The CDC’s Seven Dirty Words - Is Scientific Progress At Stake?


Unless one has been living under a rock, or are anti-technology and media, they surely have a vague idea of Trump's position on topics such as abortion, sexual orientation, climate change, etc. However, one might have never imagined that the President's opinions could become the foundation for what is perceived today as a war on science. Recently, it is the CDC that was hit by the seemingly narrow point of view shared by some people in the new administration.

The CDC has been the center of much speculation and discussion lately because of a list of words that the Trump administration has requested to remove from the budget proposal. The information was leaked by one of the CDC's policy analysts who attended the meeting with the agency's senior officials, where the details of the ban were shared. The informant requested to keep his or her name secret.

This might sound ludicrous but it is serious enough for the budget proposal to have been returned and the CDC asked to revise and remove the "dirty" words. Precisely seven words and phrases cannot be mentioned in the report. The words are: "evidence-based," "fetus," "science-based," "diversity," "transgender," "entitlement," "vulnerable."

Remember that the CDC is a Public Health agency in charge of promoting health, preventing disease and preparing activities to keep us all safe and healthy. How does one report about cases such as the Zika virus that is creating havoc among pregnant women without mentioning the word "fetus"? Or how are scientists supposed to explain their work to prevent AIDS among transgenders without including the word "transgender" in their presentation?

Only of one instance when the constraint of words facilitate communication and turned out being very lucrative — when Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham. The story goes that he was challenged by a friend who promised to pay him $50 (about $380 today) if Dr. Seuss could write a story that kids won't be able to put down with 50 unique English words or less. The friend never paid up, but as of 2016, there have been 8 million copies of the book sold.

With the CDC being under the governance of the US Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S), the ban raised a few questions about the department's credibility and accountability to its purpose. As far as the specifics and extent of the ban go, Matt Lloyd, one of the HHS spokesman told the Washington Post that the ban will not prevent the department from using outcome and evidence-based data in program evaluations and budget planning. However, when the New York Times confronted Mr. Lloyd about the article posted by the Washington Post as well as the details of how the ban was communicated to the employees of the CDC, he refused to comment but asserted that what is considered a ban on words is a "mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process".

Despite the confusion around the seven words, we can't help but wonder how that decision benefits the population. Even though some suggestions were offered as replacements for some of the forbidden words, the ban also raises the issue of proper communication and responsibility. How can the Congress approve laws or budgets, objectively, without understanding which demographic is affected by its decisions and why they need to be taken care of? Furthermore, we should question whether the country has become some people's personal playground where they get to decide which games are played, regardless of the how it affects the lives of the population.

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