Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Customers wear protective masks while shopping at the Presidente Supermarket April 21, 2020, in Hialeah, Fla. (AP) Customers wear protective masks while shopping at the Presidente Supermarket April 21, 2020, in Hialeah, Fla. (AP)

Customers wear protective masks while shopping at the Presidente Supermarket April 21, 2020, in Hialeah, Fla. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 16, 2021

Medical Hypotheses journal article lacks evidence that masks cause ill effects

If Your Time is short

  • The journal cited in the post, Medical Hypotheses, says its purpose is to publish “theoretical papers."
     
  • Claims about ill effects from mask wearing such as hypoxemia and hypercapnia, which are listed in the article, have been debunked.  

Diamond and Silk, a pair of pro-Donald Trump activists who have more than 2.38 million followers on Facebook, made what appeared to be an authoritative claim about the risks of mask wearing.

Their widely shared Facebook post, since removed from public view, included a URL for a website of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health. And it displayed part of a medical journal article that listed ill effects said to be caused by masks.

"NO MORE MASK MANDATES! Follow the science," implored the post from sisters Lynnette Hardaway (Diamond) and Rochelle Richardson (Silk). 

The April 12 post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The article cited by the post was written by an exercise physiologist in a journal called Medical Hypotheses and is entitled, "Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis." It is less science than what the post claims.

Journal for theoretical ideas

Medical Hypotheses says its purpose "is to publish interesting theoretical papers. The journal will consider radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas provided they are coherently expressed."

In November, it published the article cited in the Facebook post, which was authored by Baruch Vainshelboim. The article says Vainshelboim works in a cardiology division of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California. He identifies himself in his LinkedIn profile as a clinical exercise physiologist, with a doctorate from University of Porto in Portugal.

The part of the article copied in the Facebook post lists 12 physiological effects as being caused by wearing a face mask. They include conditions such as hypoxemia and hypercapnia, as well as more general effects such as shortness of breath, "toxicity" and "increased muscle tension."

"This is a list of generally discredited hypotheses that have been tested and disproved," said Benjamin Neuman, biology professor at Texas A&M University and chief viologist of the university’s Global Health Research Complex.

"This seems to be a piece of deceptive writing from what appears to be a non-expert. It isn't science."

Featured Fact-check

The first two alleged effects on the list, hypoxemia and hypercapnia, have been debunked by fact-checkers.

A fact-check by USA Today found that mask wearing does not cause hypoxemia, a below-normal level of oxygen in the blood. PolitiFact rated False a claim that masks decrease oxygen intake.

Lead Stories and USA Today were among fact-checkers that found that hypercapnia — too much carbon dioxide in the blood — is not caused by mask wearing. 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that although the article appears to be presenting a hypothesis, many of the effects it claims cite evidence related to N95 masks typically used by healthcare workers. 

We’ve reported there are studies that show that medical N95 respirators may result in increased carbon dioxide, which can lead to headaches and fatigue.

PolitiFact has also rated False a claim that masks "will kill quite a few people, it’s well known that they reduce blood oxygen levels and those with respiratory and cardiac disorders will die." 

And we rated False a claim that wearing face masks is more harmful to your health than going without one.

We tried to reach Vainshelboim by phone and email and did not receive a reply.

Our ruling

A widely shared Facebook post that links to a medical journal article says to "follow the science" of a list of physiological effects said to be caused by wearing masks.

The article was written by an exercise physiologist and was published by Medical Hypotheses, a journal that says its purpose is to publish "interesting theoretical papers." 

There is not evidence to back the article’s list of claimed effects from mask wearing. 

We rate the post False.

 

Our Sources

Facebook post, April 12, 2021

Medical Hypotheses, home page, accessed April 14, 2021

Medical Hypotheses, "Guide for authors," accessed April 14, 2021

LinkedIn, Baruch Vainshelboim profile, accessed April 14, 2021

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: Hypercapnia Does NOT Occur From Constant Use Of A Mask As Advised During The COVID-19 Outbreak," May 25, 2020

Email, Dr. Amesh Adalja, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security senior scholar, April 14, 2021

PolitiFact, "Masks for COVID-19 are effective, as a six-part Facebook takedown fails," June 12, 2020 

USA Today, "Fact check: Wearing a face mask will not cause hypoxia, hypoxemia or hypercapnia," June 1, 2020

Colombia Check, "Wearing a mask correctly does not cause hypoxia, hypercapnia, or pneumonia," Sept. 13, 2020

Email, Benjamin Neuman, biology professor at Texas A&M University and chief viologist of the university’s Global Health Research Complex, April 15, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Medical Hypotheses journal article lacks evidence that masks cause ill effects

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up