The The editor-in-chief of the Cochrane Library has apologized for the inaccurate choice of words in a meta-analysis, which was “open to misinterpretations”. As Karla Soares-Weiser announced in a press release from the Cochrane network, the end has come January 2023 review articles on masks and other physical methods of virus containment led to numerous misunderstandings. Many media reports on the Cochrane analysis have claimed that masks do not work, which is a “false and misleading interpretation”.
Rather, the reports on the review article should have been correct in that they examined whether interventions that encourage mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses – and that there are no clear answers to this question . According to Soares-Weiser, the authors of the 326-page review clearly stated the limitations of their study in the abstract.
Authors see “a great risk of bias”
According to the original studies on which the review is based, there is “a high risk of bias, different success criteria and, in addition, relatively few people adhered to the measures, which prevented clear conclusions from being drawn”. For example, in the methodologically most thorough study, which was therefore also more included in the analysis, only 42.3 percent of people followed the mask recommendation – compared to 13.3 percent in the control group.
For the Cochrane Reviews, known for their high standards as well as for their scope, only the methodologically most thorough studies are evaluated and many others are discarded. In addition to the short summary in an abstract, these systematic reviews also contain a “plain language summary”, i.e. a somewhat longer summary. The January version of this stated that the authors were unsure “whether, based on the studies recorded, wearing FFP2 masks helps to slow down the spread of respiratory viruses”. This choice of words made misinterpretations possible and the Cochrane network now wants to apologize for this, the statement said.
While scientific evidence can never be prevented from being misunderstood and misinterpreted, one accepts responsibility for not having made oneself clearer from the start. Together with the authors, an update of the Plain Language Summary should therefore be prepared soon to make it clear that the review considered the effects of the mask recommendation on the spread of the virus – and not the benefit of the masks themselves. This is scientifically undisputed, correctly worn masks protect good that show in the meantime various studies.
In the course of the pandemic, there were bitter discussions about the benefits of masks right from the start. Opponents of government measures saw the masks as a symbol of oppression and discredited them at every opportunity. The unwillingness of many people to use the mouth mask at all or at least correctly contributed to the fact that mask studies during the lockdown and in everyday situations outside the hospital were mostly of low methodological quality.