diamond geezer

 Monday, April 27, 2020

Masks are interesting.

Specifically whether or not we should be wearing one.
And, perhaps more interestingly, why some people think they know whether we should be wearing one or not.

Which is why today I'd like you to post me a six-digit number.
• Here are six aspects of mask-wearing, each with a scale of five options.
Decide which option is closest to what you believe.
Create a six digit-number from your choices, e.g. 324511
Post it in the comments.
3pm update: We've now had 280 responses (blimey, thanks!)
...so I've added the results below, plus some commentary.

First question, are you wearing a mask when you go out?

Will never
wear one
Will wear one
if told to
Might start
wearing one
Have started
wearing one
Was already
wearing one

An easy one to start with, you either are or you aren't. And if you aren't already, three of the options ask you to consider whether you might later.

Results: Most people aren't wearing masks and will only start wearing them if they become compulsory. Another quarter are thinking about wearing them anyway. Only one in six have started already. A small minority (4%) assert that they will never wear one.

Second question, what's your motivation for wearing a mask?

Wear one to
protect self
Wear one to
feel safe
Wear one to
protect all
Wear one to
avoid guilt
Wear one to
protect others

I suspect there's considerable divergence amongst the wider population on why wearing a mask is a good idea. Some will be doing it to protect themselves, while others are only doing it so their coughs and sneezes don't infect others. Option three is the balanced answer, but if one of the others is your prime motivation, be honest.

Results: Almost half of you went for the middle option, believing that masks help yourself and those around you. A quarter think they best protect others, while only 10% think masks are more about protecting themselves. I suspect this latter percentage is higher amongst the wider population.

Third question, why do you believe we should (or shouldn't) wear a mask?

Masks are unhealthy
The science says 'unproven'
It can't hurt
to wear one
The science says wear one
Obviously we must wear one

Your underlying understanding of the science behind mask-wearing will inform your decision here... unless of course your opinion is more instinctive.

Results: This is possibly the most intriguing finding - options 2 and 3 have equal support. 40% of you take the view that the safety aspects of mask-wearing are unproven, while another 40% say it can't hurt to wear one. It's science versus instinct... highlighting two very different strands within the population. The government is currently siding with the scientists. Another 15% reckon that science does prove the need for masks, which is the joy of selective evidence. Meanwhile 3% reckon that mask-wearing is actively unhealthy... the same percentage who say they'll never wear one.

Fourth question, when out in public, what do you think of those not wearing masks?

Angry when others aren't wearing one
Tut when others aren't wearing one
Sigh when others aren't wearing one
Notice when others aren't wearing one
It's not
that registers

This is going to depend on where you are and what you're doing... but imagine you're out on the street, or in the supermarket, or on a bus, or whatever is the riskiest thing you currently do.

Results: We are not a nation of angry tutters, despite the view certain newspapers might offer. The only person angered by people not wearing masks lives in Germany where it's now compulsory. Instead the big divide is between those who consciously register that people aren't wearing masks and those who don't. I'm surprised by quite how many people are noticing something that isn't there.

Fifth question, what kind of mask do you, or would you, use?

Make do
with a scarf
Make my
own mask
Buy a
new mask
Already own
a mask

I'm intrigued by countries which have made mask-wearing compulsory, because we don't all have one lying around at home. If it happened here, what would you use? Option 1 is for anything suboptimal. Option 5 is for anyone with a dust mask, ski mask or whatever.

Results: For a change this one's not about opinion. Only a quarter of you already own a mask, suggesting a challenge for the government should they ever choose to make them compulsory. Of the remainder, half would buy one, 30% would attempt to make one and 20% would cobble something together.

Final question, what's your underlying belief about mask wearing?

Pointless to wear one
Solely a personal choice
Only in confined places
People should wear one
Everyone must wear one

This scale runs from 'I will not be told what to do' to 'everyone should be told what to do', via some less rigid opinions in the centre.

Results: The extremes are not popular here, although a hardcore 7% of you are mask dismissives. Instead public opinion leans towards the wearing of masks in confined places (such as shops or public transport) but not at all times. Only 20% believe mask wearing should be the new normal for those outdoors, while slightly more of us reckon we should be left to make up our own minds.

You should now have six digits with which to create your six-digit number.
Please enter it in this special comments box → enter your results here

Numbers only in that box, thanks.
Any general comments about mask-wearing should go in the normal comments box below.
3pm update: The comments box remains open, but I've now stopped counting.

Thanks for your phenomenal number of responses! We've discovered that you don't own a mask and won't be wearing one until you're told to. That you think masks are for protecting yourself and others, and that compulsory use should be restricted to confined spaces. And that the nation is split between those who believe the case for wearing masks is unproven and those who think surely wearing one can't hurt. If government policy ever moves on, expect to hear a lot more about this.

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