The Public Pulse: A frightening ban on words

Brandon Parsons
December 21, 2017

At the CDC, a senior career official in the office that oversees formulation of the agency's budget told participants last week that certain words in budget narratives were being sent back to the agency because of problematic words that had been "flagged", according to an analyst who took part in the meeting and whose job includes crafting budget-related documents.

The list of "forbidden" words and phrases given to policy analysts at the CDC also included "vulnerable", "entitlement", "diversity", "transgender" and "fetus". She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was not authorized to talk about what happened. But HHS officials did not clarify or answer any other questions.

The source in the Washington Post report said budget officials recommended replacing "evidence-based" or "science-based" with the phrase "science in consideration with community norms and standards", which the three groups today called risky and misleading.

But CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald said in Twitter posts on Sunday "there are no banned, prohibited or forbidden words at the CDC, period".

The Atlanta-based CDC is in charge of responding to infectious disease outbreaks, like Ebola and Zika, and tracking a wide range of chronic diseases and other health problems. "Such an agenda, especially if motivated by political factors, threatens to undermine the tremendous scientific progress at the CDC and the public's faith in government, more broadly".

"Here's a word that's still allowed: 'ridiculous, '" said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a statement reacting to the report.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, said in a phone interview Monday that while he was "alarmed" by reports about the budget guidance, he speculated that "what we're looking at is more silly than sinister".

"You had people at the meeting, saying OK, 'If they want us to avoid 'vulnerable, ' what about 'fetus, ' " the official said".

In their letter to the CDC, HHS and the Office of Management and Budget today, the Democratic senators ask about the development and dissemination of any discouraged words, the legality and enforcement of such a policy, and the policies in place to ensure the scientific integrity of the health agencies. She said she was informed of the meeting but she was not there, and did not know who made the language suggestions. It was restored after an outcry by advocates for the LGBT community.

The FDA, an agency that like the CDC is under the Department of Health and Human Services' umbrella, said on Saturday that it had not received any guidance on banned words.

The reports were followed by a statement, cited by media outlets, from HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd that called the assertion that HHS had banned words as a "complete mischaracterization" of discussions about the budget, adding that HHS would continue to use the best science available to protect the health of Americans.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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