Banning specific words in federal budget requests is invariably a bad look. But it’s especially alarming when a public-health agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shies away from using terms as fundamental to its mission as “science-based” and “evidence-based.”
CDC officials reportedly were directed to avoid those terms in next year’s budget materials, along with the words: “transgender,” “fetus,” “diversity,” “entitlement” and “vulnerable.” CDC officials have denied the existence of an agency-wide word ban, saying the guidance extended solely to budget documents.
The gag order may not have been handed down from on high but appears to have been self-imposed by CDC officials themselves worried that certain words could “trigger” members of Congress, thereby endangering the agency’s funding requests.
Either way, it’s a problem.
Both scenarios reflect poorly on the state of politics in our country. One version suggests officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are indifferent about evidence and scientific data when deciding where to direct public spending — a scary proposition for an informed citizenry.
In an alternative scenario, CDC researchers are responding to members of Congress’ demonstrated pattern of disdain for quantitative data and science by pre-emptively stripping any mention of such concepts from their budget requests.
Scientists’ fear of reprisal would not be unfounded. After researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a 2015 paper saying the Earth’s temperatures have risen steadily over the past 20 years — countering the notion of a global warming hiatus — U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, accused the scientists of fabricating data and subpoenaed their emails.
This year, Scott Pruitt, administrator of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, unseated scientists receiving EPA grants from some of the agency’s science advisory boards, replacing them with industry representatives and others who disdain environmental regulations.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to tweet and repeat proven falsehoods — inflating Republicans’ winning record in congressional races, exaggerating crowd sizes and wrongly labeling the United States as one of the world’s highest-taxed nations.
It all adds up to a political culture that regards reality as malleable and fluid, where ideological stances rule over facts. In this version of the world, pesky things like evidence or science can only interfere.
Whatever the origin of the CDC’s list of words that must not be named, it is a symptom of a much larger problem that must be rectified. Scientific evidence is something our elected officials should search out and value, rather than scorn and fear.