Science v. Community Wishes

December 27, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

The CDC didn’t ban those seven words (fetus, vulnerable, diversity, evidence-based, science-based, entitlement, transgender). It suggested that their writers not use them. This was not a diktat from the White House. It was not blatant censorship. More likely the suggestion came from a CDC career staffer trying to protect the Center from Congress. He or she was saying in effect, “We face cutbacks. If you want Congress to fund a project, don’t put these words in your proposal.”
Here’s the telling sentence from the memo

Instead of “science-based” or -“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

It could be worse. And it is worse in other regions of the Trump administration. At the EPA and the Department of Energy, the term “climate change” is disappearing (and the administration demanded a list of names of scientists there doing research on this non-existent thing, whatever it’s called.)

But the CDC memo is still pretty bad. Never in the past had it been necessary to caution staffers not to use science-based or evidence-based when writing something Congress members and their staffs might read. That was then. Now, the Republicans are in control, and for them, apparently, politics and ideology trump science and evidence. Do the runoffs from strip mining contaminate the water so that more people become sick and die from cancer and other diseases? Well, not if “the community” wishes it not to be so. (There’s also the question of just who “the community” is.) What about childhood immunization? If you live in an area with lots of anti-vaxxers, the CDC, in making its recommendation, will weigh those community wishes against science and the evidence on rates of autism (vaccination does not increase risk) and measles (non-vaccination increases risk).

The other ominous suggestion in the memo is that research has to be compatible with Republican ideology. If there’s a chance that the results, the evidence, will reveal negative consequences of Republican policies, the study won’t be funded. If you are going to study the effects on vulnerable, diverse populations (e.,g., transgender people or people dependent on entitlement programs), better find another way to describe them.

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