The Trump word police are knocking at the door of science with a troubling list of usage do’s and don’ts.
Top Trump administration officials have suggested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scrub seven supposedly hot-button words in budget proposals that will be circulated in the federal government.
The goal isn’t to improve communication or ensure better health care outcomes. Given the list of words, it’s clear the administration seeks to muddle meanings and censor language based on pure politics.
The prohibited words and phrases are “fetus,” “vulnerable,” “transgender,” “diversity,” “entitlement,” “science-based” and “evidence-based.” For the last two phrases, the suggested alternative is: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
We shudder to think what that means, because it suggests that science and research-driven evidence alone might no longer govern policy within the nation’s premier source of health and science information. If an ill-defined “community” wishes for a policy that differs from science, the censors suggest, the community’s wishes could ultimately hold sway. Which community decides? Will there be a poll?
It’s doubly disturbing that the CDC is being told to avoid specific words to appease conservative lawmakers who control the budget.
The dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health said the censorship also reveals the administration’s priorities. “If you are saying you cannot use words like ‘transgender’ and ‘diversity,’ it’s a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues,” said Dr. Sandro Galea.
Some State Department documents now refer to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance,” The Washington Post reports.
Even before censors stepped in, the CDC enjoyed strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill because its mission has been to save lives by responding to infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika, and tracking chronic diseases and health problems. The administration appears to be telling researchers and scientists not to explore certain areas and not to work too hard to save certain lives.
CDC’s $7 billion discretionary budget faced dramatic reductions of more than $1 billion under a White House budget proposed in May. More than 12,000 people work for the CDC around the world.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC, said accusations of censorship are a mischaracterization of discussions about the budget process.
But a clear pattern of behavior by the Trump administration preceded this: persistent fabrications, unwillingness to acknowledge shared facts and efforts to minimize the significance of science.
At the same time, Environmental Protection Agency employees’ emails are being monitored to determine whether they have mentioned agency administrator Scott Pruitt or Trump or have communicated with Democrats in Congress.
Intimidating scientists and skewing word choices for political purposes marks a dangerous step that even a president as unrestrained as Donald Trump takes at his peril.