Unless you're sensible enough to take the weekend off from Trump-related politics, you already know about this story: that the U.S. Centers for Disease (CDC) are now forbidden from using a certain seven words in reports and official budget documents:
As Newsweek reported, the CDC staff was told,
”...that rather than using the phrases evidence-based or science-based, they should instead say: 'The CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.'”
Oh, of course, wishes and science. They go together like salt and pepper - why didn't I think of that.
After the announcement on Friday, objections poured forth onto Twitter and elsewhere from scientists and concerned citizens far and wide. Bruce Y. Lee at Forbes:
To ban any of these 7 words would be absurd and frankly a gigantosaurus waste of time...Banning the word 'vulnerable' certainly won't make 28.2 million Americans under the age of 65 who are uninsured or the over 46 million who live in poverty go away.
“Similarly what exactly will prohibiting the words 'transgender' and 'entitlement' do besides force people to search their thesauruses or thesaurusi? Plus, 'entitlement' has other uses such as 'what sense of entitlement gives one the right to override science and reality'"?
And from the AP:
”Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, says these things matter 'because the words that we use ultimately describe what we care about and what we think are priorities.'
“'If you are saying you cannot use words like ‘transgender’ and ‘diversity,’ it’s a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues.'”
By Sunday, the volume of alarmed complaints had grown loud enough that the CDC or, rather, the Trump Administration was forced to backtrack saying that the new language was for use only in budget documents to help, as The New York Times put it: “when appealing for funding from Republican conservatives in Congress.”
The genesis of the seven-word ban remains in question and no one has been able to find out who issued the order. According to the Times:
There seemed to be confusion around the public health agencies about whether the ban originated at the agency’s parent department, Health and Human Services, or inside the C.D.C. itself; and whether such a ban would apply beyond budget documents.
“The Food and Drug Administration was quick to note that it had gotten no such instruction. An agency spokeswoman, Jennifer Rodriguez, said, 'We haven’t received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at F.D.A. to describe our policy or budget issues.' The National Institutes of Health referred inquiries to Health and Human Services.”
This isn't just another weird, little screw-up in the Trump administration. This is an attempt to censor. Other agencies are said to be subject to the ban of these seven words and such bans – books, movies, words, etc. - are always an attempt to control thought.
It is crucial to a democracy that all people are allowed free speech – that means saying anything they want whether anyone else likes it or not. This word ban is an attempt to thwart that right supposedly preserved in the Constitution but now under attack from many angles by the Trump administration.
Words are important and it is important to use the right words for what you mean to say. I keep a little quotation on my desk from Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts school in the “Harry Potter” series – in this case the book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:
”Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
True but don't be afraid of this authoritarian grab for control. Instead, don't let the government tell you what you can say. Ever.