Masking the truth
Sir: Matthew Parris is right to laud the importance of embracing the scientific method (‘Why should opinion matter more than science?’, 25 July) to determine the efficacy of face masks. However, his proposed experiment contains a significant oversight — the human factor. That is, how the very wearing of a mask (or a conscious decision not to) may itself result in behaviours that alter transmission risk.
Multiple studies into the benefit of wearing a bicycle helmet provide a useful reference. Those forced to wear one by law may do so incorrectly simply to avoid a penalty. Meanwhile they may also indulge in ‘risk compensation’ — more dangerous cycling because they feel safer.
These factors are near impossible to replicate in a laboratory-based study and so the epidemiological ‘experiment’ in which we are all currently engaged may in fact provide insight equally essential to future policy-making.
The wrong battleground
Sir: Like Mr Hitchens, I am a lifelong blood donor. I share his admiration for the blood donation staff and his outrage at lockdown. I am sorry that he has chosen this particular issue as the battleground for his hatred of masks (‘Seeing red’, 25 July). Contact with staff is not minimal — in fact this is just the kind of face-to-face contact that fatally infected the whistleblowing ophthalmologist in Wuhan. Blood donor workers are a highly trained team, who make close physical contact with hundreds of strangers every week. If one person gets Covid, it jeopardises the whole operation. For me, wearing a mask is a small price to pay to maintain this vital service.
Condemning the ancients
Sir: I enjoyed reading David Butterfield’s article ‘Greco-Roman wrestling’ (18 July). In the Classics department at UCL, we had a department-wide meeting to discuss a ‘response to the Black Lives Matter movement’. The meeting concluded that studying only Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations was a ‘narrowly defined’ meaning of Classics, and that modules on ancient Asian and African civilisations should be included. There was mention of new modules on slavery and race in antiquity, and a general consensus (with one dissenter) to make the course ‘less white’ and more outwardly critical of imperialism. This fad for decolonising curricula is an inherently destructive activity which results in us all being the poorer for it. From personal experience, rather than appreciating great works of literature and art, our studies often get held up with such meaningless questions as ‘Was Aristophanes misogynistic?’ The current direction of travel suggests this craze will only become more widespread. It is time for our classically educated Prime Minister to take a stand for the Classics.
Sir: As Stephen Bayley says, it is true that in their later configurations BA’s 747s lacked the famed luxuries of the upper deck in its glory days (Notes on, 25 July). Back then, the cocktail bar was put to some unexpected uses. One such was in September 1974, when a subcommittee of the House of Commons science and technology committee, en route to Toronto, hijacked the upper cabin for a meeting to finalise their plans. Other first-class passengers were politely told that the cocktail lounge would be ‘unavailable’ for an hour or so. It was helpful to have Norman Tebbit in the team to use his considerable influence with his former BOAC colleagues. This was probably the only parliamentary meeting ever recorded as having taken place ‘somewhere over the Atlantic’.
Defending church closures
Sir: I confess to being the vicar mentioned by Douglas Murray (‘My fears for my church have been realised’, 18 July). He points out that I felt it was not my business to ask him about his attitude to religion, and I remember the incident well. I would remind him of Elizabeth I’s words, that she did not propose to ‘open windows into men’s souls’. She may not have been a priest but she was the supreme governor of our church.
It is clear that many people expect the church to behave differently from secular organisations. In rural areas there are often 15 churches within a very close distance. No commercial organisation would allow this, and would have adapted years ago. I am not in favour of closing churches, but the church is judged by a yardstick that could not be applied to other aspects of public or corporate life. Many felt that churches should have soldiered on in spite of Covid-19 — but whatever path had been taken, there would have been criticism. Jesus commands us: ‘Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves’, but we don’t always get that right either.
Sir: Manchester United holds the record for the highest margin of victory (9-0 against Ipswich Town) in a Premiership match in Britain (Barometer, 18 July). But if we were talking about any professional football match in Britain, that would be Stockport County’s 13-0 victory over Halifax Town in 1934. Stockport also hold the record for the most consecutive league victories without conceding a goal (nine in 2006-7) and boast the first manager born outside the British Isles to lead an English club out at Wembley (Danny Bergara). One record I do not brag about: the lowest number of paying spectators at a match (13, at Old Trafford in 1921).
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