In a worrying and ironic form of censorship (thought you guys love freedom of speech?), the Trump administration has forbidden the health agency from using certain terms
At a meeting of senior budget officials at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Thursday 14 December, seven words were reportedly prohibited from being used in official documents ahead of the next presidential budget proposal. The CDC is responsible for responding to infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola and the Zika virus.
While the censorship is worrying in itself (and very ironic coming from the Trump administration, aka the biggest “Freedom of Speech!” crowd out there), the particular words that are banned are the most disturbing part of the whole thing. The seven words and phrases are: “diversity”, “entitlement”, “foetus”, “transgender”, “vulnerable”, “evidence-based” and “science-based”. The prohibition on these words is a direct attack on and silencing of everything associated with them – vulnerable, marginalised people, and perhaps most damningly, science.
The Washington Post, who originally broke the story, report that in only some cases, the analysts were given “alternative phrases” to use in place of the banned words. Instead of “science-based”, they were offered “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”. The whole thing is very 1984, and very troubling – the language they are not allowed to use is telling of the Trump administration’s priorities and who is protected.
It’s likely that the Health & Human Services, who allegedly made this decision and also made the news for removing information about LGBT Americans from its website, has implemented these rules elsewhere, too. There’s reportedly been backlash at the CDC and with other health officials in the US, but their spokesman Matt Lloyd said “the assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterisation of discussions regarding the budget formulation process. HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”
In a Facebook post, the CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald echoed his words, saying that “there are no banned words at CDC. We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs” adding, “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.” She referenced the CDC’s usually very positive reputation, saying that they would be continuing to make “public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people”.
While neither the HHS or CDC will confirm that there are actually any “banned” words, the report is a massive cause for concern – and just part of a larger trend by the Trump administration to censor and downplay issues surrounding women, LGBT, and other vulnerable people. The administration’s imposition of their personal “values” on federal bodies is dangerous; their bigoted fear of science and of marginalised groups is being increasingly inflicted on the services that are meant to protect those people, and this is just the latest instance.