In a 90-minute briefing late last week, policy analysts at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) were told by CDC officials who oversee its budget that it’s no longer allowed to use seven words or phrases as ordained by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), The Washington Post reported Friday.
The ban included: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Policy analysts were left outraged, and the public reacted to the controversy in the wake of the Post’s article about the banned words.
The Post interviewed one unnamed analyst present at the meeting who described the reactions of individuals in the room as “incredulous.”
The analyst said:
It was very much, “Are you serious? Are you kidding?” … In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint.
Several officials have made public statements explaining that the words were not banned from use in scientific documents, but in relation to documents pertaining to the CDC’s budget for the next year, which is set to be released in February, the Post reported.
However, others were not persuaded by the administration’s reassurances and remained concerned that the “banned” words have greater ramifications concerning the quality of future research at the CDC and on people’s lives — particularly people who identify as transgender and women, who may feel that the banned words can infringe on their reproductive health and rights.ninjaMonkeyStudio/Getty Images
According to The New York Times, the Post’s report on the banned words is not completely accurate. The ban is said to have originated from the HHS.
Matt Lloyd, a spokesman from the agency wrote in an email:
The assertion that H.H.S. has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process. H.H.S. will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. H.H.S. also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.
The Times also reported that an unnamed former federal official explained why CDC analysts were told to stop using the words.
The former official said:
It’s absurd and Orwellian … but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the C.D.C. does. … They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what C.D.C. can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.
However, a few officials are still wary of the word ban, including Michael Halpern the deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy, who told the Times:
The fact that the agency began controlling what scientists can say to reporters a few months ago doesn’t suggest they want to be open and honest with the public.
But like Lloyd, in a series of tweets she posed Sunday, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the director of the CDC, maintained that there won’t be any banned words at the agency:
I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC. We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.
— Dr Brenda Fitzgerald (@CDCDirector) December 17, 2017
You may be understandably concerned about recent media reports alleging that CDC is banned from using certain words in budget documents. I want to assure you that CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution.
— Dr Brenda Fitzgerald (@CDCDirector) December 17, 2017
Words like “vulnerable,” “diversity” and “transgender” may strike a chord with individuals across the United States, as those may be words that they would use to describe themselves. Many took to Twitter to express their fear and dismay at the move.
Many citing George Orwell’s “1984” and voicing a fear that the administration is taking steps toward authoritarianism:
— Lauren M. Reich? (@LaurenMReich) December 16, 2017
Frightening. No separation of church and state. A word ban. I’m the United States. https://t.co/acPfPStAmo
— Jason Hirschhorn (@JasonHirschhorn) December 17, 2017
Other topics to the word ban relate to women’s health. Some women were fearful that banning the word “fetus” meant switching it out with “baby.” Many were afraid this would infringe on their reproductive rights:
Reasons why this makes me angry:
From a scientific stand point fetus is NOT equal to baby
We do not base science on the wishes of the community. Science is inherently EVIDENCE BASED & objective. That’s what makes it reliable. Take that away & it’s not science anymore. https://t.co/dwrphPHQtL
— Danielle ? (@daniellextalbot) December 16, 2017
Others pointed out that the word “fetus” is important to CDC studies that aim to find ways of lowering miscarriage rates:
To be clear, a researcher who’s working on a method to reduce miscarriages can’t use the word “fetus” in a proposal to the CDC. #CDC7words
— Pé Resists (@4everNeverTrump) December 17, 2017
The one that worries me most is fetus.
Combined with their attack on women’s reproductive rights, this is certainly going to lead to higher maternal & infant mortality rates.
— So-Called-American (@TX_Girl_1211) December 16, 2017
Some believed that the main targets of the ban were women and transgender people:
Yes that’s the banned word that concerns me the most. “Fetus” as well. But “vulnerable”…I mean, people have thesauruses. I wonder if transgender/fetus were the key words, rest is filler.
— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) December 16, 2017
It’s clearer than ever: this administration has disdained women’s health, LGBTQ people, and science since day one. https://t.co/KeyP0cy1mv
— Planned Parenthood (@PPact) December 16, 2017
Another trend on Twitter was users coming up with tweets using all the banned words:
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) December 16, 2017
7 Words: Protect FETUS, but not girls VULNERABLE to sexual-predator, unless from TRANSGENDER in a bathroom. Alternative-facts not SCIENCE-BASED or EVIDENCE-BASED, but do please Trump base, many of whom are on ENTITLEMENT programs. Oh, and screw DIVERSITY! https://t.co/kV7g399Qso
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) December 17, 2017
Administration officials claim that the “banned words” are a “mischaracterization” of the HHS meeting with CDC analysts, the Times reported. But the public reaction to reports of the ban seemed to indicate something much more significant: a sizable population that fears and mistrusts the direction the federal government is moving in and its interference in their lives.