Environment & Science

How 'diversity,' 'evidence-based' and 'fetus' became dirty words at the CDC

A report from the W<em>ashington Post</em> said the health agency was issued a list of prohibited words from the Trump administration.
A report from the Washington Post said the health agency was issued a list of prohibited words from the Trump administration.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reportedly been issued a mandate by the Trump administration to no longer use words and phrases including "fetus," "transgender" and "science-based."

This directive was delivered to senior CDC officials responsible for overseeing the health agency's budget, according to the Washington Post, which broke the news Friday evening.

The seven words that are to be stricken from official documents being drafted for the next year's budget, according to the Post are:

According to an unnamed CDC analyst in the Post's write-up, the list of the prohibited words was unveiled at the agency's headquarters in Atlanta during a Thursday meeting that lasted 90 minutes. The meeting was reportedly led by Alison Kelly, a top official with CDC's Office of Financial Services. The Post adds that Kelly did not give a reason why the words were being banned, only that she was simply relaying the information. The Post adds:

"In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of "science-based" or ­"evidence-based," the suggested phrase is, "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes," the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered."

If the report is true, it raises concerns about censorship under the Trump administration. As NPR's Rebecca Hersher reported last month, an NPR analysis found a decline in the number of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation with the phrase "climate change" either in the title or the summary.

Hersher also reported:

"The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration's open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the president's 2018 budget proposal singled out climate change research programs for elimination."

The CDC has not issued a public statement or returned NPR's requests for comment. But according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is not uncommon for career staff at government agencies to self-censor in order to avoid being a political target.

"It is unclear whether the directive came from Trump administration officials or from career staff self-censoring to avoid falling into political traps. Career staff at government agencies often modify language to stop their work from being politicized."

"Yet there's a fine line between necessary self-preservation and needless self-censorship."

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