Facebook, Twitter, newspapers and TV newscasts can flag, regulate or keep outright misinformation or variously concocted pseudo-scientific potions from seeing light of day.
The Flagler County School Board cannot.
At its afternoon workshop on Tuesday and again at its meeting Tuesday evening, the board’s public comment period was dominated by several members of the public intent who, while apparently sincere, disseminated inaccurate, false and discredited information about mask-wearing in the latest attempt to sway the board into lifting mask requirements in schools.
Sometimes in the same breath, members of the public spoke of deep disagreements with the district’s procedures regarding transgender rights, again claiming without facts–and against existing evidence–that granting those rights is causing a rash of problems in schools, among them a threat to girls’ safety in bathrooms if purportedly transgender boys are allowed in.
It is an odd coupling of issues that nevertheless points to an ideologically common thread: anti-masking and anti-transgender rights are a core battle cry of the same voices that, also against all evidence, are questioning the validity of the November election. “You caught me sleeping, I was licking my wounds after the last election, and you caught me asleep,” Alison Wildemuth, one of the commenters attacking transgender rights, told the board.
“You’re seeing a whole lot more of us out there because the word got around that the parents and the rest of the community didn’t really care, and so we all showed up, and more to come,” Chanel Channing told the board.
Previously and on several occasions, inaccurate statements about masks, similarly based on viral but discredited and social media postings that the likes of Facebook have banned, were heralded by Janet McDonald, the school board member. Both a majority of the school board and Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt last month appeared to have put the debate to rest, reasserting the importance of masking and social distancing rules and saying those will not change this year.
On Tuesday, it appeared that the torch was passed to a handful of residents, among them members of the so-called Flagler Liberty Coalition, the anti-masking group that organized bus trips to Washington D.C. for the January 6 pro-Trump rally protesting the legitimacy of the November presidential election. The rally degraded into an armed insurrection and the storming of Congress.
As vaccination progresses and restrictions diminish, the masking matter may recede of its own, assuming a third wave of the virus doesn’t overtake the region, as it is doing in Europe. But the emergence of those anti-masking voices, while restricted to a very small but shrill handful, points to the sort of ideological talking points the board may have to contend with over the next weeks or months, which would be a distraction from the more pragmatic and busy agenda set out by Mittelstadt and the board.
The commenters in every case followed McDonald’s template, citing supposedly reputable sources, physicians, their own research, or even in one case the New England Journal of Medicine, to give their statements credibility. In most cases that credibility crumbled on closer inspection. Most of the statements or sources cited, at least in the context presented by the commenters, have themselves already been discredited by national fact-checking organizations and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, including Flagler County’s own health department and its medical director.
One of the more compelling comments came from John, a student at the district’s i3 Academy at Flagler Palm Coast High School. “I’ve always been against mask but I’ve never had real good evidence to back it up,” he said. So he conducted his own tests–he was once a diver–and saw his oxygen levels in the course of a school day fall from a start of 98 percent to 96 percent after an hour, then 95, then 93. He said he kept his mask on throughout the testing and ended the school day at 94. (It was not a controlled experiment, of course: John submitted his findings, but those do not indicate the method he used, the experiment was not independently supervised or reviewed, and it relied on a sample of one, generally not a standard any scientific experiment would find reliable or a basis for public policy. But as a student in the district, “well dressed,” in McDonald’s words, and poised throughout, John did not lack for admiration from the board.)
He reported worse results (88 percent) when he wore an N-95 mask. He said he’d lose a lot of focus while taking tests if he were to wear a mask (though surgeons and other medical practitioners wear masks for hours at a time, especially in surgeries, where loss of concentration is not exactly an issue). He told the board that students should have a choice about wearing a mask. Their parents, he said, “had the choice to bring them in the school and understood the risk coming here, and I believe it’s the parents’ and students’ choice to take on that risk of wearing or not wearing a mask.”
The statement fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of masks: as with medical practitioners who wear them so as not to infect patients, the protection is not primarily for the wearer, but for those around the wearer. In schools, the protection is primarily for faculty and staff, who are older and far more susceptible to severe illness than younger students–and who are ensuring that students are getting their education, at significant risk to themselves and their own families.
Mark Philips, a member of the coalition, said he pulled his child from the school system over the policy. He played what he called a “video” of a doctor speaking on masks, calling them ineffective and citing a New England Journal of Medicine article describing masks as a “talisman.” Philips then went on to name the doctor, Simone Gold, and enumerate her long list of credentials.
What Philips did not say is that Gold is the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, the group of anti-mask covid-deniers who produced a video that was swiftly banned from social media platforms as making outright false claims. (One of its doctors, Stella Immanuel, claims she’s cured hundreds of covid patients but also believes DNA from extra-terrestrials is used in medical treatment, and attributes some medical conditions to witches and demons). Philips also did not mention that Gold was among those who stormed Congress during the insurrection, was arrested and subsequently indicted.
The New England Journal of Medicine did carry an opinion column a year ago–early in the pandemic–at a time when masks were in short supply, in which masks are described as a talisman. The authors did not see masks as panacea, but nor did they discredit masks.
The full quote, in context, is as follows: “It is also clear that masks serve symbolic roles. Masks are not only tools, they are also talismans that may help increase health care workers’ perceived sense of safety, well-being, and trust in their hospitals. Although such reactions may not be strictly logical, we are all subject to fear and anxiety, especially during times of crisis. One might argue that fear and anxiety are better countered with data and education than with a marginally beneficial mask, particularly in light of the worldwide mask shortage, but it is difficult to get clinicians to hear this message in the heat of the current crisis. Expanded masking protocols’ greatest contribution may be to reduce the transmission of anxiety, over and above whatever role they may play in reducing transmission of Covid-19.”
A USA Today fact-check reported that “The authors of a medical journal article that questioned the use of masks outside health care settings say they support widespread mask wearing when people are in close quarters and that their words have been taken out of context.”
Peer-reviewed evidence since has put questions of masks’ efficacy to rest, with innumerable studies showing that masks do, in fact, limit the spread of the virus, especially to others–less so to the wearer, when others around the wearer are not masked. Masks have been credited for lowering the covid death toll by hundreds of thousands of lives.
A dozen or so people spoke either on masks or transgenders between the two meetings, most of the rest hewing to by-now conventional anti-mask talking points. Monica Johnson wanted to talk to the board about “the proper use of masks,” saying: “You are not supposed to touch it, if you touch it, you have to wash your hands beforehand, and then you can take the mask off, or put the mask on, and then you have to wash your hands again, otherwise you don’t touch it at all, you don’t fidget with it.” Johnson was restating the Centers for Disease Guidance about masks in its strictest form, but on most of the CDC’s guides, not touching the mask is relegated to an afterthought, the focus being on wearing masks rather than not “fidgeting” with it. She also misunderstood the purpose of masks, describing them as “something that might or might not help” children while neglecting masks’ primary purpose: protecting adults around children.
Jane Stevens spoke of “mask mouth” (and somewhat irresponsibly compared it to “meth mouth,” when she wasn’t blaming poor mask qualities on China), the emerging phenomenon dentists are noting from mask wearing, and associating with a tendency to drink less and get dehydrated, causing more dental issues. But as one academician in dental hygiene wrote last year, combating the problem “as a side effect of mask usage can be as simple as reminding our patients to drink enough water throughout the day. Additionally, chewing gum with xylitol can help stimulate salivary flow and prevent caries.”
Casey Goth started her statement by saying that she wanted “to give you some facts about the detriment that masks can cause children,” then went on to quote Dr. Margareta Griesz-Brisson, who, according to Goth, claimed that “face masks are dangerous for every single brain because of oxygen deprivation, but for children and adolescents, masks are an absolute no-no.” Goth was relying on a viral Facebook post transcribing a video message by Griesz-Brisson–which was removed by YouTube for being blatantly untruthful and violating its terms of service.
Many of those who spoke at the evening meeting sat in the audience, maskless, in defiance of the board’s masking rules. The board has not enforced its rule the way the county commission and cities have, during their public meetings.
The board members thanked the commenters, some of the board members, speaking of the importance of hearing “both sides of a story,” thus themselves falsely giving credence to an equivalence between scientific fact and ideological fiction–or evidence-based information on which the board bases its own policies and false information that is demonstrably dangerous to people’s lives, if applied. The district has not been spared its own covid-related losses. But much of the rest of the meeting was more grounded in demonstrable evidence.
Are you attempting to break the world record for the longest run on sentence ever written? You have a few good ones in this article.
Idiots. Why do surgeons wear masks? They don’t want to “protect their family” from a virus but they can’t live without an arsenal of weapons in the truck “to protect their family”.
Ray W. says
The author succinctly places the masking issue on the capacity of individuals to accept an “ideological fiction” as proof capable of defeating a policy position taken by members of the school board. The problem as I see it is whether people are capable of fooling themselves. I accept Wittgenstein’s proposition that one of the most difficult things in life is to not fool ourselves.
In the mid-18th century, Thomas Reid, a Scottish physician and minister educated during the Age of Scottish Enlightenment, published several philosophical works, starting in 1763. Reid is considered to be one of the leading figures of the common sense movement that captivated our founding fathers, as many of them were educated in American colleges and universities prior to and during the Revolutionary War where Reid’s ideas carried great weight.
Reid is considered responsible for introducing the idea of educability into philosophical thought. In order for a person to be educable, he or she must possess two qualities: 1. Veracity, and 2. Credulity. Veracity is defined as the ability to speak, know and understand the truth about a subject matter. For example, if a person knows that 5 times 5 is 25, he possesses veracity as to the multiplication tables, but that does not mean he possesses veracity for three-dimensional calculus. While it is possible for a person to self-teach three-dimensional calculus – after all someone did create the initial mathematical proofs for three-dimensional calculus where none existed beforehand – the odds of self-teaching such a complex mathematical concept are extraordinarily slim. In order to learn the concept of three-dimensional calculus, one must form credulity for a teacher, defined as a person who possesses veracity about three-dimensional calculus. A person who is capable of forming credulity for another person possesses the ability to believe that the calculus teacher can speak, know and understand the truth about three-dimensional calculus. The act of forming credulity for another creates credibility in that other person. Because the uneducated person believes he can learn three-dimensional calculus from a now-credible mathematically educated person, the uneducated person becomes educable. A big problem occurs when someone creates credulity for a person who has no desire to educate the uneducated person. Another occurs when a person refuses to create credulity for an educated person and creates instead credulity for an uneducated person. In both instances, the uneducated person will remain uneducated, unless he teaches himself. In other words, by forming credulity for the wrong person, he has made himself virtually uneducable.
Prior to the rise of the common sense movement, credibility was based on status. Thus, a king was believed as credible simply because he or she possessed status as royalty. Rejecting the idea of status, Reid argued that a person even kings only achieved credibility whenever another person created credulity for him, not solely because of his status as king. Since the uneducated person would believe anything the king says, the king could take advantage of his follower’s credulity. In other words, a person becomes uneducable when he erroneously creates credulity for someone who intends to deceive him, because the uneducated person can no longer distinguish between a truth and a lie. For example, Sydney Powell, acting in her role as Trump’s legal counsel in a number of lawsuits, repeatedly stated in legal claims and to reporters that Dominion Voting Systems machines either discarded or destroyed Trump votes, or that the machines switched Trump votes to Biden votes. Millions of people were enthralled by her comments. Some repeatedly chanted Stop The Steal! at rallies. Now that Powell is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems, her own legal counsel recently filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which motion Powell argues that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.” In other words, to Powell there never was a steal, and all reasonable people would know that on their own and disregard her claims. Those millions of Trump voters who had previously created credulity for Sydney Powell’s claims, thereby giving her credibility, have to face the fact that Powell now argues in a court of law that none of those believers were reasonable persons.
A reasonable argument can be made that millions of Trump supporters erroneously created credulity for him. In so doing, they became uneducable on the subject matter of election fraud; i.e., they simply cannot accept information about the 2020 election from any other source, only Trump-facts will suffice. Hillary Clinton was incorrect when she said that some of Trump supporters were “deplorable.” She should have said they were uneducable, as are many of Biden’s supporters.
As for masks, it seems to be common sense that coronavirus organisms will pass through just about any mask, as most masks filter out particles that are larger than the organisms. But the issue is not the ability to filter out coronavirus organisms, it is the ability to redirect them so that they will not travel six feet. This is why social distancing plus masks are recommended by the CDC. Since oxygen is an atom and CO2 is a molecule, both are far smaller than coronavirus organisms; they, too, will freely pass both ways through masks. As the author points out, the goal is not so much to avoid infection as it is to avoid infecting others, so redirecting one’s breath via masks and social distancing remain important. It may very well be that the anti-masking proponents lack veracity about masks and they cannot create credulity for those who do possess veracity about masks. As such, the anti-masking proponents would be uneducable by anyone other than other anti-masking proponents, creating a whorl of circular reasoning. What a world! The uneducable leading the uneducable.
Fantastic comment. It fascinates me to no end that folks lack the veracity to figure for themselves but instead anoint Credulity to one whom is less veracit than they. Truly then for both to be Uneducable and contribute for more subjects to be less veracit. Seems to feed on itself. Societies loss. Mind boggling
John Stove says
No matter what actual demonstrable evidence, science, FACT or otherwise is presented, these people will continue to spew their “alternative facts” as if they are truly grounded in anything but a segment from FOX News, Newsmax etc
I would love to hear them complain to the surgeon and nurses operating on them in the ER as to why they shouldnt wear a mask as perhaps “their oxygen level might drop and pass out”….
You dont want to wear a mask and be part of the grownups?….fine stay home and put on your tinfoil hat and watch the networks that told you that this was all a “hoax” (even after 500,000+ deaths).
Create an internment camp for anti maskers and anti vaxxers.
Michael Cocchiola says
We can’t argue science, facts, or logic to Janet McDonald or the anti-maskers. We can only trust that a majority of the school board holds firm and leaves the mask mandate in place for the remainder of this school year. If the anti-maskers cannot live with that, pull their kids out and home school them.
We cannot risk the health and the lives of teachers, staff, and students to accommodate ignorance and delusion, no matter how “normal” they appear.
Concerned for Safety says
Pulling bits and pieces out of what people say and attacking those out of context, without sharing the idea of what was being said, isn’t journalism. This is nothing more than an opinion piece and should be labeled as such. Maybe some people are tired of hearing the same opinions over and over and being attacked when they speak their minds, even when they present scientific evidence. Not sharing your views doesn’t make them stupid, or even wrong, it just means they believe something different than you do, and they have as much reason to believe as you do. Try having an open mind and you might learn something. Believe it or not, I do. At the very least, you might learn how to not turn people away in disgust and mistrust.
This isn’t a matter of point of view, but evidence. The opinions presented to board members Tuesday were based on discredited and potentially dangerous pseudo-science. To present those opinions merely as another point of view without context and fact-checking would make the journalism complicit in the fraud. If that’s what you’re looking for, we’re glad to be disappointing you.
I’d love to see some mask wearing studies that compare the risks involved with inappropriate mask use and handling.
@Concerned For Safety. . . Proven scientific FACTS and data must never be subject to personal or political interpretation. Please cite the “credible” source for the “scientific evidence” you have referred to.
When proven FACTS are manipulated they create disinformation, like Kellyanne’s infamous “alternative facts”. . . leading to complete “Alternative Realities”. We do have a large mindless cult in our nation that lives in “alternate realities” where they passionately regurgitate the dangerous propaganda/disinformation fed to them by everything from Russian and Chinese “bots” on social media, to FOX talking points. It should be of great concern to us all that some of those cult members have found their way into our local government/school board. . . where their dangerous thinking and rhetoric puts us all at risk.
Let’s all agree to stick to credible FACTUAL information as a way of intelligently “connecting” as a community and creating a pathway to neighborhoods filled with truth, love and peace, instead of lies, fear and hate.
Stay safe and healthy everyone!
the reason and the science https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-about-masks-heres-science-behind-how-face-masks-prevent
OF course there are counter arguments against science. and a never ending win-lose for all.
down south says
I believe that masks work – how much I’m not sure anyone has an empirical answer other than having one on in public is better than not. masks are an inconvenience but a necessary evil in our society at this time. Given that and we as Floridians should all have vaccine access by the end of May for those individuals wanting to participate. Therefore at what point in time do I and other covid vac recipients stop wearing a mask in public? I doubt I will like the response from the CDC on this topic since they are concerned for the non vaxed portion of society. I will probably be selfish and say enough – I have done my part let’s get back to normalcy. I feel this is the next battle that we face. why should I wear a mask after June
People who have been vaccinated still get Covid-19 because 95% effective and immunity doesn’t kick in right away. Just saying…
Janet Spuddy Sullivan says
My best friend’s only child, Susan, now 30 years old, is a trans-woman. There is no way to describe the shock and angst that came with “Steve’s” announcement at age 21. I suppose Susan’s mother had choices… but she never thought as much. She chose to love and continue to be blessed by this loving, beautiful, creative soul– Steve-now-Susan. Susan’s mother was the one who told the rest of the family and friends…. and also told them what was expected of them: to continue to love her daughter, Susan, as they loved Steve, her son. It was the most loving act that my friend could have ever done for her child. It is by the grace of God that none of the children of the anti-trans people in this article are trans because they might have lost their parents’ love. Makes my heart hurt.
It is the responsibility of “professional” journalists and “responsible” media/news sources to “FACT CHECK” those that are chosen to represent us as Flaglerlive has done here.
While each of us has a right to our own “opinion”. However, those that are in public office should never be allowed to use that official position to spread information that has been proven to be FALSE, or to impose personal “beliefs” such as religious practices and doctrine ! There are members of our local school board and other governing bodies that continuously do just that, and there seems to be no one willing to hold them accountable. . . resulting in systemic corruption of those governing institutions.
Please keep up the great reporting Flaglerlive!
If masks work so well then you shouldn’t be scared of ‘anti-maskers’. Wear your mask and stop complaining about others.
Please. . . do try to energize your brain enough to process the scientifically published facts that masks “primarily” protect “US” from the virus “YOU” breath out, cough out, sneeze out. Geez, how hard is that to comprehend? Therefore please continue to wear your mask to keeps “YOUR” germs away from “US”!!!! Also, please get your vaccination, as soon as possible. . . as your lack of understanding and your lack of cooperation is endangering the rest of us!!!
Stay safe and healthy everyone!