think that’s a very relevant question you are asking,” he responded.
Several randomized controlled trials have been carried out for influenzalike illnesses, which transmit the same way as the coronavirus. In July, the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford published a paper showing that a “recent crop of trials added 9,112 participants to the total randomised denominator of 13,259 and showed that masks alone have no significant effect in interrupting the spread of ILI or influenza in the general population, nor in healthcare workers.”
A randomized control trial conducted in 2015 studying 1,607 Vietnamese healthcare workers cautioned against the use of cloth masks for healthcare workers, stating that “moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection.”
The penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97%, compared with 44% with medical masks, according to the study.
A study conducted in China in 2006 examining healthcare workers and the spread of the SARS virus concluded that personal protective equipment “may lower exposure to the virus.”
“It is debatable whether any of these results could be applied to the transmission of SARs-CoV-2,” Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan wrote for the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine. They said that previous trials “differed” in that “viral circulation was usually variable; none had been conducted during a pandemic” and that “outcomes were defined and reported in several different ways, making comparison difficult.”
The World Health Organization recommends wearing a mask as “a key measure to suppress the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.” A study published in the Lancet of 172 observational studies across 16 countries found that “face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection, with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar.”
Heneghan and Jefferson also said they remain skeptical of nonrandomized clinical trials such as the one published in the Lancet, concluding masks reduce virus transmission. “We consider it is unwise to infer causation based on regional geographical observations as several proponents of masks have done.”
Both said the “deluge” of new studies about “the previously little-known coronaviruses” may be indicative of knowledge but that they add little to our understanding.
They continued: “Many are clearly ‘me too’ efforts where researchers need to have their name associated with the pandemic. A good example of this is the number of reviews of the evidence on masks published in the last three months — fifteen to our knowledge. Yet, the number of published trials on the effects of masks in Covid-19 transmission is — so far — zero.”
The debate as to whether face masks are effective in combating the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the constitutionality of mandating them, has become a hot-button issue in the United States since state governments began imposing lockdown orders in March.
This week, White House coronavirus response team member Dr. Scott Atlas was shunned by political pundits and censored by Twitter after posting an article from libertarian think tank the American Institute for Economic Research that questioned the effectiveness of masks.
Atlas’s colleague on the team, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been a vocal supporter of face masks.
“What we need is to get the message across that we are all in this together,” Fauci said in August. “And it’s important because one of the purposes of the masks is that if you may be inadvertently walking around not knowing you’re infected — to protect others from getting infected. We have to keep hammering home with that message.”
Residents across the country have sued over the constitutionality of statewide face mask mandates and in some cases emerged victorious, while in other parts of the country, violence has erupted as a result of face mask disagreements.
Wearing a face mask has also become an issue in the 2020 presidential race, with President Trump opting not to wear a mask at times, sparking criticism from his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.