Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for March 11th, 2023

First redbuds for 2023

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On February 26th in north-central Austin I photographed my first redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) this year.





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Not till the other day had I heard of an organization called Cochrane. I looked it up and found the following statements in the Wikipedia article about it:

Cochrane (previously known as the Cochrane Collaboration) is a British international charitable organisation formed to organise medical research findings to facilitate evidence-based choices about health interventions involving health professionals, patients and policy makers. It includes 53 review groups that are based at research institutions worldwide. Cochrane has approximately 30,000 volunteer experts from around the world.

The group conducts systematic reviews of health-care interventions and diagnostic tests and publishes them in the Cochrane Library….

A 2004 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted that Cochrane reviews appear to be more up to date and of better quality than other reviews, describing them as “the best single resource for methodologic research and for developing the science of meta-epidemiology” and crediting them with leading to methodological improvements in the medical literature.

What led me to check out Cochrane was John Tierney’s February 17th article in City Journal titled “Approximately Zero.” The sub-head reads: “Masks make no difference in reducing the spread of Covid, according to an extensive new review by Cochrane—the gold standard for evaluating health interventions.” Here’s the beginning of the article:

We now have the most authoritative estimate of the value provided by wearing masks during the pandemic: approximately zero. The most rigorous and extensive review of the scientific literature concludes that neither surgical masks nor N95 masks have been shown to make a difference in reducing the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

This verdict ought to be the death knell for mask mandates, but that would require the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the rest of the public-health establishment to forsake “the science”—and unfortunately, these leaders and their acolytes in the media seem as determined as ever to ignore actual science. Before the pandemic, clinical trials repeatedly showed little or no benefit from wearing masks in preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses like flu and colds. That was why, in their pre-2020 plans for dealing with a viral pandemic, the World Health Organization, the CDC, and other national public-health agencies did not recommend masking the public. But once Covid-19 arrived, magical thinking prevailed. Officials ignored the previous findings and plans, instead touting crude and easily debunked studies purporting to show that masks worked.

The gold standard for medical evidence is the randomized clinical trial, and the gold standard for analyzing this evidence is Cochrane (formerly the Cochrane Collaboration), the world’s largest and most respected organization for evaluating health interventions. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and other nations’ health agencies, it’s an international network of reviewers, based in London, that has partnerships with the WHO and Wikipedia. Medical journals have hailed it for being “the best single resource for methodologic research” and for being “recognized worldwide as the highest standard in evidence-based healthcare.”

It has published a new Cochrane review of the literature on masks, including trials during the Covid-19 pandemic in hospitals and in community settings. The 15 trials compared outcomes of wearing of surgical masks versus wearing no masks, and also versus N95 masks. The review, conducted by a dozen researchers from six countries, concludes that wearing any kind of face covering “probably makes little or no difference” in reducing the spread of respiratory illness.

Now, some would focus on the word “little” in that last sentence, and might reason that even a little protection from respiratory illness is better than none. True enough—provided that wearing a mask had no negative consequences that we would need to balance against the possible but statistically unlikely benefit of protection. Yet we know that masks on children—who were at approximately zero risk from serious Covid-19 consequences during the pandemic—did produce negative effects: masks kept some young children from learning to speak properly and from learning how to gauge other people’s emotions.

So let me go out on a limb:

When assessing something, it’s wrong to look only at the benefits and ignore the harms.

You’re welcome to read John Tierney’s full article.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 11, 2023 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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