By Vinay Prasad, 4/20/2022
Everyone is mad at the judge, they should be mad at the CDC
Just imagine we had a competent CDC who ran a cluster RCT of cloth masking mandate in airplanes and measured spread. It could even be factorial design and test different ventilation filters. Imagine the trial was negative– a judge would not need to strike down the mandate. It would have fallen by scientific consensus.
Imagine now it were positive. We could have a discussion about the effect size, if it varies by case rate at the flight origin city or traveller origin cities. We could discuss when the tradeoff might be worth it, and when it might be not worth it.
Imagine the trial was large. It could be powered for interaction by age. Do cloth masks protect babies or is it a false reassurance? Does it protect immunocompromised? Or again, false reassurance?
Imagine the trial had arms for different rules. An ok to snack arm or a no snacking arm. Does it work with a rule modification?
We ran zero such trials. The CDC ran no studies. No one knows the answer to these questions, despite their bluster. The truth is it seems highly implausible that wearing a mask on one ear lobe, while eating pretzels for an hour works.
The CDC failed it’s social contract. It implemented a policy and never generated evidence. This turned a scientific question into a political one. Naturally battle lines were drawn.
Finally a judge comes in and throws out the mandate. Many people are upset with the judge. But the judge didn’t fail you. The CDC failed you. It never ran a trial. It never generated knowledge. It kept us in the dark. It should be no surprise that it lost it’s power and legitimacy. It proved it does not deserve the power it was was entrusted by the people. It failed to use science to reduce uncertainty. We should be ashamed of the organization. I certainly am.