Masks: To Wear or Not to Wear?

Ian Mitroff
2 min readMar 23


I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

Lacking true randomized experiments where people get assigned completely by chance to one of two groups — those wearing masks versus those not wearing them — it’s difficult to conclude with utter Scientific certainty that wearing masks truly help in stemming life threatening diseases like Covid 19[i]. All that one has recourse to are so-called “Natural Experiments” where some people wear masks and others who for various reasons do not. Besides, if it were known that certain interventions such as wearing masks or Vaccines helped, then not only would it be Harmful, but highly Unethical not to give them to everyone.

Nonetheless, in terms of the limited studies that we have, masks work. In the words of Zeynep Tufekci:

“So the evidence is relatively straightforward: Consistently wearing a mask, preferably a high-quality, well-fitting one, provides protection against the coronavirus.”

Sadly, this is not enough to convince those who doubt whether the Pandemic was really one or just a “long respiratory illness”. This is in spite of the fact that it killed millions.

To quote Zeynep Tufekci again:

“Masks are a tool, not a talisman or a magic wand. They have a role to play when used appropriately and consistently at the right times. They should not be dismissed or demonized.”

Given the alternatives, I’m consistently on the side of Super-Caution.

[i] Zeynep Tufekci, “In Fact, the Science Is Clear That Masks Work,” The New York Times, Saturday, March 11, 2023, P A23.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

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