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In a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci (Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the U.S.) was asked why he advised the public against wearing masks in early 2020. One of Dr. Fauci's arguments was

"There was no evidence at the time that masks outside the setting of the hospital worked; there were no data to show that".

Is this argument valid? Sound? Reasonable? To me, it seems extremely flawed. If there is indeed data showing that masks work inside hospitals, it's trivial to extrapolate that they will most likely work outside of hospitals as well. Is there a fallacy going on here?

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  • Reasonable? Maybe: if we have no evidence supporting the usefulness of a certain precaution, to ask to an expert if it is advisable to adopt that specific precaution will probably receive NO as answer. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 16 at 14:16
  • But soundness, validity and the other stuff of formal logic are not applicable. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 16 at 14:16
  • There's medical sciences SE where this would be more on-topic. And his point (not sure if articulated in that piece) was that masks require some training to use effectively. (How many persons sticking their nose out their mask did you see during this pandemic?) Additionally, there's the issue of not cross-contaminating (the inside of) your mask and/or your hands with its exterior etc. All of which the "average [untrained] Joe" may actually do. – Fizz Apr 16 at 14:21
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    The "argument" here reduces to an application of modus ponens to "no sufficient evidence - no recommendation". Whether it is "trivial to extrapolate" is an expert judgment, and the conclusion turns on that, not any argument. As we are not healthcare experts to assess his non-extrapolation judgment, this question belongs on another SE. – Conifold Apr 16 at 16:03
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    That "don't leap into the unknown" wasn't his only argument. Right before that he said that the shortage of PPE meant that recommending masks to the public meant fewer available for healthcare workers at the time. So your are cherry picking his (whole) argument. More sick healthcare workers could easily cause the healthcare system to collapse, leading to more deaths for those who do end up in the hospitals. See Czechia recently. – Fizz Apr 16 at 17:22

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