Upon recounting my bout with COVID to an acquaintance, I was asked if I knew where I might have picked up the virus. When I mentioned my hunch about the source, my acquaintance gasped, then inferred that I and those I caught it from must not have been wearing masks since the virus had spread.
“No,” I responded, much to her surprise, “we were wearing masks.”
Such a comment demonstrates the great confidence which many have placed in measures such as lockdowns and mask mandates in recent months. “Science confirms that these measures work!” many exclaim, arguing that those who question masks or other allegedly helpful restrictions are anti-science.
Yet new research from several MIT academics casts some doubt on the anti-science nature of COVID skeptics. In their paper, “Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online,” the academics show some curious cognitive dissonance, making anti-mask proponents out to be clever propagandists who create easily understandable charts and graphs to sway the public away from the authoritative opinions of experts.
At the same time the academics admit, almost in a puzzled fashion, that these “anti-maskers” do their investigations in a very scientific manner. “Indeed,” the paper claims, “anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the ‘objective’ truth of public health data.”
The MIT academics go on to admit that those opposed to masks are not afraid to get down and dirty in looking at statistics, nor are they afraid to increasingly question the media and government authorities, a trait MIT researchers call “a weaponization of critical thinking.” Even more surprising is the revelation that anti-maskers’ “approach to the pandemic is grounded in a more scientific rigor, not less.”
People can bicker all day long about which side is right on this issue, but in this instance, these straightforward, honest comments from the MIT researchers should give us pause. They are clearly opposed to the ideas of the anti-maskers, yet they can’t help but begrudgingly respect the scientific methods of their opponents.