covid Dunning–Kruger effect masks the federalist

The most ridiculously pretentious argument against wearing a mask comes courtesy of The Federalist

It’s safe to say that The Federalist — the inexplicably well-funded right-wing rag — isn’t happy about Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates. Their first post on the subject declared it a “fascist move”; a followup post groused that the Biden administration is “really just using lies and deception to force their agenda on the American public without regard for the law or Constitution.”

But as Federalist rants against COVID mitigation go, nothing quite lives up to Joy Pullmann’s nonsensical and pretentious contribution on masks earlier this week. (It somehow manages to be even more inane than her previous writings on COVID.)

Pullmann, the site’s executive editor, is upset because “mask mandates force me to communicate what I believe are very dangerous lies.”

What on earth is she talking about? Well, though she frankly admits that masks may “ultimately provide some small reduction in coronavirus spread,” she hates what she calls

the security theater, which assumes that drastic government micromanagement of our lives and indefinite curtailment of our liberties are not only ever acceptable but in fact the moral thing to do.

Of course, to anyone who’s brain hasn’t turned to mush reading The Federalist or watching Fox News,wearing masks is the moral thing to do. Most sensible Americans are already wearing them, at least indoors, and would be without the need for any mandates. Because masks save lives, and in my moral calculus, and that of most mask-wearers, saving lives is more important than the minor inconveniences of wearing a mask.

“Security Theater” is being forced to take off your shoes to go through airport security because once in the history of humanity some idiot terrorist brought a shoe bomb onto a plane. Wearing a mask actually lowers your risk of catching or spreading COVID.

Pullmann is well aware that masks save lives, acknowledging that she’s

willing to wear a mask in certain “high-risk situations like nursing homes or hospitals or the homes of cancer patients.

But apparently the lives of the rest of us don’t make quite as much of a difference to Pullmann, who blithely assumes that most “public settings … are low-risk environments and should be treated as such.”

Well, OK. Let’s talk about risk. Being outside, at least in uncrowded circumstances, is genuinely low risk, and mask mandates typically don’t require masks in these settings. Being inside a public building , especially one with poor ventilation, is a different kettle of COVID.

But to Pullmann, the masks’ functions — helping to protect both wearers and those who come in contact with them — matter less than the symbolism.

Far above and beyond any health considerations, masking is a symbol. It is a talisman, a ritual, a communication of premises that I utterly reject. Being forced to wear a mask to me is the equivalent of being forced to wear a T-shirt that supports legalized abortion, which I believe is mass murder.

No, it simply communicates that you think human lives are more important than making a political point of your own, even if the only point you’re really making is that you put your own convenience over the lives of others.

Wearing a mask communicates that I accept the premise that everyone should wear a mask, even if vaccinated, even if possessing natural antibodies, even if a child to whom the flu is more dangerous, even if an adult who believes living with risk is part of human life and that attempting to eliminate risk is more dangerous than accepting it. It communicates that the entire world should look like a hospital, a fearful and sad place where people are desperately sick, even if they don’t know it.

It really doesn’t “communicate” any of these things. Wearing a mask “communicates” that you are willing to inconvenience yourself mildly in order to save lives.

It communicates that I believe harassing the living hell out of Americans is a justified response to a disease with a 99.5 percent survival rate or better for those younger than 65.

I don’t know where Pullmann got that survival rate from; it appears nowhere in the more than year-old post she cites. As of right now, using current numbers from here, the survival rate for Americans with COVID is 98%, considerably lower than 99.5%.

677,,000 Americans have already died of COVID; the total worldwide is 4.6 million. In part because the vaccination rate is so low, deaths are skyrocketing around the world. By not wearing a mask (or, even more importantly, getting vaccinated) you are contributing to these deaths. One recent piece by the Associated Press suggests that there will be another 100,000 deaths in the US unless we “change our ways.” Mask and vaccine mandates could lower that number.

And Pullmann, by highlighting the fact that death rates are lower among people younger than 65, seems to be suggesting that the lives of those over 65 are worth less than those of younger people. It’s a form of eugenics-lite.

It communicates that it is reasonable to worship health as an idol, and to control citizens with fear. Well, I simply don’t believe any of that, and I’m not going to be forced to communicate that I do.

Ms. Pullmann, all you’re communicating here is that you’re a pretentious narcissist who doesn’t give a shit about the hundreds of thousands of people who have died (and who will die) in the US.

After a few more shots at what she calls the “post-totalitarian COVID regime,” Pullmann’s rant takes a bit of a curve to consider a famous essay by Vaclav Havel, someone who actually did know quite a bit about the dangers of totalitarianism.

She decides that what mask-haters have to allegedly suffer in contemporary America is more or less equivalent to citizens in communist dictatorship being forced to pretend to support the government.

Once against forgetting that masks are practical tools to prevent COVID, she again comes back to the supposed symbolism of wearing a mask.

The point is signaling compliance out of fear, not an honest discussion of the evidence, or persuasion, or any mechanism respecting the informed and open consent of the governed.

Or maybe the point is you don’t want to get your grandmother sick with something that could easily kill her.

What mask mandates achieve [is] a false signal that dissenters don’t exist, that everyone buys into the indefinite suspension of our rights “because COVID,” no matter how much it harms people, nor how weak its alleged rationales.

How does wearing a mask “harm” you? Yes, masks are a minor inconvenience. But the worst thing they’ve ever done to me is to fog up my glasses sometimes.

After positing herself as the moral equivalent of a celebrated dissenter against totalitarian communism, she goes on to suggest that wearing a mask is like being initiated into a gang.

It’s the same dynamic as gang initiations requiring initiates to commit crimes. Once people have compromised themselves, they are more likely to identify with their compromise, because it’s embarrassing to admit you were wrong.

I’m pretty sure the gang members would also beat the shit out of anyone who quit. But I’m guessing Pullmann hasn’t had a lot of hands-on experience with being in a gang.

She apparently feels quite proud of herself for not wearing a mask, even suggesting it has been some kind of “noble sacrifice” on her part.

Dissenters are living proof that everyone does not have to comply, that it is possible to live in the truth. This shames those who have chosen temporary comfort over noble sacrifice.

She comes back again to the Soviet Union, once again suggesting that mask mandates are as bad as any restrictions’ on free speech in communist countries.

Do we need an Afghanistan-level catastrophe for more Americans to realize their acceptance of lockdowns, which mask-wearing signals, is just as deadly? Statists are more than happy to oblige. But the longer we take to wake up, the worse the suffering must be.

Even setting aside that we’ve just had an “Afghanistan-level catastrophe,” one exactly the size of Afghanistan, her argument is completely backwards. The more people wear masks, the more people get vaccinated, the less suffering there will be. Pullmann is no heroic dissident like Vaclav Havel; she’s basically a Karen with a platform.

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Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
8 months ago

@Alan Robertshaw:

The vaccines were all subject to animal testing and vivisection.

Perhaps, but a particular individual dose of one of the mRNA vaccines did not involve marginal animal harm.

If, say, 10,000 years ago, someone fed an unfamiliar berry or mushroom to a pig to see if it got poisoned, and when it didn’t, began cultivating it as food, is it somehow not vegan to eat that plant or mushroom now?

How do you know if any of the foods you routinely consume were safety tested on some domesticated animal thousands of years ago?

Is a COVID vaccine dose any different just because the testing occurred more recently?

I do get what you say about balance between public protection and actually getting on and enjoying life. But that again is back to the original point. Many people made the argument that lockdowns were a step too far and the negative effects on mental health and just general well being outweighed the benefit of protecting people from covid. So is that something that should be left to the individual to decide; or should governments decide where the line is to be drawn?

One issue there is that there are network effects involved. A lockdown isn’t really effective unless it’s everybody, or almost everybody. Vaccination protects the individuals vaccinated, but if a high enough percentage get vaccinated it protects everyone else as well. Leaving these things up to individual discretion reduces their effectiveness, and basically to nil in the case of lockdowns.

So some things do, it seems, need government mandates, even while others should be left to individual conscience …

epitome of incomrepehensibility

@Alan – Sorry about having to make tough ethical choices at your job. I’ve had that too, on a smaller scale.

I guess my stance is that meat-eating isn’t inherently immoral because humans evolved to be at least partly omnivorous; we wouldn’t blame a wolf, say, for eating a rabbit. But you could also argue that humans with their capacity for language can make different choices, etc. I’m not saying that your viewpoint is wrong, just that mine is different.

What bothers me most is the overall lack of sustainability in factory farming. If I eat at a restaurant, I usually don’t know how the animals are harvested. When I eat venison and bear meat at my aunt’s place, I know my cousin & his girlfriend hunted them. (I was finally able to visit last week – first time since the pandemic!) Otherwise, I can run into worries that a) the animals were cruelly treated, like things and not living beings; b) the whole farming practice uses up too much energy.

Anyway, I can’t really do my current job/student thing while living in the country (besides, then I might have to drive a car and that has its own environmental footprint), but I will look out to eat less meat. I don’t usually buy it to cook, since it tends to be expensive here.

Does anybody have thoughts on why a university would require people to wear throwaway masks instead of reusable ones? Not to harp on this, but I’m curious if there’s any justifiable reason. The buses, stores, etc. here don’t specify what type of mask you have to wear.

8 months ago

Pullman comes across as a fool to me. I mask up outside my home because it’s a sensible precaution, not to signal compliance with the will of BoJo the Clown’s Circus of Corruption and Incompetence.

8 months ago

epitome of incomprehensibility wrote:

…The only thing I don’t like? When public places (that are NOT medical settings) require the blue throwaway masks only. My university has this rule, and it bothers me because Concordia is usually ahead of the curve in environment/sustainability awareness, or at least it likes to say it is. They have recycling containers for the disposable masks, but recycling takes up energy and often the material that actually gets recycled is minimal…

Anyway, sorry for the rant. I suppose it’s an easy way of making sure people can easily see the masks by having them all look the same (again, practical rather than symbolic) and that the university has some control over the mask quality. But most of the reusable cloth masks* I’ve seen are better than the flimsy blue ones. I might write to the student union about this and see what their take is.

Most places (or really any here in Finland) don’t have specifications for what kind of mask you should wear, as long as it covers your mouth and nose. Of course that alone doesn’t help much, so people are advised to actually use decent quality masks, and wear them somewhat airtightly, and practice good hand hygiene while touching/disposing the mask. However, these finer details cannot be enforced as standards, and just teaching them to the public as a recommended protocol/common sense matter proves challenging.

I think the issue is that cloth masks are hugely variable in structure and functional quality, and there’s no good formal way to specify a “good quality” cloth mask, much less visually distinguish one for enforcement purposes. General expert opinion seems to be that people default too easily into buying low-quality single-layer cloth masks because those are relatively cheap and come in a million fancy colors/prints. Besides, if you have anti-maskers in the population, they might start rules lawyering by wearing a mask made from mosquito net or something. There may also be concern that if you encourage people to use reusable masks, many will not bother to store them hygienically or wash them regularly.

Microfiber plastic masks (“hospital/surgical mask”, no respirator mold, may or may not fulfill some PPE quality standard) are regarded as better than low quality cloth masks. They are also incredibly cheap compared to cloth masks, which means they can be used as disposable, which makes their hygienic use easier and more appealing to the masses. A recent study in Finland showed they can also be cleaned by boiling (no machine wash) and reused around 10 times without damaging the structure too much, but I doubt many people bother to do this. My own experience is that cloth masks also don’t last very long in repeated machine wash; boiling them would be likely much better for the structure but less practical for the user.

Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ epitome of incomprehensibilty

 I’ve had that too, on a smaller scale.

Ooh, if you’d be ok talking about it I’d be interested in hearing more. The ethical dilemma point is central to all this. So people’s experiences is useful info.

humans with their capacity for language can make different choices

Yeah, that’s the thing. We are now moral agents, and we do have the capacity for choice.

humans evolved to be at least partly omnivorous

This relates to a project I’m working on with someone. The basic premise is, how we raise kids and instruct them, basically instills them with values that are later hard to override.

So to pick up on your example, we teach that anatomical features dictate what behaviours are natural and unnatural. Or alternatively, that because we’ve always done something, means that we should keep on doing it.

There are of course lots of other examples. Which, if I get my arse in gear, there will eventually be a paper on.

But this is the thing, whilst I disagree with your stance, I do understand it. Heck, I used to share it. I know you’re a thoroughly decent person. So I certainly don’t think any less of you. I just see it as an issue I now have a different viewpoint on.

I obviously think our relationship with animals needs to be worked on. But it took me a while to realise my own contribution to exploiting them. So I see this as an extension of that “No-one arrives at progressive views fully formed” thing. It’s all a work in progress. And I extend that to everyone, not just people I like. Or, at least I try to.


the whole farming practice uses up too much energy.


Last edited 8 months ago by Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

(continued on cloth vs. microfiber masks)

Back in 2020 I experimented with some cloth masks, in large part because microfiber masks were initially price-jacked and only available in awkward-looking “hospital style” colors. However, it turned out practically impossible to find a cloth mask that would be affordable AND properly fitted (for my face at least) AND have decent layered/filtering structure that also doesn’t obstruct breathing AND easy ear loop fastening. For some reason, microfiber masks are superior in these usability features, even without considering the hassle of storing and washing reusable masks.

By late 2020 microfiber masks also became cheaper, and available in somewhat more varied colors and styles (including some that look and feel more “cloth” than “plastic”). Black is very popular here in Finland, aside from the “classic” hospital colors. Some sturdier/more expensive models of the microfiber mask are even officially marketed as reusable/machine washable. OTOH lots of people still wear cloth masks, often flimsy looking things.

In autumn 2020 my university instituted a mask mandate and recommended that people use preferably cloth masks for “environmental reasons”. I think part of that logic was someone thinking that If I use a cloth mask the university only needs to issue me one mask and it’s enough for the rest of the semester/pandemic (as opposed to handing out a large number of disposable microfiber masks). The cloth mask I got from the university was functionally relatively well designed, and even looked stylish enough for campus appearances (black with small white university logo on the side), but it still doesn’t compare to microfiber masks in usability. It’s also not very durable in use, especially with machine washing.

Patti Scheibel
Patti Scheibel
8 months ago


Last edited 8 months ago by Patti Scheibel
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ patti


Fair point.

8 months ago

Don’t bother to argue or reason with an “evangelist” like Alan. Can’t you see? He practically derailed the whole comments section in order to preach walls of text! (Note: I only eat meat when invited to dine on it at someone else’s home. On my own, I’m vegetarian except for cheese).

So, masks: I wear one all the time. I washed my hands thoroughly even before the pandemic made it imperative. I use enough alcohol daily to make an elephant drunk. Yet, despite all that and more, I still caught the virus before the vaccination campaign could begin. It wasn’t your average flu in the slightest. I’m lucky I didn’t get many sequels. Needless to say, my contempt for people like Pullmann is beyond infinite.

GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
8 months ago

@Alan: Well, she CAN’T digest seitan, soy, lentils, beans, nuts, green veggies, many fruits, don’t know where she’d get teff, hemp seeds are pricey, peas, hates quinoa and spirulina. No car, lives on a high floor.

Being newly diagnosed as diabetic, she doesn’t want too much rice (though luckily she loves it) and is extremely meh on oats.

That leaves meat and dairy. The byproducts of which industry feed her kitty.

My all-vegan all the time friend gets her B-12 from bacterially-sourced pills, or nooch with that added. And even she thinks a lot of soy products taste like plastic.

Sustainable meat (free-range, hunted, etc.) would be better for everyone, but if we can’t even get MAGAts to get free shots and wear masks, they sure aren’t going to go for that.

The fake ground beef is a stupid use of soy, and it’s a Frankenstein monster of lab ingredients, plus the saturated fat is still high, and the sodium is ridiculous. I don’t care if it “bleeds” or not — I don’t know where they got the idea that that was the thing carnivores want so bad. Literally no meat-eater I’ve ever met cares if their raw ground beef oozes red juice. I would like to see more done with pea protein; I know it’s a little dry but it’s neutral-tasting.

@Lumipuna: I recommend mask adjustment straps. They hook into the ear loops and then you can adjust the fit to match your own head, using or avoiding your ears as you like. Currently I’m wearing one with Batman’s symbol, because if you can be Batman, be Batman, right? Next I will move on to Spider-man. I wipe them down with rubbing alcohol, and when they delaminate, it’s on to the next. My cloth mask collection has held up fine with machine wash. Wearing disposable ones underneath cloth ones also works really well, and provides extra protection. Nose wires are the big must for me so my glasses don’t fog up.

Beyond Ocean
Beyond Ocean
8 months ago

I can only speak for myself, but this B12 supplementation thing creates a major hurdle to adopt a plant-based diet. The perception is that you’ll be mostly fine if you eat traditional diet, but if you don’t balance and supplement a plant-only diet properly, you’ll destroy your health.

I’m not sure how true this is, but that’s the message I always get.

Eating unwashed vegetables is, admittedly, a pretty genius lifehack, but it requires access to plants you can be sure how they were grown.

And anyway, I believe that meat industry, among others, needs to be cracked down with regulations, not personal choices. You can expend all your energy to reduce harm by 0.000001% while corporations laugh in our face. I don’t believe it does much good for anything beside self-image.

There’s a right-wing meme making rounds that boils down to “you hypocrites keep whining about no ethical consumption under capitalism when you could be living like the Amish right now if you wanted.”

And it’s not completely wrong. But is religious purity the goal we should be striving for, instead of trying to effect the world?

Last edited 8 months ago by Beyond Ocean
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

@ reaktor

Yes, I can get a bit carried away on this topic; I apologise. I guess we all have our favourite causes; and it can be hard to dial back on those at times.

@ gss ex noob

The topic of plant based copies of traditional ‘meat’ products; like burgers etc does crop up a fair bit. The usual explanation is that it helps people transition to plant based diets by effectively replicating what they’re used to. So it’s less of a shock. Now you can pretty much buy a vegan copy of any food you can imagine. That’s good for choice; but it’s just companies seeing where the profits may lie (The current plant based protein market is $4billion pa but expected to be $80billion pa by 2030).

As for pea protein, do you have Bird’s Eye products where you are? They do some fairly decent stuff. I guess that’s because they have a surfeit of peas.

@ beyond ocean

B12 tablets are pretty cheap here. £3 for 6 months supply in Sainsbury’s. Although some people get better results with the mouthspray. Vitamin deficiency is obviously an issue in veganism. Although they tend not to be any more deficient than meat eaters. That’s a comment on the food industry as a whole I suppose.

And I get your point about the Amish. There are a few back to the land types in veganism of course. Spirit of the Levellers and all that. I don’t think it has to be quite that extreme though. As mentioned, you could switch to a plant based lifestyle with no material changes to your existing lifestyle. Food prices are a genuine issue though. Although vegans tend to have lower food bills than meat eaters; a lot of the processed products are expensive compared to the meat alternatives. That’s all down to lobbying and subsidies of course. Over here though the Co-Op have now pledged that they’ll never charge more for a plant based product than the meat alternative. So that’s a start; assuming it’s economically feasible.

8 months ago

Pullmann wrote:

Wearing a mask communicates that I accept the premise that everyone should wear a mask, even if vaccinated, even if possessing natural antibodies, even if a child to whom the flu is more dangerous [1], even if an adult who believes living with risk is part of human life and that attempting to eliminate risk is more dangerous than accepting it [2].

[1] Masks also help prevent the spread of the flu.

Why does she hate children?

[2] I look forward to her walking on railroad tracks, because accepting the risk of getting hit by a train is obviously more dangerous than attempting to eliminate the risk by not walking on railroad tracks.

How does anyone take any of this seriously? This shit is so stupid that stupid people think it’s stupid.

Last edited 8 months ago by Gaebolga
Alan Robertshaw
8 months ago

Sort of related. Apparently only 1.2% of covid deaths are now occurring in fully vaccinated people. I don’t understand statistics so I’m not sure whether that means being vaccinated means the probability of dying if you catch it are 99:1 against.

Whatever the size of the respective vaxxed/unvaxxed groups though; that still seems pretty good odds.

8 months ago

 GSS ex-noob:

I recommend mask adjustment straps. They hook into the ear loops and then you can adjust the fit to match your own head, using or avoiding your ears as you like.

Personally, I very much want to rely on ear loops. I’ve experimented with round-the-head straps (either built in or separate extension), but it’s impractical, especially in cold weather when I need also other headgear.

Luckily, most masks do have those handy elastic ear loops, and also they seem to fit my large head without pulling the ears too much. However, thin microfiber masks are the best in terms of forming a snug fit without needing much pull. If I needed more pull, I’d have to use a more complicated strap system to avoid straining my ears.

Wearing disposable ones underneath cloth ones also works really well, and provides extra protection.

I’ve tried that sometimes, but it’s a real hassle to handle two carefully fitted-together masks. I’d rather advise people to use a single mask that has layers and generally good functional structure. Most people seem just barely capable of using a simple disposable mask correctly, while also minding their own everyday business.

Nose wires are the big must for me so my glasses don’t fog up.

I generally need both the nose wire and my glasses just to form a good seal around my nose. My glasses still fog up in cold weather, but luckily I don’t usually need a mask while walking outdoors.

8 months ago

Joy is accurate. More accurate than David Futrelle. Pointing out the fact that people under 65 years have a remarkable chance at life.

8 months ago

The grimly hilarious thing is that a death rate of 99.5% in those younger than 65, even were that the correct number, would be absurdly high for a virus. It’s true that HIV, Ebola, and smallpox have or had much higher death rates, but there is now treatment for HIV and ebola, a vaccine for smallpox and ebola, and all three spread far less easily than Covid. A virus that kills 1/200 young people and more elderly with state of the art treatment, and which spreads faster than almost any other is an absolute disaster. We would be facing doom without masks and vaccines. Again, that is with her underestimation of the danger. The situation is actually worse.

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
8 months ago

@Beyond Ocean:

Eating unwashed vegetables is



Joy is accurate. More accurate than David Futrelle. Pointing out the fact that people under 65 years have a remarkable chance at life.

Ew-genicist. GTFO. And get the fuck vaccinated before you get somebody (quite possibly yourself) killed.

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
8 months ago

Eh? I’ve been put on moderation? Why the hell? I haven’t done anything wrong! Please explain this.

Citerior Motive
Citerior Motive
8 months ago

Seems pretty explicable to me: aren’t all these right-wing outfits funded by oil billionnaires?

Gerald Fnord
Gerald Fnord
7 months ago

She says it stands for saying that we all agree, but doesn’t a mandate imply the opposite of a lack of dissent?

7 months ago

doesn’t a mandate imply the opposite of a lack of dissent?

Indeed; only a de facto mask mandate and/or relatively uniform mask wearing practice in the populace would allow one to visibly out oneself as a dissenter by simply not wearing a mask*.

I should add that most often mask mandates are poorly/weakly enforced, so you can easily rebel against them if you’re willing to accept the social disapproval that inherently comes with being seen as a true dissenter. Even if there’s strict enforcement/denial of service, you can wear the mask when you absolutely need the service, and at other times you can just show up to protest.

Some of these mask whiners are indeed attention seekers and/or diehard objectors. Most of them are just whiners who exploit poor enforcement/lack of actual mask mandates while wishing they could avoid the mild social stigma.

*I find it deeply ironic that some of these mask resisters apparently wear a yellow star (probably only when attending an anti-mask protest or social media photo shoot) because simply not wearing a mask doesn’t look dramatic or significant enough.

4 months ago

I don’t recall the Federalist being tweaked when GWB created the TSA.

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