13 votes

Simple DIY masks could help flatten the curve. We should all wear them in public

20 comments

  1. [19]
    DanBC
    Link
    This is the arrogance of tech bros facing up against WHO and coming to weird conclusions. All those papers they've found? In a laboratory, with a researcher fitting a mask, and carefully...

    This is the arrogance of tech bros facing up against WHO and coming to weird conclusions.

    All those papers they've found? In a laboratory, with a researcher fitting a mask, and carefully controlled calibrated aerosolized droplets and research bacteria we find an almost insignificant benefit to wearing masks. But these settings are not replicable to real world conditions and they're (for obvious reasons) not testing using SARS-CoV-2.

    And the three reasons given for not wearing masks -- they promote risky behaviour; they are by definition contaminated and people can't handle nor use them correctly -- are just dismissed as "not evidence based" when he means "I didn't bother to look for the evidence".

    tl;dr tech bros are going to kill you. Reject their pseudo-rationalist scientism bullshit and focus on real science instead.

    13 votes
    1. [16]
      skybrian
      Link Parent
      On the other hand, many tech folks were raising the alarm alarm early. The wakeup call I particularly remember was from a blog, written February 27, and I saw it when it was posted on Hacker News....

      On the other hand, many tech folks were raising the alarm alarm early. The wakeup call I particularly remember was from a blog, written February 27, and I saw it when it was posted on Hacker News. Two of the most influential articles ("Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now" and "The Hammer and the Dance") were written by Stanford MBA working for a startup, and endorsed by many experts. (Other tech leaders like Musk were very unhelpful.) The advice from WHO seems pretty slow and pointless in comparison. They didn't declare a pandemic until March 11. What good did that do? Everyone paying attention already knew it.

      If you have better evidence or can find a better argument, please post it. It could be important. But these ad-hominem attacks, dismissing people simply because of the industry they are in, are not helpful.

      12 votes
      1. [15]
        onyxleopard
        Link Parent
        The purpose of a declaration is to be informative. The WHO has its own definitions of what qualifies as a pandemic. Unfortunately, pandemic is a word. And in a scientific or clinical context, it...

        They didn't declare a pandemic until March 11. What good did that do?

        The purpose of a declaration is to be informative. The WHO has its own definitions of what qualifies as a pandemic. Unfortunately, pandemic is a word. And in a scientific or clinical context, it may have special meanings that are distinct from the vernacular. Historically the terms epidemic and pandemic have been used descriptively by epidemiologists to describe geographic distribution of diseases, and often in comparison to relevant baselines, which laypeople are unlikely to be familiar with. Historically this distinction has had nothing to do with severity. (See, for instance, this piece arguing for better definitions and communications for more in depth discussion.).

        The WHO was taking this disease seriously before their classification of a global pandemic, as they do with all potentially serious diseases. They declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020. That designation has to do with severity, not with the geographic distribution of cases. They also started offering testing kits early on.

        Personally, I’d take domain experts’ opinions over that of someone who just happens to trend on Hacker News, esp. when Hacker News is not likely to be frequented by domain experts.

        9 votes
        1. [14]
          skybrian
          Link Parent
          I would suggest looking for experts, then, and sharing what you find. Hacker News often does get comments from domain experts. (Along with lots of people who don't know anything.) It's not where...

          I would suggest looking for experts, then, and sharing what you find.

          Hacker News often does get comments from domain experts. (Along with lots of people who don't know anything.) It's not where I'd normally go for medical news, though; it's just where I happened to see it. It seems that there are many epidemiologists on Twitter, though?

          Often, we don't hear from the domain experts directly. Lots of people are able to read research papers and summarize them, though, and by paying attention to them you can get a better understanding of what the scientists are up to, if you choose to look into it deeper.

          Due to politics and caution, official news is often late, sad to say.

          3 votes
          1. [2]
            SantalBlush
            Link Parent
            I don't think this is true at all in many cases. Moreover, even in those cases where a layman can accurately summarize a paper's findings, they often aren't able to verify whether or not the...

            Lots of people are able to read research papers and summarize them

            I don't think this is true at all in many cases. Moreover, even in those cases where a layman can accurately summarize a paper's findings, they often aren't able to verify whether or not the methodology was appropriate or that the correct inferences were drawn from the results. These things are important, as research papers vary in quality quite a bit.

            This isn't to say that laymen shouldn't read and try to understand research papers; they absolutely should do this. But when it comes to getting reliable information--especially of such importance as this--we should look to professionals in the field.

            7 votes
            1. skybrian
              Link Parent
              I agree it can certainly go wrong, but I still think there is an important role for non-experts who summarize scientific work. This is what scientific journalists do, after all. Some amateurs are...

              I agree it can certainly go wrong, but I still think there is an important role for non-experts who summarize scientific work. This is what scientific journalists do, after all. Some amateurs are able to do it too. Some are even able to cooperate directly with professionals (get stuff proofread, etc.).

              I would be cautious about it. I don't have the patience or connections to do it well, which why I usually stick to links and selective quotes. I think we can do more than just quoting official information, though.

              The most important role is probably just helping experts gain an audience.

              4 votes
          2. [11]
            onyxleopard
            Link Parent
            If you are not actively working in a particular scientific domain like biomedicine, it’s really difficult to read serious papers and fully understand them. I’d wager that biomedicine is actually...

            Lots of people are able to read research papers and summarize them, though, and by paying attention to them you can get a better understanding of what the scientists are up to, if you choose to look into it deeper.

            If you are not actively working in a particular scientific domain like biomedicine, it’s really difficult to read serious papers and fully understand them. I’d wager that biomedicine is actually even worse given the number of domain specific terms they use, and the ambiguity and use of initialisms or gene/protein shorthand. Yes, you can learn to get a grasp on the field, but if you have a full time job in a different domain, are you really perusing PubMed in your free time?

            1 vote
            1. [10]
              skybrian
              Link Parent
              I'm not, but there are people who do. Sometimes in a related domain, if not the actual field.

              I'm not, but there are people who do. Sometimes in a related domain, if not the actual field.

              1 vote
              1. [9]
                onyxleopard
                Link Parent
                Have you read comments by someone you know is bullshitting because they are talking about something in your field? If you have, hopefully you can see why delving into something you don’t know...

                Have you read comments by someone you know is bullshitting because they are talking about something in your field? If you have, hopefully you can see why delving into something you don’t know about is equally unhelpful.

                Anyone who is claiming that AI, today, can replace human epidemiologists is a bullshitter. If they’re offering software tools to help biomedical researchers and practitioners, that is one thing. If they are claiming that software can replace domain expertise, I believe they are being intellectually dishonest and should be called out.

                1 vote
                1. [8]
                  skybrian
                  Link Parent
                  I haven't seen that claim. Do you have a link?

                  I haven't seen that claim. Do you have a link?

                  1 vote
                  1. [7]
                    onyxleopard
                    Link Parent
                    It is implicit in this: This is saying that their “research” is better than recommendations from the WHO. Why should we believe Howard about claims in a domain in which he is not an expert? How...

                    It is implicit in this:

                    My data-focused research institute, fast.ai, has found 34 scientific papers indicating basic masks can be effective in reducing virus transmission in public — and not a single paper that shows clear evidence that they cannot.

                    This is saying that their “research” is better than recommendations from the WHO. Why should we believe Howard about claims in a domain in which he is not an expert? How many scientific papers did they look at in total? The onus is on Howard to convince us that he did not pick a position and cherry pick evidence to support that position. I don’t believe that onus has been met. If his meta analysis is really valid, he should submit it for review in a reputable journal. Instead he publishes in the Washington Post to drum up hype for his company.

                    1 vote
                    1. [6]
                      skybrian
                      Link Parent
                      There is certainly a lot of advocacy going on. I see a post on their blog about 3d printing masks, he changed his Twitter name to "Jeremy #masks4all Howard", and is retweeting instructions on how...

                      There is certainly a lot of advocacy going on. I see a post on their blog about 3d printing masks, he changed his Twitter name to "Jeremy #masks4all Howard", and is retweeting instructions on how to make masks. He's done a TV interview claiming to be an expert. (I didn't watch it, though.)

                      However, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with what fast.ai normally does. They do online video courses for people who want to learn how to do machine learning, and they do machine learning research, and there is no machine learning going on here. This looks more like a true believer trying to start a movement.

                      The "34 scientific papers" claim links here. There's a list and some brief notes on the papers.

                      1 vote
                      1. [5]
                        onyxleopard
                        Link Parent
                        Right. That link is to a public Google Doc that I referred to as their meta-analysis. They didn’t explain their methodology about how they gathered the papers they analyzed. I assumed, since...

                        The "34 scientific papers" claim links here. There's a list and some brief notes on the papers.

                        Right. That link is to a public Google Doc that I referred to as their meta-analysis. They didn’t explain their methodology about how they gathered the papers they analyzed. I assumed, since fast.ai is an AI company, they used their technology to conduct their meta-analysis. I suppose I could be wrong and this guy asked his employees who are also non-experts to go manually search through the literature, but that would be even more ridiculous.

                        Besides that, they did not explain their methods, and they threw things in a Google Doc instead of making a pre-print manuscript for a journal article. It all reeks of opportunism and gives me no confidence that Howard or his outfit are worth listening to as scientists. This is a far cry from how peer-reviewed science works for glaringly obvious reasons.

                        However, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with what fast.ai normally does.

                        That’s the whole reason to be suspicious.

                        2 votes
                        1. [4]
                          skybrian
                          Link Parent
                          While it's not professional-quality research, I don't see it as particularly suspicious. They dropped what they were doing and looked into coronavirus research because it's important. This is what...

                          While it's not professional-quality research, I don't see it as particularly suspicious. They dropped what they were doing and looked into coronavirus research because it's important. This is what activists do.

                          1 vote
                          1. [3]
                            onyxleopard
                            Link Parent
                            Dropping what you’re doing and emitting noise into spheres you have no business in is not helpful, IMO, esp. in a crisis. It’s potentially harmful as you may drown out signals from sources that...

                            Dropping what you’re doing and emitting noise into spheres you have no business in is not helpful, IMO, esp. in a crisis. It’s potentially harmful as you may drown out signals from sources that have real expertise and important information to share.

                            2 votes
                            1. [2]
                              skybrian
                              (edited )
                              Link Parent
                              That's not how activism works. You need more people getting out the message. Assuming they're right, that is. But I think we've gone off in the weeds, rather that discussing the actual issue. What...

                              That's not how activism works. You need more people getting out the message.

                              Assuming they're right, that is. But I think we've gone off in the weeds, rather that discussing the actual issue. What is the right policy?

                              1. onyxleopard
                                Link Parent
                                I don’t know, but I don’t trust fast.ai to get it right. I will prefer to listen to the WHO, or other reputable sources. If experts change their tune and fast.ai is vindicated here, so be it. I...

                                What is the right policy?

                                I don’t know, but I don’t trust fast.ai to get it right. I will prefer to listen to the WHO, or other reputable sources. If experts change their tune and fast.ai is vindicated here, so be it. I don’t think we need nor should encourage lay activists to propose nor advocate for policies they don’t understand the justification for.

                                1 vote
    2. stu2b50
      Link Parent
      What do tech bros have to do with anything lmao?

      What do tech bros have to do with anything lmao?

      7 votes
    3. latkins
      Link Parent
      This comment seems, ironically, rather arrogant to me. Let's focus on real science, shall we? Your first paragraph is directly contradicted by one of the papers he links to:...

      This comment seems, ironically, rather arrogant to me.

      Let's focus on real science, shall we? Your first paragraph is directly contradicted by one of the papers he links to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2440799/. I'll highlight a sentence from the abstract for you "Any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on a population level, in spite of imperfect fit and imperfect adherence". What do you consider to be real science?

      The key point seems to be wearing masks for the protection of others. There is increasing evidence that the virus spread is driven by those with no symptoms. If you were infected but asymptomatic, wearing a mask would capture some proportion of droplets that you emit in the course of breathing, sneezing, etc. This has been widely adopted in Asia. I don't see how this is a difficult point to understand, and is supported by several of the papers the original article links to.

      4 votes
  2. skybrian
    Link
    From the article:

    From the article:

    My data-focused research institute, fast.ai, has found 34 scientific papers indicating basic masks can be effective in reducing virus transmission in public — and not a single paper that shows clear evidence that they cannot.

    Studies have documented definitively that in controlled environments like airplanes, people with masks rarely infect others and rarely become infected themselves, while those without masks more easily infect others or become infected themselves.

    Masks don’t have to be complex to be effective. A 2013 paper tested a variety of household materials and found that something as simple as two layers of a cotton T-shirt is highly effective at blocking virus particles of a wide range of sizes. Oxford University found evidence this month for the effectiveness of simple fabric mouth and nose covers to be so compelling they now are officially acceptable for use in a hospital in many situations. Hospitals running short of N95-rated masks are turning to homemade cloth masks themselves; if it’s good enough to use in a hospital, it’s good enough for a walk to the store.

    The reasons the WHO cites for its anti-mask advice are based not on science but on three spurious policy arguments. First, there are not enough masks for hospital workers. Second, masks may themselves become contaminated and pass on an infection to the people wearing them. Third, masks could encourage people to engage in more risky behavior.

    4 votes