I have sent the following letter to the Editor of Science (note: I sent my analysis to the lead author of the study - Jason Abaluck - before making the report public and the report contains some changes following communication with him).
You recently published the article "Impact of community masking on COVID-19: A cluster-randomized trial in Bangladesh”. Science, 375(6577), eabi9069. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abi9069 by Abaluck et al which contained the summary statement:
“A randomized-trial of community-level mask promotion in rural Bangladesh during COVID-19 shows that the intervention tripled mask usage and reduced symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections, demonstrating that promoting community mask-wearing can improve public health.”
As explained in the attached report, this statement grossly exaggerates the actual findings of the study and – unsurprisingly - has been widely used by the media to argue that the study provides the most convincing evidence yet of the effectiveness of masks in preventing covid-19 transmission and infection. More worryingly, the article has been cited explicitly to justify continuing or reintroducing aspects of mask mandates in the USA, UK and elsewhere. Because the paper provides no evidence that mask wearing reduces covid transmission or infections, it needs to be corrected or withdrawn.
Professor Norman Fenton