I still have a few questions

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Trump administration has informed the CDC that they’re no longer allowed to use the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based”. That’s weirdly specific and random, in addition to being contemptibly authoritarian. There’s something funny going on here. I have questions.

Why? This is strangely like telling someone “Don’t think of an elephant” — don’t think of a vulnerable transgender fetus with your evidence-based brain, people! So what are the scientists at the CDC supposed to think when, for instance, they see statistics on Zika-induced developmental abnormalities? As Tara Smith points out, scientists were also given alternatives: instead of talking about science, they should say CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes. So we’re supposed to consider what people wish were true? All right, I wish I had the body of a 30 year old and a million dollars.

Damn. Doesn’t seem to be having an effect.

But I also want to know why those specific seven words. Why not “homosexual”, “abortion”, “euthanasia”, “pollution”, “climate change”, “infertility”, and “tampons”, which conservatives would also find enraging? What specific input triggered the need to dictate censorship of these words?

Who? This edict came from somewhere, from someone who thinks they have the power to police the language. This is really mysterious. The HHS, which is in charge of the CDC, is currently leaderless, although Alex Azar has been nominated to run the show. Azar is an Indiana Republican who ran HHS under the Bush administration, and since has worked as a lobbyist and division head for Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceutical company. His appointment hasn’t been approved, so would he have any say at all? Why would a “pharma shill” object to science and evidence? The Indiana connection is ominous (is Pence tinkering behind the scenes?) but it sounds like maybe, once again, it’s underlings running amuck while the system is rudderless.

What’s next? If they think they can purge a useful, non-ideological word like “vulnerable”, there’s nothing to stop them from getting rid of all of the substance coming out of work from scientific organizations and replacing it with nothing but bureaucratic glurge, which, it wouldn’t surprise me, might be their real goal.

You know, I was also just wondering why anyone would want to be known as a Trump appointee. It seems to carry the taint of corruption and incompetence. I know if Trump tapped me to run the CDC (a position for which I’m completely unqualified), I’d have a terrifying moment of introspection in which I’d wonder what horrifying crime against nature and humanity I’d committed to deserve this rebuke.


  1. eamick says

    The Indiana connection may be nothing more than Eli Lilly being headquartered in Indianapolis. It would certainly make his post-HHS jobs obvious.

  2. Athaic says

    A Christian pastor (of the not-evangelical type) noted that this little list of words was “eerily familiar”.


    The list is a bulleted seven-point Sunday sermon outline, the kind that’s been given every weekend in pulpit pounding churches by spitting, sweating, furiously angry white men—who tell people the sky is falling and assure them only a vengeful white God can hold it up. They’re a list perfectly designed to leverage the fear Bible Belt Evangelicals work specifically and almost solely in.

  3. weylguy says

    My son is a scientist at the CDC, and he sees the word ban as an authoritarian religious gag order. He doubts if he would ever need to use the word transgender in his research, but the ban on science-based and evidenced-based is indeed ominous.

    What’s next, except a mandatory word dictionary that includes faith-based and Jesus-based as substitutes for legitimate scientific discourse. I can even see the Republican-led Congress getting rid of the CDC and NIH altogether along with the EPA and HHS and replacing them with a nationwide program of prayer-based health care.

  4. jrkrideau says

    The Dominionists strike again. It gets scarier every day.

    John Pavlovitz sounds like a pretty good guy.

  5. Samantha says

    I’m thinking the inclusion of transgender on the list is in the vain of “if we don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away.” Glad I don’t live in the US

  6. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 weylguy
    Another real worry may be the FDA. If we cannot trust US Gov’t drug research we will have to re-certify any drug developed in the USA, and with the assumption of malfeasance being built in.

  7. microraptor says

    One place I saw pointed out that the weakness of this Orwellian attempt to control language is that, unlike in 1984, the government doesn’t control the dictionaries themselves and that scientists at the CDC can go ahead and come up with new terminology if they need to.

    Still creepy as hell, though.

  8. jrkrideau says

    I know if Trump tapped me to run the CDC (a position for which I’m completely unqualified),

    Well, perhaps a bit, but compared to most of his appointees you seem overqualified.

    Oh wait, you are not a billionaire.

  9. raven says

    What I’m most confused about is ‘vulnerable’. Is it related to a phrase or something they find scary?

    Vulnerable people is what the social safety net is for. These groups include babies, children, the elderly, the disabled, the sick, low income families, and the unlucky among others.
    The social safety net costs money.

    Yes they are very scared. Scared that some of their tax money might go to the social safety net instead of upkeep on the pool and private jet.

  10. robro says

    So the ban applies to proposals for the 2019 budget. Perhaps people in Congress get in a tizzy over these words.

    Also, I can’t help but be reminded of George Carlin.

  11. antigone10 says

    This reminds me of the Reagan administration during the AIDS epidemic. Particularly the line: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

    That line reminds me very much of the line “There are certain areas which, when the goals of science collide with moral and ethical judgement, science has to take a time out.” This was said by the director of the CDC under Reagan, James Mason, in regards to the CDC’s slow (and often, non-existent) actions and obstructions. The “moral and ethical judgement” in question was “letting people die of AIDS because we have to moralize against teh gays”.

    This isn’t a joke. When government agencies are kept from doing their jobs, or hire people who believe that they are supposed to fail people die.

    (If interested, what first turned me on to the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan administration’s response (May he burn in the non-existent hell, the evil fucker) it was actually Lindsay Ellis who was actually discussing Rent. Fascinating to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0qfFbtIj5w )

  12. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I am confliclicted objecting to ban on use of “ science based”. That phrase is superfluous and does not ever need to be said in a CDC paper.
    Only fools need to see it spelled out in a CDC paper. Oh wait, I get it. That’s the conflict in me, I see no harm in banning that particular phrase as redundant, and how necessary it is to be included. Burp

  13. tbtabby says

    The Freeze Peach brigade should be all over this. They never hesitate to take a stand against us essjews for telling them they can’t say certain words, so they will no doubt take just as firm a stand against Drumpf and his cronies for doing the same to the CDC.

    Aaaaany day now….

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Terminology -pick some deliberately silly euphemisms.
    Fetus: People- seed.
    Vulnerable: Not-panzer.
    Transgender: Haram- gender
    Science-based: Thought up by people with white coats and beakers.

  15. ck, the Irate Lump says

    I’m sure fetus was banned in an attempt to make them use unborn child to help the anti-abortion religious right.

  16. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    if only I were writing policy and budgetary documents for the CDC:

    Although incomplete and suffering from the same difficulty as early surveys of the size of queer, polyamorous, and kink-enthusiast populations, available data are clear and consistent in showing that the non-cisgender populations of rural areas have grown even faster than the non-cisgender populations of urban areas since 2012. Given that studies have shown these populations to be notably and dramatically less than invulnerable and frequently without competent, compassionate care providers that are familiar with the actual facts (both isolated facts pertaining to a particular individual and contextualized facts given meaning by appropriate research) relevant to assessing clients’ health needs, the time has come for the CDC to increase spending in a manner that permits the agency to guarantee to these populations all the services to which decent people would expect a population to be entitled. We must not allow default, monocultural assumptions of what constitutes a health need to prevent unfettered access to care for the benefit of the human beings with whom we share a society and even their future children whether blastocysts or in later stages of development or even for the benefit of those whose lives cannot yet be measured or predicted but will someday assume a share of this country’s burdens and benefits.

    For these reasons, in the context of an established body of knowledge developed through decades of research, the CDC now requests of congress US$1 Billion to begin establishing a series of comprehensive health clinics in underserved areas that will advertise their expertise in and willingness to serve non-cisgender populations while welcoming patients of all genders, sexes, and sexual inclinations or experience so as to ensure that visiting such clinics does not become a new proxy for excluding persons from cisgender community and privilege. An additional $40M is requested to assist local efforts to innovate in developing positive relationships and reputations among service populations and to collect data on the strengths and weaknesses of this first wave of clinics in preparation for competent, contextual data analysis that permits more successful planning for the next wave of clinic construction. Please note that this request is separate from the upcoming request for increased family planning and abortion services in rural communities, though in some cases plans call for those services to be provided at the same physical locations as the health clinics intended to be funded under this program.

  17. magician5 says

    Of course this move is a really obvious stumbling block – anyone with a rudimentary command of English can say exactly the same thing using very slightly different words. Just illustrates the stupidity of the “regulation”.

  18. F.O. says

    If only the freeze peach brigades took issue with this.
    But they don’t care about actual free speech, they just want right to a platform.

  19. zetopan says

    “Why not “homosexual”, “abortion”, “euthanasia”, “pollution”, “climate change”, “infertility”, and “tampons”, …”

    I am quite sure that the restricted word list will only grow over time to include those and others that annoy and/or frighten the lunatic fringe. Trump likes the uneducated, so the best solution is obviously to terminate education (as per DeVos and others in this arrogantly terminally stupid administration).

  20. Helen Huntingdon says

    @25: “fetus = “post-blastocyst””

    You made my day with that one. All my suggestions had the word, “parasite” in them, such as, “potentially wanted parasite”.

  21. ck, the Irate Lump says

    F.O. wrote:

    If only the freeze peach brigades took issue with this.

    No chance of that. I saw at least one person who described the banning as a victory against Newspeak…

  22. rpjohnston says

    Was about to post the Pavlovitz link but searched on a hunch and saw that I was beaten to it. I’m glad for his insight, even following this blog and Ed Brayton’s for years, I couldn’t quite see behind the scenes to where this was coming from.

  23. Steve Bruce says

    But all the Saints of the sceptic-atheist movement like Coyne, Harris and Shermer have been saying that it’s the regressive left which seeks to impose restrictions on speech and that the right wingers are the one who defend free speech! Surely they can’t be wrong!