The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly received a list from the Trump administration on Dec. 14 consisting of seven words or phrases that will be banned in all official documents prepared for 2018’s budget. Many in the U.S., both those who work in public health and concerned citizens alike, are struggling to come to grips with the nature of the terms that are being censored.
The seven forbidden words or phrases are: “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” Regarding the ban on using “evidence-based” or “science-based,” the White House suggested the alternative: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
The wordy stand-in would require the CDC to allow the personal and emotional wants of the public to influence scientific-based decisions surrounding human health. Other banned words did not even have a suggested replacement.
It doesn’t seem logical or likely that scientists will halt future experimentation and studies until the public weighs in with personal opinions on the evidence. Why, then, must the language change?
The current administration has shown considerably less confidence in peer-reviewed science as a foundation for decision-making than past administrations, as evidenced by the recent, growing divide between science and government. One such controversial move was the Trump administration’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement — a science-based document through which countries pledged to work towards specific climate goals.
Removing Science From the Conversation
It’s not clear yet how the CDC will proceed in terms of these banned phrases’ potential to complicate their research efforts. Aside from the blatant refusal of scientific, evidence-based recommendations or studies to be mentioned or discussed directly, many of the banned words could also drastically affect research and health. While “transgender” and “vulnerable” may not seem like scientific terminology to everyone, they are essential for discussing significant public-health issues faced by the U.S. today.
For example, the CDC has partnered with other organizations to research ways to better reduce the levels HIV and other health concerns experienced specifically by transgender individuals. Additionally, the CDC will be hard-pressed to explore potential birth defects caused by Zika virus without studying, or so much as discussing, the health of fetuses.
According to these new rules, the CDC cannot propose a budget in which evidence-based or science-based research is explicitly completed. They also cannot support the health and survival of transgender people, a staggering percentage of which attempt suicide or are assaulted. Additionally, the budget cannot include research, or even so much as discuss, the word fetus — eliminating preventative health measures, life-saving research, and a more general support of women’s healthcare.
A budget that excludes the banned words is a budget that does not take the realities of science or health into account for health-oriented scientific research and care. It is a contradictory move on every level.
It is not yet clear how the CDC will handle or explicitly respond to this move. But if the CDC truly cannot use these words moving forward, then its scientists will not be able to do their jobs researching heart disease and cancer, preventing infectious disease outbreaks, and other threats to public health.
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