“World-first” Australian study held up as proof Victoria’s mandatory face mask policy worked

One problem. Medical researchers and experts say “Its crap”. It is riddled with basic errors and should never have been published in a major journal.

The paper, published in July this year by the Burnet Institute, attempts to justify Victoria’s mask mandate with “real science.”

“There has been a lot of low-quality research that has come out in the pandemic, but for this to be used as a basis for a policy change is staggering,” said Dr Kyle Sheldrick, a medical researcher and PhD candidate at the University of NSW.

Another researcher, an eminent Australian clinician and scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was equally scathing. “I agree, it’s crap,” he said. “It’s extremely lightweight. I think it’s a totally feeble article. It doesn’t have a rigorous methodology and it is weak in its scientific inference.”

But, as with all things Covid, Dr Sheldrick said despite its obvious flaws, very few scientists would be willing to publicly call out the study.

In contrast, one of the largest real-world studies, a randomized controlled trial of nearly 5000 Danish people, found virtually no difference in Covid-19 infection rates when people wore masks outside the home.

As an example of how feeble the Burnet study is, researchers relied on images from the photo library of The Age newspaper showing Melbourne community settings to conclude that mask usage rose from 43 per cent to 97 per cent after the July 22 mandate came into effect. Dr Sheldrick said it was “hard to think of a worse methodology to answer this question than just looking at which photos are collected by a metropolitan newspaper”.

In addition, the paper’s authors conceded that Covid-19 transmission fell at the same time in rural areas, where masks were not introduced.

Clearly, the researchers started from the conclusion they wanted and backfilled the “evidence.”