Posted by Richard Willet Posted on 15 September 2020

A classic fallacious argument: “If masks don’t work, then why do surgeons wear them?”

A response to people who use the classic fallacious argument, “Well, if masks don’t work, then why do surgeons wear them?”

I’m a surgeon that has performed over 10,000 surgical procedures wearing a surgical mask. However, that fact alone doesn’t really qualify me as an expert on the matter. More importantly, I am a former editor of a medical journal. I know how to read the medical literature, distinguish good science from bad, and fact from fiction. Believe me, the medical literature is filled with bad fiction masquerading as medical science. It is very easy to be deceived by bad science.

Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve read hundreds of studies on the science of medical masks. Based on extensive review and analysis, there is no question in my mind that healthy people should not be wearing surgical or cloth masks. Nor should we be recommending universal masking of all members of the population. That recommendation is not supported by the highest level of scientific evidence.

First, let’s be clear. The premise that surgeons wearing masks serves as evidence that “masks must work to prevent viral transmission” is a logical fallacy that I would classify as an argument of false equivalence, or comparing “apples to oranges.”

Although surgeons do wear masks to prevent their respiratory droplets from contaminating the surgical field and the exposed internal tissues of our surgical patients, that is about as far as the analogy extends. Obviously, surgeons cannot “socially distance” from their surgical patients (unless we use robotic surgical devices, in which case, I would definitely not wear a mask).

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