KITTLE: How I’m Voting on Masks

Submitted by Cody Kittle, member of the Greenwich Board of Education

Many parents are feeling two opposing forces on the subject of masks in schools. One is the perception of “expert” opinion. We are told students must wear masks for safety. Countervailing is the day-to-day reality we live. Parents sense something illogical about the protocols. We see inconsistencies and question the efficacy. We come across evidence that seems to counter the “experts,” not just in dark corners of the internet, but in respectable, center-left publications such as The Atlantic. We hear of normalcy in countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark dropping restrictions, and hear from friends in the 34 states that do not have state mask mandates for students. We know that a great cost is being imposed on our children. And yet the “experts” say to bear it. What to do?

Max Planck, the Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist, observed in his autobiography “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Planck, credited as the father of quantum physics, was apt to make this point; his friend Albert Einstein went to the grave unable to embrace the quantum field (memorialized by his “God does not play dice with the universe.”)

Planck’s point was a specific application of human nature to the scientific community — even great scientists can get so set in their ways that they never adapt to new paradigms. This is not an isolated pithy observation. Thomas Kuhn, the MIT philosopher and historian of science, wrote a book on the phenomena in 1962, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn documented a repeated pattern of scientists being unable to accept “paradigm shifts” (a phrase coined by Kuhn).

If great scientific minds throughout history have repeatedly been unable to accept new observations that upend what they have been trained to believe, is it so far of a leap to imagine that the current “experts” driving COVID policies may be stuck in a similar state? Also consider that many of the authoritative “scientists” and “experts” are just bureaucrats, in that the incentives and constraints they face largely exempt them from consequences of being incorrect. Arguably their greatest incentives are to conform to their peers, keep their job, and ascend the ladder of power and influence. This is a luxury parents do not enjoy with the stakes being their children’s well-being.

As a member of the Greenwich Board of Education, I see growing parental frustration every day, email by email. My inbox has been flooded from parents concerned about the mask mandate. The urgency, the frequency and the variety of these emails continues to grow. This has become an issue for almost all parents in Greenwich. It is a problem we need to address.

Here is what I say back to every person that writes — the mandates must end. And for a very simple reason — there is no significant and credible scientific evidence that justifies such a dramatic and impactful intervention in children’s lives. Parents need to understand that there is not a discrepancy between the reality they see every day with their children and the science. Instead, the discrepancy exists between the science and the administrators and “experts” who continue to ignore it.

Basic econometrics says that to firmly establish causation, there needs to be a randomized controlled study to isolate the effects of an intervention or “independent variable” — in this case, mandatory cloth masks in schools. This is not controversial. However, the CDC does not justify its mask recommendations with a single randomized controlled study. Much has been written elsewhere about the deficiencies of the CDCs arguments. Suffice to say that when it comes to the gold standard of establishing causation, the CDC ignores the only two randomized controlled studies available on masks and COVID transmission. Neither could establish causation between cloth masks and transmission rates (and both were conducted with adults and both pre-vaccines).

One of these studies looked at 350,000 people across Bangladesh comparing 300 intervention villages and 300 control villages. Bangladesh’s population density and history with NGOs for poverty intervention made it an ideal choice for researchers to test mask efficacy. The researchers found just an 11 percent reduction in confirmed symptomatic COVID infection among adults (pre-vaccine) wearing surgical masks. They found a de-minimis impact from cloth masks, even though the cloth masks distributed in the study had 3- 4-times higher filtration efficiency than normal cloth masks worn by students. And yet, one might have missed this from the headlines on the study. Nature went with “Face masks for COVID pass their largest test yet” only to note beneath that “cloth masks fall short.”

True science is an adaptive process of discovery. It has nothing to do with dogmatic mask policy as set by the CDC, which has been closed to emerging evidence. Unlike “experts,” parents do not have the luxury to hide from what is being done to their children. They cannot avoid hard decisions by deferring to faraway administrative bodies and are not focused on avoiding the embarrassment of being wrong. They do not have to balance political incentives with the pursuit of truth.

Parents know what the “experts” don’t because of what Planck and Kuhn observed: even great scientists get set in their ways, defying the observational evidence to the end. Parents are observing the truth that the actual science is uncovering (and there are many scientists doing credible work on this subject). We should not wait for those who choose to ignore the evidence to change their mind.

Kuhn wrote that, “Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense … that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created.”

Is there not a better way to describe the current awakening happening with COVID? Our institutions are failing us with a system they designed. And yet they perpetuate this failure and deflect their own culpability by deferring decision-making to others. This is why Gov. Ned Lamont did not directly lift the mask mandate, but instead deflected the decision to a bizarre combination of the Legislature, the Department of Health and the local school boards.

Institutional failure is why parents are revolting. It is why it is imperative that parents remember this moment come November, when the imposers of this failed and anti-scientific system can be held to account. Parents must know that their inclinations on this subject are in line with the science, and that the history of science itself helps explain why. The state government and Boards of Education, like ours in Greenwich, must end this mask mandate as soon as possible. It is time to free the children of this treatment.

Cody Kittle is a member of the Greenwich Board of Education.

See also:

BOE to Hold Special Meeting on Mask Policy in Schools on Wednesday, Feb 16

Any member of the public can join the February 16, 2022 meeting at the designated start time using the meeting specific Zoom link (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87951016760) OR by dialing 646-558-8656 and entering the meeting specific Meeting ID: (879 5101 6760). 

Any questions regarding accessing the meeting? Contact BOE Clerk Michael Antonaccio by email at m[email protected].