On Friday, Dec. 15, news broke that President Donald Trump has reportedly given the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a list of seven words that are banned from use in documents related to its 2018 budget. The common theme among these words is their relationship to a variety of science-based issues, including climate change and abortion rights. Oh, and did I mention that science-based is one of the seven words? Advocates for science have expressed outrage, and the tweets about Trump's seven word CDC ban get to the root of why this is so wrong... and scary.
UPDATE: The CDC has clarified that there are no officially banned words. The reported wording news was more about financial politics, according to reports (as the Post initially reported).
EARLIER: According to The Washington Post, the other banned words aside from "science-based" are "evidence-based," "diversity," "entitlement," "vulnerable," "fetus," and "transgender." The ban echoes earlier attempts by the Trump administration to stifle scientific fact by changing the words "climate change" and "climate change adaptation" to "weather extremes" and "resilience to weather extremes" in documents used by the Department of Agriculture.
That announcement — which occurred in Aug. 2017 — called back to statewide attempts to downplay climate change issues in Florida by banning the use of the terms "climate change," "global warming," and "sustainability" in official Department of Environmental Protection policy-making. The Miami Herald reported that the department denied the existence of the ban, but former employees stated that the ban was well-known and enforced.
According to The Washington Post, the meeting relaying the most recent banned words (you know, the ones include "science-based) was held by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in the CDC’s Office of Financial Services. Kelly did not offer an explanation for the ban, but those advocating for science, LGBTQ+, environmental, and women's issues feel that President Trump's message is coming across loud and clear, and it's a dangerous one.
The folks at Dictionary.com — who know a thing or two about the power of words — offered their own criticism of the ban.
Many expressed their disapproval for the ban by using the banned words in their tweets.
Others pointed out the hypocrisy in the ban, given conservative views on free speech and so-called political correctness.
Unlike the attempts to censor the Department of Agriculture, this ban does not come with alternatives for all of the prohibited words. The alternatives that were given are not exactly equivalent to the words they will be replacing. The Washington Post reported that the suggested alternative phrasing for "science-based" or "evidence-based" is, “[the] CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes." It is important to note that the phrasing does not specify who the "community" is that is setting these standards — and adhering to people's "wishes" is not the same as adhering to scientific fact. Journalist and media pundit Dan Savage pointed out the slippery slope that this phrasing creates.
Thankfully, a couple of Twitter users offered their own alternatives to the banned words, to show that the ban cannot completely silence the CDC.
The announcement comes on the heels of a federal judge's order blocking the Trump administration's attempt to prevent birth control access. On Friday, Dec. 15, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s rule allowing employers to rollback coverage of contraception due to religious or moral reasons. The suit was filed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and supported by 19 other Democratic Attorney Generals. The ruling is only a temporary injunction, however, multiple courts in California, Washington, and Massachusetts are also fighting the Trump administration on the issue.
Although the timing of these two events does not appear to be related, the banning of the word "fetus" makes it clear that President Trump might have no intention of backing down on the issues of birth control and abortion, which have become core components of both parties' platforms in recent years. As for the impact of the ban, we'll be waiting to see if the CDC fights back.