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Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: Ted King
Date: June 29, 2020 05:18PM
[www.vox.com]

I gather that some posters here have a solid enough background in scientific experimentation to have long understood the tedious carefulness of the proper application of the scientific method. I thought maybe some of you will see a familiar dynamic in what's described in the article. For all of scientists seeking the order of the universe, the application of the scientific method can get messy at times. In the end, I'm sure there will be some helpful solid conclusions about the role of masks in reducing risk of infection.

The philosophy-loving side of me really got a kick out of the part about causal inferences in contrast to speaking in terms of associations between variables when trying to draw conclusions from the data.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/29/2020 05:21PM by Ted King.
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: PeterB
Date: June 29, 2020 06:50PM
From what I gathered from the article, it appears that the peer review process (and the process of science as a whole) generally, as a whole, IS working. When something is published, the results can either be supported or refuted. In this case, it sounds like the paper made it through peer review and was published, but the data maybe wasn't properly critically evaluated, and now the rest of the scientific community has the opportunity to correct (if they can).

I also agree with the article that, in a pandemic situation, it is perfectly fine to publish work under the proviso/with the caveat that it HASN'T been peer-reviewed yet. The purpose of science is to determine the truth. This is sometimes a messy process (as you point out) and can be self-correcting. I am also in agreement with the suggestion that science should go from a single-blind to a double-blind peer review process... I have seen too many cases of articles that haven't made it through because the reviewers simply didn't like the authors, and the editors were too spineless to do anything about it.




Freya says, 'Hello from NOLA, baby!' (Laissez bon temps rouler!)
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: Marc Anthony
Date: June 29, 2020 07:39PM
This study was flagged for two apparent reasons: the use of the “most effective means” term and an apparent lack of comfort with regression analysis, which approximates a curve. The line of best fit doesn’t necessarily explain a trend, but it certainly does exemplify it.

While “most effective” or “best” are certainly debatable, I would argue that wearing a mask is a more surmountable hurdle than shuttering businesses or staying six feet away from all other people for extended periods; the intervention people actually perform may qualify as the best available, so the study arrived at a plausible conclusion, if not the correct interpretation. Good luck with replicability on even the best study.

A major problem with all nCoV analysis is that case identifications are not being correlated with changes in testing capacity. Recently, some states are also including serologic antibody tests in their results. These are confounding factors that may result in flawed conclusions, no matter how otherwise rigorous the analysis.



Le poète doit vivre beaucoup, vivre dans tous les sens. - Verlaine
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: bfd
Date: June 29, 2020 08:40PM
Is the connection causal or is it simply correlational… that seems to be one of the unasked questions.

There's the methodology, too. Is it a cohort study gone off the rails and just how are subjects being compared. Then, how are the multiple variables being controlled. This isn't a simple single variable study. There are multiple variables - some of them the same between subjects, but many of them aren't. So how can any two cases be compared - especially if the treatments are mask and some nebulous "social distancing" variable. So that's where statistical inference comes into play. A causal inference study often involves the use of a cohort analysis - which is fraught with problems. There was no indication in this article that subjects were looked at in cohorts, but it's a question. Were the appropriate statistics applied? Did the authors infer correctly?

Peer Review is only as good as the peers doing the review. That's another variable. Anyone who's ever submitted a paper knows just how that works, but if you haven't done that there's a definite stratification from a top-level submission to a "just get it published" journal. Not going to get into the politics here, but there are definitely clues to that right in the story. How does a paper like this get into PNAS a top tier journal. Who authored the study? Who reviewed it? For both, what are their qualifications? As it said in the article, "It's just a place to publish stuff. It's not supposed to be this amazing honor". But in reality it is, and that's part of the academic-political backlash seen here. Pulling a paper after publication is not unheard of, but it's a pretty rare occurrence.

One line goes that "If you want to be in the club, you need to be accepted into it." Earn your way in. In this case, you can see that there are some questions among the membership committee

Does it mean there's bad science here? Who knows. Time will tell - especially if there are other studies sitting on the circuit that are looking at the same ideas. That's the research science. It's a cutthroat business. Millions of dollars in grants, promotions, lab space, Graduate assistants, tenure, etc. are involved. If the science works here, findings in this study will either be refuted or expanded upon. Eventually, there will be truth.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/29/2020 08:49PM by bfd.
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: Steve G.
Date: June 29, 2020 09:33PM
AP article.

False health claims circulate about wearing masks during pandemic
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: neophyte
Date: June 29, 2020 09:34PM
PNAS has a unique peer review process, because it is not merely a Journal of scientific publications, but rather is _the_ journal of the National Academy of Sciences, an academy of scientists who are nominated and accepted for membership. "About 25% of articles published in PNAS are contributed." Contributed meaning submitted by an Academy member, who recommends who should be a reviewer. And for contributed articles, the reviewer(s) and contributor know each other, and the reviewer(s) is identified in a footnote in the published article. Which is the case for the article in VOX.

When I was in active medical research 20 years ago, we knew that in order to get published in PNAS, you had to "know" somebody there. At that time, you submitted directly to a member of the Academy, who would "sponsor" your submission to the general board for review, if and only if the member thought it had "merit". "Merit" was not defined; it could be based on scientific soundness, or whether the member thought the subject matter was a worthy scientific subject to pursue, or whether the member liked the author. Reasons for rejecting an article were never included in the rejection letter. Just the reminder that "Manuscripts rejected by one member cannot be resubmitted through another member"

It was the "good ole boy" Journal.

Is it different now?
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: PeterB
Date: June 29, 2020 11:15PM
Quote
neophyte
PNAS has a unique peer review process, because it is not merely a Journal of scientific publications, but rather is _the_ journal of the National Academy of Sciences, an academy of scientists who are nominated and accepted for membership. "About 25% of articles published in PNAS are contributed." Contributed meaning submitted by an Academy member, who recommends who should be a reviewer. And for contributed articles, the reviewer(s) and contributor know each other, and the reviewer(s) is identified in a footnote in the published article. Which is the case for the article in VOX.

When I was in active medical research 20 years ago, we knew that in order to get published in PNAS, you had to "know" somebody there. At that time, you submitted directly to a member of the Academy, who would "sponsor" your submission to the general board for review, if and only if the member thought it had "merit". "Merit" was not defined; it could be based on scientific soundness, or whether the member thought the subject matter was a worthy scientific subject to pursue, or whether the member liked the author. Reasons for rejecting an article were never included in the rejection letter. Just the reminder that "Manuscripts rejected by one member cannot be resubmitted through another member"

It was the "good ole boy" Journal.

Is it different now?

I didn't want to bring that part of it up, but I knew exactly what you've mentioned here, and to my knowledge -- to answer your last question -- the answer is no.




Freya says, 'Hello from NOLA, baby!' (Laissez bon temps rouler!)
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Re: Vox: "What a controversial face mask study says about science in the Covid-19 era"
Posted by: Lew Zealand
Date: June 30, 2020 12:00PM
Quote
PeterB
Quote
neophyte
PNAS has a unique peer review process, because it is not merely a Journal of scientific publications, but rather is _the_ journal of the National Academy of Sciences, an academy of scientists who are nominated and accepted for membership. "About 25% of articles published in PNAS are contributed." Contributed meaning submitted by an Academy member, who recommends who should be a reviewer. And for contributed articles, the reviewer(s) and contributor know each other, and the reviewer(s) is identified in a footnote in the published article. Which is the case for the article in VOX.

When I was in active medical research 20 years ago, we knew that in order to get published in PNAS, you had to "know" somebody there. At that time, you submitted directly to a member of the Academy, who would "sponsor" your submission to the general board for review, if and only if the member thought it had "merit". "Merit" was not defined; it could be based on scientific soundness, or whether the member thought the subject matter was a worthy scientific subject to pursue, or whether the member liked the author. Reasons for rejecting an article were never included in the rejection letter. Just the reminder that "Manuscripts rejected by one member cannot be resubmitted through another member"

It was the "good ole boy" Journal.

Is it different now?

I didn't want to bring that part of it up, but I knew exactly what you've mentioned here, and to my knowledge -- to answer your last question -- the answer is no.

Correct, as a member you can still dump your crap paper in PNAS if you can't get it published anywhere else. However there is also very good science published there and as always in science:

It's not what gets published, it's what gets replicated by someone else. If someone can follow the procedure and replicate the results, *then* it's a real finding.
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