The CDC bans 7 words and phrases from work conducted by their scientists

December 17, 2017 • 11:30 am

Several readers sent me links to an odious new policy implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. This link to the Chicago Tribune‘s article, source of the quotes below, comes from reader Ron.

This new policy was of course forced on the CDC by the Trump administration.  My emphasis below:

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases – including “fetus” and “transgender” – in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

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.

“Fetus”? “Evidence-based”? “Transgender”? These of course are an attempt of the administration to foster Orwellian Newspeak. Why on earth, for instance, is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” better than “evidence based”? Because of the weaselly words “in consideration with community standards and wishes”? Because the latter means “what some people (i.e., Republicans) consider to be “evidence”.  And that may exclude evidence for global warming or even evolution.

And even if the Trump administration doesn’t like the word “fetus,” well, fetuses exist. What are they going to use: “embryonic full human being”? Jebus.  “Transgender”? That will probably be effaced, or perhaps replaced with “those mentally ill individuals who think they’re members of another gender.” (NOTE: I am just spouting Republican doctrine here.)

But of course this is all to foster the appearance that the CDC is down with Republican jargon, and they’d better be if they want money from the budget:

The ban is related to the budget and supporting materials that are to be given to CDC’s partners and to Congress, the analyst said. The president’s budget for 2019 is expected to be released in early February. The budget blueprint is generally shaped to reflect an administration’s priorities.

Federal agencies are sending in their budget proposals to the Office of Management and Budget, which has authority about what is included.

The longtime CDC analyst, whose job includes writing descriptions of the CDC’s work for the administration’s annual spending blueprint, could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents because they were considered controversial.

The CDC scientists, of course, don’t like it:

At the CDC, the meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in CDC’s Office of Financial Services, according to the CDC analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. Kelly did not say why the words are being banned, according to the analyst, and told the group that she was merely relaying the information.

70 thoughts on “The CDC bans 7 words and phrases from work conducted by their scientists

  1. One silver lining, mayhap, is that neither Trump, nor his admin, seem to make use of (or know of) the fine tool that is a thesaurus. Just because their vocabulary is small, they think they can limit ours with their word-bans.

    That said, I’ve been thinking on the very real threat to our academic and scientific freedom posed by this administration, in contrast to the perceived threat from the ‘regressive left’. I’m far more worried about DeVos’s gutting of our public educations system than I am about being asked to use a person’s preferred pronouns. I wonder if, in academia, people have so long been surrounded by other intellectuals and academics that they forget they are a very small minority of the country. The real threat comes from the right, I think, not from SJWs.

    1. “The real threat comes from the right, I think, not from SJWs.”

      Beyond doubt. I find the views of the far left disturbing, but they have no power, except on some college campuses. The far right controls the executive and legislative branches and threatens the judiciary. The far right controls many state legislatures and governors. Trump has nominated many far right lower court judges. The Supreme Court hasn’t gone totally far right because of one man – Justice Anthony Kennedy. He may retire soon as well as some of the liberal justices. If so, the Supreme Court will become far right for decades. Harping on the idiocies of the far left only serves the interests of the far right become it diverts attention away from the latter and creates false equivalences in the minds of many. If one believes in science and cares little about all the other bad things the far right is doing, then that belief is reason enough to focus attention on ridding the nation of Trump-Pence and their minions, including the Republicans in Congress that lap up to them.

  2. Yeah, as this has developed, I still think it’s Orwellian.

    They down play it – but it’s still banning words. And I’m convinced Trump is at the bottom of it.

    It sort of plays on the notion that there’s a big pile of boring business paperwork that nobody wants to do…. to foster apathy…

  3. And I’m convinced Trump is at the bottom of it.

    My money is on Pence. He’s got a vested interest in people not being scientifically literate, it’ll make his theocracy much easier to build.

    1. Agree. Pence is the kind of ideological buffoon that would be capable of such a grotesque action.

      The buffoon in Chief doesn’t care and pays back the tribute for the support of evangelical christians during the elections.

  4. Yes, Mike Pence is waiting in the wings. If he should ever become president with Trump leaving the scene, do not expect anything better in terms of policy. As an arch conservative and religious fanatic, he will cater to the far right as much as Trump. He may even be worse than Trump because he is a conventional far right wing politician. Many conservatives turned off by Trump may find Pence appealing. Nothing can be done about the danger in the Oval Office until the election of 2020. By then the damage to the country in so many areas may be irreparable. The election of 2016 may come to be known as the beginning of the end of the American behemoth.

    1. I’m more worried (not being ‘Murican) by the trickle-down effect. That is to say, all the right-wing idiocy that the US adopts encourages or legitimises similar attempts in other countries. The War on Some Drugs is the classic example.

      So far, from our outsider’s point of view, the damage has – ironically – probably been limited by Trump himself. Because his personal behaviour is so juvenile that nobody wants to resemble him. Replace him with someone genuinely right-wing but actually coherent and able to behave in an apparently civilised and less bizarre fashion, and the effects could be far worse.


  5. Here are my seven words for them: “and the horse you rode in on.” Supply two more words up in front if you deem it appropriate.

    1. So, if that’s true, this is a strong recommendation to avoid words in budget proposals because proposals containing these words will not be well received by Republicans disbursing funds.

      That seems … prudent.

      But it’s a sorry state of affairs when scientists have to walk on eggshells to avoid offence to bigoted and scientifically illiterate politicians.


      1. There is no direct evidence the words would trigger opposition. This is a supposition of critics of Trump and Republicans. It is not evidence of actual misdeeds or the actual state of mind of Trump or Republicans.

          1. That some people believe that of Republicans.

            The story as everyone is portraying it here is the reverse of the truth as far as I can tell. Neither Trump nor any of his minions forbade or deprecated any words. His *opponents* suggested not using those words.

              1. @Craw:

                Where do you get that this is coming from “political opponents” of Donald Trump?

                The CDC is a nonpartisan organization of scientists, medical doctors, and researches devoted to promoting public health. It doesn’t have a political agenda.

                You do understand that one of the grave dangers of an authoritarian regime that disrespects free speech is that it foments self-censorship among the public and government functionaries, right?

    2. That it was the Washington Post…

      If it had been International Business Times, or something else, I’d have dismissed it…

      That is, my trust of the WaPo is going down a notch….

  6. At both ends of the political spectrum, on the right and the left, adherents demand that language be policed, words and phrases proscribed, even certain grammatical constructions outlawed, because they are “offensive” and “hurt people’s feeeelings,” yet each side engages in vicious linguistic denunciation of the other (as a courtesy to the left, should I write it ‘Other’ until that word until the right bans that word, too ?).

    A telling (pun intended?) parallel from China that I found on Language Log: “Bad words on “WeChat” go directly to jail” I can envision some of those banned words being appropriated by our current censors, and I’m sure that those currently in power here in the US would just love to police social media and websites that invite comment in the same way that China does. The Red Queen rules in more ways than one.

  7. If you can no longer use these words, would it be acceptable to bowdlerise them with asterisks, as if they were swear words?

    “v*****able,” “e******ment,” “d*******y,” “t****g*****,” “f****,” “e*******-b****” and “s******-b****.”

    Hopefully for f**** sake they would still be recognisable by their context.

    1. We had a university lecturer (in fluid mechanics) who used to leave out the odd line here or there in his blackboard workings. And if anybody asked him how he got from F to H he would go right back to line A and repeat the entire thing right through to Z *leaving out the same bloody line*.

      He was not popular with students.


      1. Indeed!

        “The spelling foetus has no etymological basis but is recorded from the 16th century and until recently was the standard British spelling in both technical and non-technical use. In technical usage fetus is now the standard spelling throughout the English-speaking world, but foetus is still found in British English outside technical contexts.”

        — New Oxford American Dictionary


  8. Left, right, up, down, it makes no difference. This is just one more of dozens of things that will be added to the list of why Trump must go. Being in bed with Putin and trashing the police forces of the country are a hell of a lot more important in this matter. But it all adds up and he will need to go. Whether Pence also goes in this thing, who knows but you start at the president and go from there. Just look at some of the people this idiot has put up for federal judge positions. Even the republicans have reject at least three of them. My cats could do better. Right now the important thing is – will he attempt to fire Mueller. If he does it will all be over for Trump and the damage will be done.

  9. I’m not sure that the Administration has the authority to do this, or how it would be enforced. If I were a senior official at the CDC, I would ignore this.

    1. Nor it seems from the NY Times report did the administration do this. This was not a action taken by Trump but a recommendation from Trump critics.
      The post and most comments have this exactly backwards if the NY can be trusted.

      1. I think you’re misreading that NYT article, Craw. All is says is that it is as yet unclear whether this directive came from Trump appointees in the Health and Human Services or whether it arose inside the Center for Disease Control itself, as a defensive measure because it knows that congressional Republicans will refuse to fund programs that employ terms like “science-based” or “evidence-based” or “fetus.”

        Either way, it reflects poorly on the reactionary Republicans now controlling the US federal government’s funding of medical and scientific research.

        1. No, not either way. Only one way. The other way reflects poorly on the WaPo which made the initial report, and the media which — unlike the Times — parroted it uncritically.

          1. So it reflects well on the reactionary Republicans in the federal government that they would cut off funding for any program that uses one of the verboten terms?

            And there’s nothing in the NYT piece that supports your claim that the ban originated with “Trump critics.”

            1. Is this a deliberate misreading? There is no ban. There is no ban. We’re not seeing Republicans banning words. We are seeing how people who feel antagonistic to Republicans suggest writing funding proposals in order to get more of what they want from Republicans.

              1. We’re seeing a system in which scientists are in justifiable fear that their proposals will be denied funding by the hidebound Republican congress if they include verboten words like “science-based” or “evidence-based.” Are you trying to justify the Republican unwillingness to fund such proposals?

                Do you understand the danger that Republican anti-science bias — the religiously based bias against evolution and climate change and birth control, etc. — poses in the United States?

  10. My take on this is that Trump administration is trying to eliminate the so-called deep state. Some in the CDC will want to use these words out of defiance. If they do, this will lead to them being quietly demoted and/or pushed out — not fired as that might lead to confrontation. My guess is similar processes are being implemented in all other parts of the federal government.

  11. Let’s see how many soi-disant free-speech advocates from the right wing denounce this censorship. From what I’ve seen, they squeal only when the fork is stuck in their own hides.

    1. An excellent point.

      For the authoritarian left and almost all the right, “free speech” means “free to say that with which I agree.” Not sure where they find that in the first amendment, but I’m pretty sure Mike Pence can explain.

  12. To borrow a joke, it’s now even worse even worse, they’ve also banned:
    Idiot, imbecile, orange, and tiny. Where will it end?

    1. In light of the general linguistic and cognitive climate these days, including Philistine disregard for complexity in language and thought in order to serve some ideological or moral imperative, Orwell’s entire quote needs to be reiterated:

      “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well–better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still…In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words–in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?”

  13. Clearly, the CDC’s entitlement to speak is vulnerable to Trump’s desire to squash diversity in points of view even if they are profoundly evidence-based, which shows Trump has the emotional maturity of a fetus. Perhaps once could write a good piece of high camp drag queen theatre about this starring some transgender actors.

  14. Reblogged this on Poetry on the run and commented:
    The forbidden words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

    I don’t know about you but I’m not going to let these ignorant fascists turn my world into some kind of fantasyland where things don’t happen if you don’t say the words. For my part I plan to seek every opportunity to use the words: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” wherever and whenever I can. I will regularly add them to all my letters to lawmakers, government officials and the White House. I will sign online petitions with them, I will begin leaving a printed list of these words in random public spaces and I will use them in my everyday conversations with people even if I have to simply tell them that the government is banning these words: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

  15. The silver lining is that the CDC will not be able to warn Boss Tweet that his consumption of burgers makes him vulnerable to stroke and heart attack.

    1. Also a twelve-pack of diet-something with caffeine and artificial badness. I guess he has a “real” physical sometime in January by the pros who do it for the POTUS. He’ll probably not do it. “I’m fine.” he’ll say. “Don’t touch my blessed orangeness. It stains I hope you know.”

  16. Are not words part of speech? I would have thought that there was a freedom of speech issue here that would not make it past a cursory reading of the US constitution.

  17. Depending on the context, some of many alternatives:
    – Fetus : foetus, embryo, developing fertilized egg (DFE), unhatched placental appendix (UPA), etc.
    – Vulnerable: powerless, targeted, unprotected, exposed, endangered, etc.
    – Entitlement: right, prerogative, allotment, deserving, etc.
    – Diversity: variation, range, mixture, heterogeneity, etc.
    – Transgender: trans, transsexual, (trans-) androgynous, She-male, He-female, genderfluid, gender-incongruent, etc.
    – Evidence-based & Science-based: true, scientific, documented, peer reviewed, scientifically appraised, etc.
    I’m sure there are many more creative ways around those seven, this is just for starters.

    1. Yes, some detail here.

      OK, so it’s not about *direct* censorship. Still, when you can’t say “science-based” in a funding proposal because some republican know-nothing (sorry for the redundancy) will crap his pants, it’s at the very least *indirect* censorship.

    1. That, and many others; persecution of the Jews comes immediately to mind.

      You have an interesting moniker. Are you, perhaps, the at-least-moderately-well-known science fiction author? Or did you pick her name for some other reason?

  18. This particular story may be false, but the ignorant rightist hate is real… Most republicans would love to destroy or ban those words. Related evidence? Their position on climate change, abortion, homosexuality, and many more issues. Someone could say “but they didn´t ban the words!”; well, not this time, perhaps, but more important: they deny climate change, they want to incarcerate women who abort under any circumstances, they treat gay people as second or third class citizens, etc. So, we can say that they would love to destroy or ban those words because they have tried and are trying to destroy or ban the scientific and progressive practices associated with such words.
    It´s very important to learn or remember that the antiliberal right has its own “political correctness” and is immersed in a reversed (non marxist but libertarian or neoliberal) “class struggle”. The republican majority is not only antiscientific, sexist and homophobic but classist (antipoor, pro-extreme inequality) and racist. Their PC is more consequential than the other -annoying and imprecise, of course. Let´s denounce and combat both forms, without making them identical. If we are scientific and progressive, that´s the right way to go.

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