Do face masks make you more attractive?
How unscientific evidence is masked as truth. A guest post by 'James Townsend'.
GUEST POST: James Townsend, writing under a pseudonym, is a journalist and communications manager.
Cardiff University published a news story on their website about a new scientific study suggesting “protective face masks make wearers look more attractive”. It was framed around experts finding a “surprising new reason to mask up”.
At the time of writing this, the study had been covered in media in six different countries, spanning print, online, broadcast, & radio — the whole spectrum of earned media. Sky News framed their coverage most positively and put forward that people previously reluctant to wear one “may change their minds” thanks to this academic discovery.
The headlines all scream in unison: face masks make you look more attractive - ‘The Science’ says so. A resounding success for the Cardiff Uni team!
Knowing that many who wear masks do so under duress, and then accounting for the significant proportion of the population who hate the very concept of them, I immediately smelt a rat. Besides which, even if you agree with their usage from a public health point-of-view, it is surely a stretch of anyone’s imagination to claim that most people find a germ-ridden mouth blanket more attractive than being exposed to a naked face? Nonetheless, that’s what the scientists were claiming.
In this weird, post-Covid world where fiction is often pushed as fact, I decided to do what any journalist worth their salt would do, and explore the veracity of such claims.
Various articles only quoted Dr Lewis directly from the press release, and it was obvious they hadn’t spoken to him. As a journalist, this immediately set alarm bells ringing for me. If they didn’t speak to the lead scientist, did they even read the study? If they didn’t read the study, how can they be sure what they are reporting is correct? What if they missed some crucial context?
Call me old fashioned but I then did what the journalists should have done, and I read the actual study.
Before even clicking onto the study, I already knew from the initial press release that only 43 participants had taken part. Had the group of 43 included women from all walks of life and parts of society, perhaps the small number would have stood up to scrutiny more robustly. So, it was genuinely bemusing to then read that every single participant was a psychology student from the same course being run by the report authors. On top of that, they were 93% white and all aged 18 to 24. No diversity in a small sample to start with, is bad news.
Beautiful Cardiff is the capital city of Mark Drakeford’s Labour-run Wales – a country which has seen and, in many cases, embraced some of the most draconian reactions to this pandemic we have seen; including wearing masks with pride, introducing scientifically illiterate vaccine passports, and even banning people from buying books from supermarkets during the 2020 lockdowns. With this in mind, it’s not beyond the realms of sensible possibility to think that psychology students logging onto their laptops – who, by the way, received “course credits as compensation” for their participation – already knew what the ‘right’ answer was before rating their first masked and unmasked face.
This feeling was confirmed pretty swiftly when I stumbled across what I would describe as the key nugget of information:
It’s little wonder they hid this line at the end of the paper, given it confirms the vast majority of the participants were essentially pro-maskers talking favourably about men in masks.
It is an indictment of the sad state of journalism today that the enthusiastic coverage of this woeful study has not excavated this nugget. One of the reasons I left the newsroom, was the slow transition from journalist to churnalist - churning out other organisations’ press releases rather than discovering your own stories. So, in many respects, I haven’t been surprised to witness what I have since March 2020.
Of course, declining journalistic standards are nothing new and have been apparent for some years. The pandemic has merely shone a light on how dangerously out of control it is, and what a devastating impact it can have on the relationship of trust that should exist between citizens and the people who are employed to disseminate news and information to serve the public interest.
The uncomfortable truth is that agenda-driven scientists sometimes try to prove a pre-determined outcome. Misinformation based on flawed data create headlines around the world. And another ugly truth? Masks don’t make you more attractive.
Thiswas a guest post by ‘James Townsend’ on Twitter. For more “nuggets” please follow him on Twitter.
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