Linsey C. Marr, PhD.

by Steve Haner

Wired has chronicled a one-year struggle by a Virginia Tech teacher and researcher, working mainly with other non-physicians, to convince the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization they were dead wrong on COVID. The kind of dead wrong that made more people dead.

The battle was quietly won when on April 30 of this year the WHO changed its published stance and admitted that the virus causing COVID-19 was readily spreading airborne far beyond the three or six foot social distancing guidance. A few days later the CDC also changed its public stance, creating a minor media ripple rather than the wave it deserved.

One of those we can thank is Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in Virginia Tech’s department of civil and environmental engineering. Megan Molteni’s article, “The 60-year-old Scientific Screw-Up that Helped COVID Kill,” opens with Marr participating in an April 2020 virtual conference with COVID science poohbahs around the world.  They uniformly blew off what they heard from Marr and other experts on aerosols. WHO had stated as fact that the SARS-2 bug was not spreading aerosol.

Follow the science is bad advice unless the science is real. The determination that COVID was spreading only on larger droplets that fell quickly to ground was dead wrong, a wild-ass guess based on a misreading of forgotten research. The article goes into deep detail about how the mistake was made, the assumptions behind it, and the evidence already published from decades ago that eventually disproved it.

For those who used doubt of the CDC and WHO to dispute the mask requirements, well, a fuller understanding of the aerosol spread might have strengthened those requirements. It certainly would have created a greater emphasis on indoor ventilation and air disinfection as primary mitigations. And while the WHO and CDC continued to downplay aerosol spread, others such as the airlines acted on the possibility anyway. 

The article mentions Marr convincing her gym operator in Blacksburg to add HEPA filtration. Somebody she worked with at the University of Hong Kong persuaded that school to spend its resources on ventilation, not mass testing.

The article demonstrates that science is a messy process, conducted by humans with all their inherent weaknesses. In the face of rejection, Marr kept pushing and digging and eventually enlisted graduate student Katie Randall to search the history of the assumptions being used by WHO and CDC. Basically, the assumption was that any viral pathogen larger than 5 microns could not go airborne.

Marr had challenged that assumption before the COVID outbreak only to have difficulty getting her research published. She is one of very few experts on air and aerosols who looked at infectious diseases rather than air pollution. Her department webpage at Tech outlines other findings and publications, including an NPR report on the disinfectant powers of simple sunlight even indoors that quotes her.

Randall traced the 5-micron assumption back to research on tuberculosis, but the coronavirus is different than tuberculosis. She also found 1930s research and a 1955 book from Harvard engineer William Firth Wells. A lifetime ago he had proven particles as large as 100 microns could go airborne, travel far and remain there for some luckless soul to breathe in. Wells’ work was dismissed by, irony of ironies, the CDC of his day. Writes Molteni:

Part of medical rhetoric is understanding why certain ideas take hold and others don’t. So as spring turned to summer, Randall started to investigate how Wells’ contemporaries perceived him. That’s how she found the writings of Alexander Langmuir, the influential chief epidemiologist of the newly established CDC. Like his peers, Langmuir had been brought up in the Gospel of Personal Cleanliness, an obsession that made handwashing the bedrock of US public health policy. He seemed to view Wells’ ideas about airborne transmission as retrograde, seeing in them a slide back toward an ancient, irrational terror of bad air — the “miasma theory” that had prevailed for centuries. Langmuir dismissed them as little more than “interesting theoretical points.”

The Gospel of Personal Cleanliness? Oh, yeah, keep washing your hands….

The article also notes in passing that as challenging as the past year has been, the world has been lucky. COVID is a pussycat compared to pandemics that have come before and those that could easily come after. The lessons should apply to our annual bouts with influenza, with mounting evidence it spreads as an aerosol. And replace the mantra “follow the science” with “listen to those who challenge it with good reason.”

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24 responses to “Tech Prof Corrected WHO, CDC on COVID Spread”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    The fact that she had difficulty getting her research published is another example how the scientific establishment is subtly reinforcing its conventional wisdom while being too quick to reject anything that doesn’t conform. Thanks for posting this Steve.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    By “one year” would that be January 20, 2020 to January 20, 2021? Wonder why? Bleach. Just inject a little bleach.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      You are much like Larry in that you quickly resort to the classic red herring. Spend the time to read the article. I resisted it in the column but will say here: Read this Larry and learn something for once about real science….the basis of which is skepticism.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Steve, I truly think you really do not understand real science.

        Science IS an evolving body of knowledge and consensus. Science does not provide the absolute truth from on high , never to change.

        The ironic thing here are the folks who say that the virus is a hoax, we don’t need masks and they don’t “trust” science or the vaccine.

        Those folks are in YOUR tent Steve, not mine.

  3. As this article demonstrates, scientists are resistant to change. This is nothing new. Go back and read Thomas Kuhn’s book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (1962), which describes how one scientific paradigm replaces another — often only when the older generation embracing the older paradigm literally dies off.

    But scientists are more open to new evidence, as the article also demonstrates, than the ideologues who translate the “science” into political doctrine. The ideologues are impervious to any data that does not fit their narratives.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Total BS. Science CHANGES as new/more info is developed and yes it comes from individuals who challenge the currently-held views.

      Without science, where would you be? If you really want, you can find different views on the vaccines – 12 ways from Sunday so what do you believe about the vaccines despite some scientists who warn they are not perfect?

      Science proceeds with consensus. It’s does not mean the consensus is the truth from on high from now until the end of the world. It’s an evolving body of knowledge and there are indeed a LOT of players. You don’t get the truth from Science, you get their current consensus view – and it DOES change as they learn more. What would you expect other than that?

      The BIG question is WHY science has become “political” with Conservatives being the biggest doubters and skeptics?

      1. CJBova Avatar

        Science evolves by evidence, not consensus. Consensus is what prevented the CDC from acknowledging or investigating Dr. Marr’s work. And politics made it difficult for her to publish it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Science evolves with consensus about the evidence. You can’t separate out the evidence from the consensus of science

  4. I nominate Marr for Virginia Scientist of the Year.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      She was not the only scientist that had doubts about the aerosols. It was a widespread discussion in science.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Yes, the bonehead and stubborn stupidity of WHO and CDC was evident to all quickly, but they were unable to bring themselves to admit error and adjust their guidance. Sounds like you!

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Funny, coming from the likes of you Steve. Stubborn, bonehead? indeed!

          The problem you have is you simply do not understand science or how science works.

          It’s not opinion. It’s not one study. It does not mean that consensus does not change or even backtrack.

          It’s an evolving body of knowledge that involves many factors that have to be evaluated whether it’s Cancer or genetics or COVID-19.

          You and your ilk seem to want fixed decisions and if they are not quick enough for you or you don’t agree or the group you associate with – Conservatives don’t agree then it’s not “science”.

          So when new “studies” come out saying that Coffee causes cancer then other studies that it does not – you can’t handle that and have the need to find which of the two is wrong and bad science.

          does not work that way Mr. Stubborn and Clueless.

          1. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            “does not work that way Mr. Stubborn and Clueless.”

            The only individual that statement describes is you, you’ve shown an utter inability to rationally think anything through. You’ve also shown no ability to understand science or the processes behind it, and it’s no longer amusing that you claim to understand it.

          2. WayneS Avatar

            “So when new “studies” come out saying that Coffee causes cancer then other studies that it does not – you can’t handle that and have the need to find which of the two is wrong and bad science.”

            Why wouldn’t a scientifically curious person want to know which of two competing positions is valid?

          3. DJRippert Avatar

            And the liberals would demand that coffee be taxed to the moon because of, well, you know … “the science” as soon as the first study linked coffee to cancer.

            Random scientific guesswork is a liberal’s way of justifying his or her socialist policies.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            No one study is considered definitive. It needs to be peer-reviewed and replicated , more studies and a consensus developed.

            Conservatives tend to want to latch on to ONE study – sometimes a bogus one done by industry to undermine other science. Check the cigarette issue or a variety of other issues where industry produced it’s own “studies” and other science continued and ultimately provided legitimate answers.

            No one study proves that much and looking at the coffee studies demonstrates that.

            Over time, multiple studies, peer review and replication might start to provide a more comprehensive understanding.

            Beyond that , different states like California and even different countries might take differing positions. California and the EU typically take much harder lines on substances that MIGHT cause cancer, i.e. no conclusive link proven yet.

            NONE of this means that ANYONE is “lying”.

            Once again, one study really does not prove much. Multiple studies by different researches over years or decades does provide additional knowledge but even then it may not be conclusive – i.e. coffee.

            By the way, don’t worry about coffee. Worry about processes meats like Bacon. There IS a link to cancer for them.

          5. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            I wonder if CA Proposition 65 has Larry balled up in knots?

            Using it’s guidelines in “science” there isn’t a substance in the world that doesn’t cause cancer.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            I can handle it FINE. It’s Steve that cannot because he does not understand that ONE STUDY is NOT SCIENCE.

            Science is multiple studies over time that confirm some things and rule out others but still things to find out – thus the continuum and the simple fact that science is never the inviolate truth , much less individuals studies – science is an evidence-based, ever-evolving body of knowledge -that results in scientific consensus not unchangeable truths.

            It works that way with Cancer – decades worth of “studies”, genes, climate, coffee, COVID.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    This line was a great way to finish a great article. I never knew about any of this before.

    And replace the mantra “follow the science” with “listen to those who challenge it with good reason.”

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    “Science” IS consensus about evidence – not one study, not one guy but the body of knowledge that accumulates from multiple studies that either replicate or contradict prior studies. It works that way for all science whether it’s about cancer or face masks or vaccines or climate.

    It does not mean that science is the inviolate truth from on high – never to change. Those that think that have never learned what science really is and is not.

    Science IS an evolving body of knowledge, It’s never ends, It just accumulates more and more and as it does, some things become clearer and clearer but to take a simple example. Science has never PROVEN that cigarette smoking actually causes cancer but the body of knowledge, the evidence, is pretty overwhelming but no one can say that if you smoke – you will get cancer. Does that mean that science is wrong or not useful?

    How many times has science predicted the EXACT path of a hurricane?
    Maybe never? So just how useful are those models? We evacuate entire regions over that science,no? Should we stop doing that because we’ve never got an exact correct path?

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      “”Science” IS consensus about evidence – not one study, not one guy but the body of knowledge that accumulates from multiple studies that either replicate or contradict prior studies. It works that way for all science whether it’s about cancer or face masks or vaccines or climate.”

      No, no it’s not.

      Even when confronted with actual scientists, physicians and the likes words that science is not “consensus, you repeat that same old line.

      I think it’s just time to say the shoe fits:

      “Definition of stupid (Entry 1 of 2)
      1a: slow of mind : OBTUSE
      b: given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner
      c: lacking intelligence or reason : BRUTISH
      2: dulled in feeling or sensation : TORPID
      still stupid from the sedative
      3: marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting : SENSELESS
      a stupid decision
      4a: lacking interest or point
      a stupid event
      the stupid car won’t start”

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      And who is the arbiter of what is correct? Let me guess – liberal politicians? The United Nations? US Government agencies? Governors who wore blackface as an adult and attended parties with people in klan outfits?

      The problem with liberals is that they latch onto whatever scientific theory furthers their leftist worldview and then try to defend their theories by screeching, “the science, the science. damn conservatives refuse to follow the science”.

      COVID-19 has exposed the liberals’ use of scientific guesswork as the crock it is.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        There is NO “arbiter”, least of all the liberal press unless you think people are incapable of following information beyond the press for themselves.

        The “problem with liberals” is funny, given the reality of where Conservatives ARE and have been on science – not only Climate but environmental damage from pollutants. You can pretty much count on Conservatives and the GOP OPPOSING efforts to address pollution from clean water to clean air – the have been largely opposed on the grounds of regulation and “business”.

        We have cleaner air and water because of laws passed that Conservatives almost always staunchly opposed and now they point with pride on how “we” cleaned up!

  7. And by following Lindsey’s air movement innovations, not a single coach or athlete in our gym contracted C-19! We were up and running with in-person work outs on May 18!!!!!!!

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