OPINION: The Fallacious Logic of Forced Masking

Nothing, except maybe vaccine efficacy, has been more hotly debated than forcing people to wear a medical mask, especially children.  The fallacious logic used by most everyone in this public debate has been fascinating to observe. Throw in a couple math tricks and the entire discussion smells like the stale beer, cigarette smoke, and gallons of cologne and perfume one would smell right before a good bar fight.  As much as I would love to throw down with a treatise on parataxic reasoning, the appeal to emotion fallacy, the appeal to authority fallacy, and the equivocation fallacy, I’ll take a swing at Mr. Math tricks.

A few months ago, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly created the “Safer Classrooms Workgroup”.  It is a collection of various professionals, mostly from the medical field, who are serving in an advisory role. Their weekly report from October 27th, 2021 had some sparse data about vaccination rates among younger Kansans and a small paragraph about masking and ‘outbreaks’ in Kansas Schools.  By CDC definition, an outbreak is ‘2’ people with active cases in the same area at the same time. That’s a slight nod to the ‘equivocation’ fallacy.  When you hear the word ‘outbreak’, do you not conjure up dozens of people getting sick?  Here’s a quote from the report, “Looking at outbreak-related cases per 100,000 students, School Districts with mask requirements had 47 outbreak cases per 100,000 as of last week; School Districts with masks encouraged or no mask policies had more than 4x the number of outbreak cases per 100,000 students, at 218 cases.”

At first glimpse, the idea that 4x the number of ‘outbreak’ cases have happened in unmasked schools makes one think that Mr Math has swelled up and delivered a knockout. But Mr Math is all talk and no walk. When 47 cases per 100,000 and 218 cases per 100,000 are expressed as percentages they are a measly .047% vs .218%. Yes, that’s less than a quarter percent each, statistically insignificant.  Mr Math, it appears, just moved the decimal to make the number look bigger.  Swing and a miss, time for a counter punch.

Data received from the Saline County Health Dept tells a more complete story.  Total cases in Saline County schools, excluding 1 private school (it appears no data was available), shows 230 cases total as of 10/23/21. Thirty cases in unmasked schools and 200 cases in masked schools.  It would not be fair to compare those numbers directly because there are more students in the masked schools. Comparatively, there are approximately 3154 students and staff in the unmasked schools and 8227 in masked schools.  30 divided by 3154 is 0.95% and 200 divided 8227 is 2.4%.  Watch this, I’ll move the decimal point: 950 per 100,000 vs. 2400 per 100,000.  That makes it look like masked schools have 2.5x as many cases as unmasked schools in Saline County. In reality, we are only talking about the difference between 1% and 2% (0.95% vs 2.4%).

Instinctively, it seems most all of us understand this quite well.  As you look around our community, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and USD 305 are the about the only places masking is required for everybody.  When you consider the fallacious logic and math tricks deployed, all to maintain a practice that data clearly shows makes little to no difference at all, is it any wonder why people voted the way they did?

Kansas Parents in Education is a newly formed organization whose vision is “to transform public education by forging partnerships between parents, educators, school staff and the school board”. They plan to accomplish this through their Mission, to ‘Empower Parents, Advocate for Educators, and Emphasize Academics. See them online at KPIE.org.

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Opinion written by Rodney Penn of Salina.

Rodney Penn is a graduate of Salina South High School, and Fort Hays State University. He has spent the last 5 years working with the homeless and those with severe and persistent mental illness in Salina. He has a special interest in psychological trauma and it’s effects on behavior and emotion regulation.

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