“Not Truth”

Obliviots can be incredibly predictable — even (sadly) the occasional This is True reader. You say you want an example. I offer Mark in Idaho.

I send out Premium subscription renewal notices on Tuesdays. This week, two-year Premium subscriber Mark in Idaho replied, “I had planned on renewing, but after your last ‘This is True’ I’m done.”

Oh, this Is Going to Be Good!

I replied that it’s sad that truth is too much for him to bear — and then went down to the living room, where my wife was waiting for me. Since Covid, we’ve been carving time out of our schedules most evenings for “cocktail hour” (which may or may not include actual cocktails).

After telling Kit about the exchange, which made her chuckle, I added that I expected the ’ho man 1) to first reply that there wasn’t truth in the most recent issue, and 2) to not reply to my challenging response.

A couple of hours later Kit headed to bed, and I did what I usually do: stopped in the office to take care of any end-of-the-day emails, and to put an hour in on any projects, such as planning the next podcast episode.

Obliviots Can’t Resist Bait

Yeah, my first reply was bait, and he took it hook, line, and sinker.

You have to think about this a little, and Mark didn’t. True is “Thought-Provoking Entertainment” — a description I’ve used for many years. The key there is “provoking”: I absolutely provoke readers, challenging them to think. Those with any sort of open mind (which is certainly a required aspect of thinking) don’t just accept that, they welcome it.

“No, it isn’t truth,” Mark had replied. “That is what is sad.”

He didn’t elaborate on what aspect(s) of the issue he thought “isn’t truth.”

I already had a response to Mark’s oh-so-predictable comeback. “If you can prove anything in yesterday’s issue is not true other than an obvious joke,” I challenged, “I’m happy to retract it.”

Step 2: Wait and Wait and Wait

There is absolutely no problem with readers disagreeing with me: happens all the time. And I certainly make mistakes, including factual mistakes, which is why there’s an Errata Page. In fact, reader feedback is an important part of the process: corrections sent by readers helps reduce the chances that errors end up in the book collections.

There was only one correction sent for this week’s stories: I erred in calling British sports commentator Steve Cram (who I had never heard of before) a “record-setting sprinter in his day.” Actually, said reader Mike in Worcestershire, England, “Cram wasn’t a record-setting sprinter, but he was a record-setting middle distance runner.” Certainly a tiny, pretty much inconsequential error, but I want to know about even those so I can correct the record.

Yet Mark in Idaho couldn’t come up with any actual errors or “not true” points, let alone something to quit over. Here three days later, he still hasn’t replied. Yet he was so quick to throw down his gauntlet!

Moving Target

“Truth” can be measured — that’s what fact-checking is about. While I’m sure runner Steve Cram did some sprinting in his career, that’s not what he is known for — it’s not where he set his records. Even then, I didn’t take Mike in England’s word for it, I did a quick check and confirmed he was a mid-distance runner: he won gold medals in the 1500m in the World Championships (1), the European Championships (2), and the Commonwealth Games (3) — plus a Silver in the 1984 Olympics. He set world records in the 1500m, 2000m, and the mile over an astounding 19-day period in 1985.

There’s a big difference between facts and politically-driven beliefs that can objectively be shown to be untrue, which is I suspect is exactly where Mark in Idaho sits. I’m guessing, for instance, he doesn’t like that masks have been proven to dramatically reduce the spread of Covid-19, as shown in the ever-rising case rate in the U.S. — while most other countries are ramping down.

Source: Centers for Disease Control. Last date charted here: 16 July

And consider this is in an environment where U.S. politicians are discouraging testing, so the actual case numbers are significantly higher than shown.

Slandering scientists doesn’t change facts, and facts are how we measure truth. This is how science works. Yet I call it a “moving target” in that new research leads to new understandings, and thus new recommendations — such as masks are absolutely helpful in containing this deadly virus, unlike the opinions presented early on.

And if you dispute any of this, fine: back it up.

- - -

This page is an example of Randy Cassingham’s style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. His This is True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.

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44 Comments on ““Not Truth”

  1. We were early proponents of masks telling people who asked about it “if it’s good for medical folks to wear them, then why not everyone?” My spouse is half-Japanese, actively visits family in Japan, and myself having traveled Japan several times we know about the benefits — which as I understand it, they started wearing masks during the 1918 Flu Pandemic and discovered they were good practice in general for anyone sick). My wife railed about the CDC and WHO opposition to masks, I got into arguments with MD friends of mine, and even our local city administrator didn’t get it. Our friends did though and jumped in to help research it, all of which is finally out there. Now they need to start talking about the importance of ventilation! Why anyone goes into a closed space like a bar or restaurant is beyond me…it’s bad enough having to shop.

    I haven’t been to Japan, but have been to other parts of Asia where years ago it was absolutely normal for food handlers to wear gloves, and often masks, even if not ill. And anyone ill? Goes without saying. Sad how so many in the U.S. have no regard whatever for others. It’s why covid is spreading so much here. -rc

    Reply
    • “Why anyone goes into a closed space like a bar or restaurant is beyond me…it’s bad enough having to shop.” I heartily agree!

      Although mandatory in my neck of the woods, about 50% of the public and store staff I encounter wear their masks UNDER THE NOSE, nostrils showing, so that I’ve resorted to wearing nearly PPE attire.

      The majority of offenders are men who take offence at being called on it — as though their noses were a badge of manhood.

      A pity they can’t see beyond them!

      Reply
    • I was against wearing a mask at the beginning of the pandemic as it didn¨t seem to protect me. The real purpose of the mask did not dawn unto me until we (in Germany) were informed by the government that it was meant to protect EVERYBODY else and thus diminishing the spread of the disease. Since then I have felt uncomfortable being in close contact with other people when not wearing my mask. It wasn’t until I was provoked to think, that I started doing it. Keep up your inspiring work.

      Reply
  2. The only “evidence” I’ve seen against masks is purely anecdotal and at least third hand. But there have been several actual demonstrations showing that they work to various extents, depending on the type.

    Since the breakout, our local hospital has required masks of everyone going in the door. Of all the dozens of people claiming “medical waivers” only ONE actually qualified, requiring everyone they came into contact with to wear head-to-toe ppe.

    My biggest gripe is the people who wear them but don’t cover their nose, or even have pulled them below their chin. That is not protecting them or me.

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  3. I believe Dr Fauci said one of the reasons they did not stress mask use early on was to prevent a run on them and make it even harder for the essential workers to get their PPE they desperately needed.

    That’s certainly true of N95 masks. -rc

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    • This has bothered me since the no mask directive came out. Why didn’t the government stop all mask sales and direct all supplies to the health care providers and tell the general public to wear bandanas or make masks for themselves? I had masks on hand that we didn’t use because they said they weren’t necessary. If they had been honest about it, I think a lot more people would have gotten used to wearing masks early on and perhaps prevented some of the initial spread.

      I think the issue was mostly that they didn’t have enough data yet to make a good recommendation. While it’s a “universal precaution” in healthcare, they didn’t fully understand the droplet spread very well. Heck, the World Health Organization didn’t fully accept the fact until quite recently, after 239 scientists pushed them via an open letter on July 6. Crazy. -rc

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  4. I suspect one of the challenges people have is that evidence based messages can change over time. As new facts are observed old hypotheses no longer fit as well as they appeared to initially. Confounding factors are uncovered. That’s a good thing. Each refinement brings us closer to understanding, but it also brings the challenge of keeping our minds appropriately open and being aware of contextual nuances.

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    • Yes. Unfortunately, people who don’t understand science latch onto these refinements in our understanding and approach, and scream “they don’t know anything!”

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    • This is true! 😉

      The average citizen is used to receiving mostly “established” scientific information (and, when it isn’t, it usually doesn’t matter that much in the short term). Now they are being exposed to the dirty underbelly of science, which they aren’t used to. And the difference can be jarring.

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  5. The “new cases” number in isolation is almost useless. The important numbers are symptomatic cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Failing that, we at least need to know why the case numbers are rising — is it more testing? Is it better testing? Is it more people infected? Is it a change in reporting? What are the ages of the people infected, and where do they live?

    I live in a city with about 250k people in the greater metro area. The “city” on the western border is about 18 square miles and had a one-day “spike” of 25 cases, which produced a higher “per capita” rate than New York at the height of the pandemic. The spiky graph scared some people, but the reality is that the city’s health department had tested all their employees that week and simply reported all the numbers on one day.

    Also notice that they published the daily death rates, numbers on ventilators, etc. and then abruptly shifted to only “new cases” when the other numbers dropped off precipitously.

    Absolutely, which is why I chose to illustrate the page with a trend graph, which is still scary considering testing is way below what public health experts want (which is at least 30 million/day). -rc

    Reply
    • One problem is that media people think no one in their audience can understand nuances or details. My contention is that the public may understand these things a lot more than the “reporters”, “editors”, and “executives” think, and it’s the latter group that lacks understanding. In other words, we’re getting a lot of our “information” from people who are dumber (but usually better looking and paid more) than their audience.

      Another problem is that the politicians of both parties, who have short attention spans, think the public can’t sit still for any level of detail beyond the most superficial. This leads them to not give the professionals enough time to explain anything, and many of the medical professionals are not used to packaging their information into 30-second or less soundbites. When given enough time to explain something, you guessed it, the media folks “edit” it into soundbites that say little or nothing.

      Reply
    • At the rate this virus spreads and mutates, testing is useless unless the results are available in MINUTES — not days or hours.

      Not only does it NOT show up in the early stages of infection, but by the time the subject gets the results they may have caught it elsewhere and — thinking themselves ‘clean’ — become super-spreaders in their own right.

      There are some promising tests available that appear to be “instant” — and can be done at home for around $5. I’m hoping it both works and comes available soon! -rc

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  6. Unlike Mark, I will surrender my True subscription when it can be pried from my cold, dead hand. I absolutely adore your “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”, especially when your stories, comments, etc. make me reconsider/rethink my own prejudices & preconceived ideas/notions. To me, that’s all part of growing as a person, and doing that is always a good thing.

    Unlike Mark, you have an open mind — and you likely saw what I said about that on this page! -rc

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  7. I’ve started monitoring hospitalizations which, at least in Colorado, is a much better looking trend. Since the idea behind flattening the curve was to keep from overwhelming the hospitals, I feel that it is one of the most important trend lines to follow.

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    • My feeling is that the national media and the more publicity-addicted politicians will follow whichever trend line backs up their current talking point. If it causes havoc, dissension, and “the need for a strong man or woman to TAKE CHARGE”, so much the better in their view.

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  8. One comment I had seen which I initially didn’t have an answer for was: “Most of the people in the cities seem to wear masks, but China was still hard hit.”

    Then I got my latest National Geographic, and they pointed out the information in a study (which was done prior to the pandemic) on personal hygiene: over 70% of the Chinese studied admitted they did not wash their hands after relieving themselves. Mask wearing isn’t the only important preventive measure.

    An excellent point. -rc

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  9. Tom: “One comment I had seen which I initially didn’t have an answer for was: “Most of the people in the cities seem to wear masks, but China was still hard hit.”

    I live in China. China was hit hard because the disease started here, and because in the first month the government for political reasons denied the problem. Once they admitted it in late January they enforced a lockdown and masks for 3 months to get infection rates down to pretty much 0. In Beijing (where I live) we got hit with a “second wave” last month where up to 50+ people a day (in a city of 20 million) were diagnosed. In 3 weeks it was over: limited lockdowns of the immediate districts with clusters, and massive testing (I believe I saw the number 3 million tests) to confirm it was not spreading under the radar. We’ve had no new cases in the last 10 days.

    Don’t look for other reasons. The US is being hit hard because, unlike China, the government is still treating this as a political problem and not a health one, and because, unlike the Chinese, a significant number of Americans refuse to make minor life changes (masks, distancing) that are known to limit the spread. After its missteps in the first weeks China has done an admirable job in shutting down the disease, and is currently reaping the benefits: the country is open and life is pretty normal.

    What a concept. -rc

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  10. There is a lot of confusion about masks with covid19, mostly thanks to politicians and media identities. The latest research indicates that they do little or nothing to stop *you* from catching covid19. What they do is to drastically reduce the chance that someone who is already infected will pass it onto someone else. And since asymptomatic people are also highly contagious, that can be almost anyone.

    Reply
    • I saw a recent article that suggests the opposite. I think “there’s no evidence that ______ is true” is often misinterpreted or misspoken as “there’s proof that ______ is false”. (Think of criminal cases that were thrown out due to an invalid warrant.) Also, information and data are evolving daily.

      “A new report … shows wearing a face mask isn’t just altruistic –- it also helps keep the person wearing it from getting COVID-19.” That’s not all that new: the question isn’t does it protect the wearer, but rather how much does it protect the wearer? What’s new here is the suggestion of “Maybe quite a bit.” -rc

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      • I seem to remember a report that OTHER infections have dropped drastically since mask-wearing started!

        I saw a report when masks became recommended that “this will stop flu season in its tracks” — but didn’t clip it. It’s of course not working for the conspiracy-theory obliviots, but I’ll bet this year’s flu season was reduced substantially. -rc

        Reply
        • The latest stats on how it affected the flu in Australia came out early this week:

          • This time last year 470 dead from the flu
          • This year 36 dead from the flu.


          Wow! -rc

          Reply
          • Is this mistaking correlation with cause? In the northern hemisphere at least, the 2020 flu season was a mild one. Prior to the arrival of covid-19 deaths were running at a lower rate than the 2025-19 average. Is the southern hemisphere flu being reported the same strain as we northies had, or is it different?

    • Which, in turn, reduces the chances of your getting infected. Unless people reject wearing masks because potato.

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  11. One problem that the politicians seem to be having is that they think all of the medical professionals are as addicted to publicity as they are. While I suspect that maybe some of the medical folks are enjoying the time on camera a little too much (or a lot too much), most are just trying to do jobs that the pols of both parties are making more difficult.

    On the other hand, in some cases I can sympathize with the elected official (NOT agree, but sympathize). If the public is angry with a doctor, she or he is still a doctor, but if the public gets angry with an elected official, he or she is…unemployed. So what the doctor thinks is easily doable is often politically suicidal for the official. Again, I don’t agree with decisions made on that basis, but I try to understand.

    Then there are the politicians who just think they know everything, including epidemiology, disease vectors, medicine in general, and every fact in the universe. And ones who know nothing but are useful idiots for their party.

    I’m just glad that the governors around my area are less of the attention wh**e variety and have been the adults in the political room throughout this mess. They have been calm, cool, informative, and not inclined to pick fights with the national government or what passes for one.

    Good point on protecting votes, but the longer Trump has stalled and deflected, the lower his approval ratings have gone. There are a lot more Americans wanting it done right than those whining about their “right” to infect others. -rc

    Reply
    • While President Trump is the most to blame, let’s not attribute all of this mess to him or his party alone. For example, had New York Governor Cuomo and/or NYC Mayor DeBlasio not urged people to “go about their business” when this all first hit, things would not have been nearly as bad as they were there for a while. For a short time in late March, it looked like some of the perpetual partisanship had been put aside, but that was a short-lived thing.

      Again, fortunately, in my corner of the world, the governors have exhibited actual leadership and aren’t having egotistical fits. They have been calm, they speak calmly, they lay out their plans and orders so people understand what and why, and privately they’ve told their legislative critics (from their own party at times) to bleep off. As I keep telling people, “Let’s save the recriminations, accusations, reprisals, and revenge for after we get through this.”

      As for your comment about “There are a lot more Americans…”, I agree, but the media focus once again has been on the shouters, because they seem to think that gets higher ratings. People see this and despise the national media for putting ratings/clicks/eyeballs above doing the right thing. The media notes the cynicism of the public but denies its culpability in helping to create that cynicism.

      Oh, I totally agree that there is plenty of blame to go around. I used presidential approval ratings as those are both measured much more often than for any lower-level politician, and much easier to find and follow. And I think your critique of “the media” in general is dead on. -rc

      Reply
      • I can forgive any politician or public health official making judgements which turned out to be wrong. In the early days of this pandemic (indeed even now), there simply wasn’t enough data to go on. Advice was, as a result, based on limited information. What is harder to forgive is when politicians don’t change their advice when the data emerges and double down. I work in healthcare. Some of the early decisions in the UK (for example, when to shut down visiting to Care Homes and accepting admissions in care homes without knowing if the person was COVID Positive) were wrong. Acknowledging that, and correcting it future, is the key.

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  12. I have begun suggesting to those who fail to see the value of masks that the next time they or a loved one need surgery, tell their surgeon not to go to the “bother” of wearing a mask.

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  13. It’s easy to complain (as some politicians love to do to try to deflect the focus from themselves) about how some other parts of the world have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, but what really matters here and now is how the United States is handling it (here and now). Sad to say, USA #1 in all the bad ways — highest total number of cases, highest total number of deaths (so far, maybe some other country will manage to catch up), but alas, far too little testing, way too much magical thinking (and not all of it in Florida).

    This will end, eventually, but it’s not going to be pretty.

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  14. There’s a passage in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, one of the Discworld books, that has really struck me in recent times. From page 180 of the HarperTorch paperback edition:

    “There are some things which appear to be the truth, which have all the hallmarks of truth, but which are not the real truth. The real truth must sometimes be protected by a shadow of lies. […] I mean, that which appears to our senses is not the fundamental truth. Things that are seen and heard and done by the flesh are mere shadows of a deeper reality.”

    The trouble with this exchange, as is very firmly pointed out in subsequent dialog in the book as well as in the entire rest of the book, is that the so-called “fundamental” truth (that a priest was murdered by a foreign country for spreading the word of the Great God) was a carefully crafted story in order to justify the leaders’ actions, and also that they deliberately manipulated events (by actually killing the priest themselves, since he was simply made fun of and allowed to leave the country unharmed) to present their fiction as truth.

    Sir Terry was not anywhere near the vicinity of messing around.

    Reply
    • He never was. I do wish he was around to serve the world with some of his dry wit and razor sharp humor about the crisis the world finds itself in right now. It would no doubt be both humorous and spot-on.

      Reply
      • And depending on whose ox was gored, he’d be either (a) accused of violating some “greater truth” or spreading “fake news”, or (b) accused of being “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “misogynistic”, or some other “-ist”, “-phobe”, or “mis-“.

        Why? Because simple disagreement is no longer allowed. Those who see everything through political and/or wacko social justice eyes think that everyone sees things through similar eyes.

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  15. This seems to be the type of person who will whine and moan about something they will claim as “wrong” and run away crying when called out on their stupidity. Just like the completely stupid (and murderous, imnsho) people who refuse to wear a mask.

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  16. Yes, other things being equal, masks will reduce virus transmission. But this assumes two things: masks are worn correctly, and that there are no changes in behaviour as a result of mask-wearing. Masks worn badly, or taken off (to cough or sneeze — it’s happened!) won’t work. More importantly, though, is a likely behavioural response: because masks make people feel safer, they do other risky things (primarily, not observing any social distancing) because they believe that they (and others) are now protected from harm. How likely that response is, is a matter of debate. The Czech Republic has done well with mandatory masking from March; here in England (which has done badly), masks have been compulsory on buses and trains since last month; they become required in shops later this week. It remains to be seen if a masked Britain has lower transmission rates than an unmasked one.

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  17. I don’t like masks. I don’t think anyone does. I started wearing one when the Red Cross started encouraging them, then requiring them. (I’m volunteer staff at blood drives.)

    Early in the pandemic the supply of masks was limited. There was not enough to meet the needs of the medical people, let alone everyone else. So only the medical people got them. Then the quilters started making mask covers to extend the life of N-95 masks. And they started making surgical-style masks for everyone else. And I made a surgical-style mask from an old sheet. I wear it indoors except when I’m in my own home. Outdoors I carry it in my pocket in case I need it.

    I did a podcast about the heroes making masks: Masking the Problem. -rc

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  18. Would I be out of line if I were to shoot a person who is not wearing a mask in self defense? After all, they are threatening my health/life and well being in a very direct and potentially menacing way.

    Maybe I am wrong on this, but I think (no factual basis) in my area, that many of those who are refusing to wear masks are also those who might be most likely to have a gun handy. Full disclosure, I carry a mask and a weapon.

    I think if you don’t know the answer to your opening question, you shouldn’t be carrying a weapon. -rc

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    • This gets into what I call (for lack of a better term) “active threats” vs. “passive threats”. For now, I consider those who don’t wear masks to be “passive threats”, a category that includes just about everyone in that they CAN be threats but are not currently obvious ones. “Active threats” are those who are armed, those who are shouting in such a way as to suggest impending violence, those who are threatening violence or clearly with others who are threatening violence, or those who know they are carriers of potentially fatal conditions.

      This also gets into a question of territory. What is allowed on my property, owned or rented, is not the same as what is allowed on public property or private property which I do not own or lease.

      In any event, taking action without prior warning would clearly be wrong.

      Reply

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