Do you remember a time when life did not consist entirely of having your brain bludgeoned to mush with copies of The Art of the Deal? Nope? Didn’t think so. Anyhow, our rapidly decaying consensus reality took another neuron-devastating blow this week with news that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must now grapple with a list of banned words.
Per the Washington Post, staff at the CDC working on the agency’s budget are now prohibited from using a laundry list of seven terms elderly bigots might grumble about: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” Obviously, avoiding using these words is going to directly impact the agency’s work:
At the CDC, several offices have responsibility for work that uses some of these words. The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention is working on ways to prevent HIV among transgender people and reduce health disparities. The CDC’s work on birth defects caused by the Zika virus includes research on the developing fetus.
According to the Post, CDC officials in charge of the agency’s finances did not relay why the words were now prohibited, but they did provide some alternative phrasing that would pass muster. For example, instead of “evidence-based” or “science-based,” staff could use the “suggested” wording that the “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
In other words, the agency charged with protecting Americans from epidemics and safeguarding the health of the public must now formally avoid saying anything even slightly politically inconvenient to Republicans if it wants funding. As the Post noted, the list of banned words is likely in use at other agencies managed by the Health and Human Services administration, though according to Stat News, the Food and Drug Administration has denied it is in effect there.
HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd told the Post that the department “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”
But as Harvard Global Health Institute director Dr. Ashish Jha told Stat News, the decision to censor the seven words will likely force staff to self-censor their work.
“... Of course the administration and its defenders are going to argue that this is only about what goes into the budget,” Jha said. “But we know that the signal to the agency is much stronger than that. And it’s going to change behavior of people who work there. And that’s much more damaging than any direct censorship.”
Anyone paying attention to the current administration’s stance on science will recall similar instances in which federal researchers worried it was going to kill off reports on climate change, or it put climate change deniers and chemical lobbyists in charge at the Environmental Protection Agency, or it tried to make the FDA’s chief scientist a guy whose previous experience mostly included blogging about “race traitors.” So, yeah, no word on whether the White House has requested the CDC get back into phrenology, but don’t worry. There’s plenty of fresh hell waiting for us in 2018.