Who would ever think that writing or speaking these seven words — vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based — would be forbidden by the United States government? I’m not sure which of these words passing your child’s lips would prompt you to wash their mouth out with soap (which, by the way, according to the United Nations, is a form of corporal punishment — a topic we’ve been covering this week on The PediaBlog), yet public health scientists and policymakers working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may not use them. Gleb Tsipursky (whose name screams “diversity”) protests:
Such censorship is a direct blow at the essence of science: accurately describing the physical world around us. Science is the best method that we as human beings have of figuring out the truth of reality, and wishing away the facts by trying to substitute them with “alternative facts” will greatly impede scientific progress.
In addition to directly attacking the basis of science, these measures will cause many more people to get sick and die. After all, how can the CDC implement effective public health interventions if it cannot use terms like “evidence-based” and “science-based” in its official documents?
Believing the CDC can do its business of protecting the public’s health by providing science-based guidance to policymakers and health care providers without using these words grossly underestimates the global importance and influence of the agency. Dictators and despots censor words from the public vocabulary, not (until now) American presidents. Yet, we’ve been here before with the current chief executive. After all, in addition to stripping rules and standards guiding environmental protections (rules that protect air, water, soil, and every citizen’s health), Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has removed “global warming” and “climate change” from its A-Z Index of topics. Although climate change is arguably the most studied physical phenomenon in human scientific inquiry, you won’t find any of the research findings — much of which generated by smart and dedicated EPA scientists over decades of earth-based and space-based observations and experiments — on our government’s websites. (Fortunately for all of humankind, this information has been saved in its entirety here on the City of Chicago website.) Professor of Epidemiology Tara C. Smith is afraid this Orwellian bug might spread:
If this policy is allowed at the CDC, there’s no reason to think this will stay in that agency, either. Imagine all of HHS, NASA, NOAA, the Department of Education, and many others requiring similar definitions of science/evidence-based. It’s programmatic approval of the idea that facts are anything you want them to be.
It’s literally turning “truthiness” into Federal policy.
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength” never felt quite so close to home as it has in 2017.
Friend and pediatric colleague, Sarah Kohl, M.D., is furious about yet another “all out assault on science”:
It’s preposterous that the US administration wants to limit the language of the CDC. The very organization staffed by scientists who spend their days protecting us from infections and outbreaks.
They are not politicians. They are scientists.
I say let them use the language they need to get the job done.
Like all physicians, Dr. Kohl took an oath to first do no harm:
In all my years of medical practice I know that patients want science-based care. They tell me so.
Doctors are so picky about being accurate that they actually grade evidenced-based recommendations from A to D. This helps us understand the quality of the science we are using to help patients make a treatment decision.
Making the CDC use phrases such as ‘the CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes’ only seeks to confuse people, at a time when clarity is needed in making healthcare decisions.
David Gorski, M.D., is appalled:
Dr. Fitzgerald and scientists at the CDC need to resist this obvious attempt to censor “inconvenient” scientific discussion. Scientists need to speak out and resist. You and I need to speak out to our elected officials. This new policy at the CDC is not normal. It is a violation of norms accepted by both parties over many decades. It must not stand.
Add it to the ever-growing list of things that must not stand.