Face coverings for the public: Laying straw men to rest
© 2020 The Author. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd Background. This article responds to one by Graham Martin and colleagues, who offered a critique of my previous publications on face coverings for the lay public in the Covid-19 pandemic. Their paper reflects criticisms that have been made of face coverings policies more generally. Method. Narrative rebuttal. Results. I address charges that my coauthors and I had misapplied the precautionary principle; drawn conclusions that were not supported by empirical research; and failed to take account of potential harms. But before that, I remind my critics that the evidence on face coverings goes beyond the contested trials and observational studies they place centre stage. I set out some key findings from basic science, epidemiology, mathematical modelling, case studies, and natural experiments, and use this rich and diverse body of evidence as the backdrop for my rebuttal of their narrowly framed objections. I challenge my critics' apparent assumption that a particular kind of systematic review should be valorised over narrative and real-world evidence, since stories are crucial to both our scientific understanding and our moral imagination. Conclusion. I conclude by thanking my academic adversaries for the intellectual sparring match, but exhort them to remember our professional accountability to a society in crisis. It is time to lay straw men to rest and embrace the full range of evidence in the context of the perilous threat the world is now facing.