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Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Seven Words, Continued

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the political aspects of science and public health. Many posts have discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  He also has a bad record on science and disability issues more generally.

At WP,  Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin report that a ban on certain words and phrases in budget documents extends beyond CDC to other agencies of HHS.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of HHS, were given a list of seven prohibited words or phrases during a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget. The words to avoid: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

A second HHS agency received similar guidance to avoid using “entitlement,” “diversity” and “vulnerable,” according to an official who took part in a briefing earlier in the week. Participants at that agency were also told to use “Obamacare” instead of ACA, or the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces” to describe the venues where people can purchase health insurance.
At a briefing, CDC budget analysts got word that they would replace "evidence-based" and "scient-based" with  “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

At the CDC, the briefing was led by a senior career civil servant in the office that oversees formulation of the agency’s budget. She opened the meeting by telling participants not to use the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement” and “diversity” because documents containing those words were being “flagged” by others higher up the chain in the budget process, and documents were being sent back to CDC for corrections.

The civil servant then announced the additional words — “fetus,” “transgender,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” — that were not to be used. Another senior CDC budget person told the group that agency budget officials conducted a search across the agency’s budget documents and found that “evidence-based” and “science-based” were used so frequently that they were essentially meaningless, the analyst recalled.

The CDC analyst said it was clear to participants that they were to avoid those seven words but only in drafting budget documents.

“What would you call it when you’re told not to use those words?” the person said. “If that’s not a ban, maybe I need to improve my vocabulary.”
 From NYT:
A former federal official, who asked not to be named, called the move unprecedented.

“It’s absurd and Orwellian, it’s stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the C.D.C. does,” the former official said. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what C.D.C. can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”
Even if the ban applies only the budget documents, officials undoubtedly feel pressure to avoid these words and phrases in other documents as well.

Gleb Tsipursky at Scientific American:
Unfortunately, non-specialists—“community members”—are too easily fooled by false but emotionally appealing claims. For instance, the homeopathy industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Homeopathy is based on the false claim of the benefit of super-diluted substances and the principle of “like cures like.” While it has been debunked by hundreds of studies, people still want to believe in magic-like cures. Homeopathy is not harmless, yet despite the fact that it kills people every day, only recently has the federal government taken steps to address this problem. But under the new guidelines, these steps could be rolled back, and the CDC might have to take homeopathy “under consideration.”

For another example, consider the false claim that vaccines cause autism. This belief is spread widely across the US, and leads to many people failing to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles. While measles was practically eliminated in the US by 2000, in recent years outbreaks of measles have been on the rise in the US, driven by parents failing to vaccinate their children in a number of communities. Donald Trump has frequently expressed the false view that vaccines cause autism, and we should be very concerned about this being one of the “community wishes” taken under consideration.