CDC Can No Longer Use 7 Words Key to its Work, Including "Science-Based'

Science is getting political, whether it wants to be or not.

Unsplash / Kristina Flour

The nation’s top public health organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, can no longer use the following words — at least not in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget:








CDC analysts were informed of the ban during a 90-minute meeting on Thursday at the center’s headquarters in Atlanta, as the Washington Post reported on Friday. Allison Kelly, a senior leader at the CDC’s Office of Financial Services, led the meeting, but she did not have any further information on why the words had been banned. She said that she was merely the messenger, according to the anonymous CDC analyst that provided the tip to the Post.

The analyst described incredulity in the room, and also noted that scientists at the CDC have not yet been banned from using these words. “Our subject matter experts will not lay down quietly – this hasn’t trickled down to them yet,” he/she told the Washington Post.

The ban is specifically related to the budget proposal and supporting materials that the CDC will send to both the center’s partners as well as to Congress for approval. While it does not, as far as we know, extend to the CDC’s actual scientific work, the ban can potentially have a serious effect on what gets funded in the next year’s budget.

As the Washington Post reports, several of the CDC’s offices do work that inherently includes use of the words. For example, the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention are working on reducing health disparities and HIV prevention among transgender people. The CDC is also conducting research on the Zika virus, which causes birth defects, that includes research on the fetus.

While some alternative phrases were suggested, such as “CDC bases its recommendations on science on consideration with community standards and wishes” (quite a mouthful!) instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based”, it does not appear that alternatives for “fetus” or “transgender” have been proposed.

This is not the first time that the Trump administration has rebuked federal agencies for their use of commonly accepted language. An internal email dating from February 16 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) told staff to stop using the word “climate change” over the summer and instead use the euphemism “weather extremes”.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ draft strategic plan for FY2018-2022 makes no mention of LGBTQ populations and their specific health needs, as the Human Rights Campaign reported in October.

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