Newsweek penned a new creative writing piece called “Narcissists and Psychopaths Are More Likely to Refuse to Wear Masks, Says New Research” which was published on July 22, 2020. The article was included in the Culture (not “Tech and Science”, not “Health”, and not even “Politics”) section of the publication. It’s a curious category for an article that discusses two behavioral science studies; an interesting choice of writer who has scientific and hard-hitting titles to his name like Cuomo Defies Beastie Boys, Says New Yorkers Do NOT Fight For Right to Party.
Andrew Whalen writes “Researchers found that people possessing so-called ‘Dark Triad’ traits—narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism—were less likely to comply with restrictions or engage in preventative measures against the pandemic.” Less likely than what? Less likely than children? Less likely than mailmen? Less likely than those who are not psychopaths – and how much less likely? The entire article and headline are sensational enough that it is reasonable to assume that Newsweek’s goal was to incite more tension between mask factions in the US. I can just hear the Newsweek editorial room conversation – “we’ll get Andrew to write this one. His articles about boy bands and Twitter fights have bunches of followers. His audience will lap this -ish up!”
Incidentally, the article is accompanied by a short video of a man in a convenience store, holding his shirt over his face, and being harassed by other customers for not wearing a mask. Mask shaming. The man is not exhibiting any signs of being a narcissist or a psychopath. The video is a complete disconnect from the story. Unfortunately, the article lands hard, like a toppled confederate monument, on a binary choice – Newsweek was actively working to affect voter opinion by making an imaginary connection between psychopaths and voting in the fall election, or they were simply incompetent. (Wonder which one it was?)
Liberals throughout the Twittersphere are reposting the article faster than an iPhone fingerprint verification, with their own hash-tagged commentary “see, I told you those right-wingers are a bunch of loons! #Biden2020” Portland protestors embroiled in their peaceful violence will stop briefly (in between selfies) to review their social media feeds and right there, in the palm of their hand, is Mr. Whalen’s instant justification for assaulting Federal officers.
Newsweek insinuates people who don’t believe in the “of-course-masks-work” science of Dr. Maddow, Dr. Gates, and entourage, are not entitled to their opinion. Groups of liberals and conservatives alike question the effectiveness of a “Wear Your F—-ing Mask” strap-on from Etsy against a .125-micron invader. (Cloth masks have been scientifically verified as wholly ineffective according to the AAPS*.) It further insinuates that all those not AGREEING with the policy are also scofflaws despite the local mandates. Take a minute and think about the last time you went to the grocery store wearing a mask. Were most or all shoppers complying? Yes. Is everyone there going to vote democrat? No. Does everyone there believe that masks are the panacea of combatting the virus? Ell no! But, Newsweek would have you assume that the gentleman in the t-shirt represents all individuals who disagree with the science.
Newsweek references two University studies. A total of 1018 people in Poland were surveyed (a tiny segment of the total population of 38,538,447). Survey Says! Even Richard Dawson would have told you that just because 9 out of 10 people in the random survey said “Hotdogs” in response to “what’s your favorite Memorial Day BBQ food”, doesn’t mean that 90% of the people across the country prefer hotdogs over hamburgers or potato salad. While the study’s sample size is enough to qualify as scientifically sound, it would still include a fairly large margin of error. But again, Mr. Whalen’s most recent article prior to this one was 9 ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Characters Who Appear in ‘Legend of Korra’. He knows best! Maybe the science reporters at Newsweek simply refused the story? Or more likely, they are all just too busy stoking the flames of social and political unrest in America and didn’t have time for these riveting, tenure-angling studies.
The first study referenced in the article was done by the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities with a survey of 755 individual adults in Poland. The word “mask” appears ONCE in the study as an example of “preventative measures” not as a measure of noncompliance with public mandate. The implication of the headline is that those who are against mask wearing are potentially psychopaths – that’s a leap. Although a complex study beyond the grasp of the average reader (including this one), it shares that a portion of the population polled with the chosen negative personality traits was actually MORE likely to engage in preventative measures such as mask wearing. Wha?
The second study referenced by the article came out of the University of Warsaw with a substantially smaller sample size of 263 individuals, not statistically enough for a population the size of Poland’s. Newsweek clarifies that “using certain statistical methods, individual personality traits became almost negligible in measuring responses, while perception of the situation more substantially predicted the likelihood of complying with restrictions like face-mask and social-distancing mandates.” Hmm, so no real conclusions from a study with too small of a sample size to be truly relevant. And if that wasn’t enough, the study did not solicit input from the all-volunteer, social media respondents specifically ABOUT mask wearing, only about their self-reported inclination to comply with government restrictions. Sounds like a non-story to say the least.
The problem with science and surveys is really about how we digest and choose to interpret the results. In this case, if you decide to let Newsweek interpret the result for you through the tinted lens of a left-leaning publication, you may end up indoctrinated instead of informed. For two fairly inconclusive surveys, Newsweek is leading us, the reader, into a conclusion that simply doesn’t exist in the results of the studies – that those who question the importance and efficacy of wearing a mask are somehow deranged. This is irresponsible reporting, and as a matter of fact, it’s not reporting at all. By focusing on mask-wearing which was a small and inconclusive component of the studies, they are misleading YOU – intentionally.
Newsweek is fully aware of the tendency of the general public to repost based on the provocative headlines alone. Why would they do this? First, the MOST honorable of the possible reasons is their desire to get you to Click-On-The-Link. Frequently, companies purchase advertising based on the number of clicks on Newsweek’s website, potentially increasing the number of further clicks to the ad space or their company website. So, salacious headlines generate more ad revenue for Newsweek. Second, Newsweek is fueling a divisive narrative that contributes to the unrest in the country along with a widening gap of common belief between the two ends of the political spectrum. If Newsweek can villainize the side with which they are in disagreement (more conservatives than liberals are against mask mandates) then there is a greater likelihood that their preferred candidate will win. Weekly and daily newspapers overwhelmingly endorsed Hillary Clinton as their preferred candidate in the 2016 election. (Out of 653 publications included in the related Wikipedia Article, 500 directly endorsed Clinton.) And finally, Newsweek is in the all-encompassing battle for the huge amounts of content essential to survive against their competition. Those same spicy headlines accomplish that too.
Kudos to Newsweek for being somewhat transparent in the article. In the last sentence, which many readers never reach says “while psychopaths and narcissists may be less likely to comply with coronavirus restrictions, the evidence doesn’t suggest that personality disorders are to blame for social-distancing failures and mask-mandate pushback.” And there you have it!
*Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, June 2, 2020, “Cloth masks will be ineffective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, whether worn as source control or as personal protective equipment (PPE).”
(photo credit, Unsplash, Armin Lotfi, photo only not including GOP logo)