Can We Talk?: Censoring Science

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Laura Bolton, PhD

According to a participant in the 90-minute briefing,1 policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia were told of a list of forbidden words at a December meeting with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget. The forbidden words are vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.

Alison Kelly, a senior leader at the CDC’s Office of Financial Services did not say why the words are being banned. While the list published in The Washington Post list included evidence-based and science-based, The New York Times contacted a former CDC official who believed these two terms were discussed but their ban was unlikely.2

Still, health care professionals are starting to weigh in. Carole Treston and Jeffrey Kwong, the executive director and president, respectively, of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, note, “The intent of recent discussions about banning seven specific words or phrases is unclear. There is growing concern that this list is not merely suggestions to make budget proposals more likely to pass a conservative Office of Management and Budget and Congress but a further creep of ideology over science that is an alarming hallmark of this administration. We as nurses know that words matter.”3 Treston and Kwong reiterate that evidence-based practice is at the center of safe and effective patient care. Peter Katona, a clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California-Los Angeles, was quoted as saying this word ban shows how government vis a vis politics is encroaching into public health when expert, scientific information is questioned.3

In an attempt to downplay the CDC’s actions, United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency spokesperson Matt Lloyd said the HHS word ban mischaracterized discussions regarding the budget formulation process, that the HHS “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans,” and that the agency “strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”1

Hippocrates said it far better than I:  “There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” Those who fear truth censor words. Unless decisions are based on facts, we are led by opinion into the quicksand of ignorance. Whether leadership is deciding policy on health care, pollution, climate change, education or, as above, limiting the budget policies of the trusted CDC, those who suppress science are wasting our nation’s valuable resources, miring us in ignorance.

In the last analysis, we all choose our own actions and have the right to lead our lives with integrity, basing our decisions on knowledge, not opinion. Here are some tips to help survive this age of “false facts” beaten into our minds by repetition (until replaced by different ones):

  • Encourage the scientific curiosity of those you encounter.
    • Learn and share techniques to avoid biasing our observations of how things work. This is what scientific method is all about.
  • Before all acts, seek the facts. Look for science-based facts to inform your decisions.
    • We are lucky in health care to have the science compiled in MEDLINE and evidence-based guidelines.
  • Hold leadership responsible for fact-based decisions that improve our personal, local, and national outcomes in all aspects of life and support those who seek science-based solutions.

Don’t let authority suppress science that teaches us how to tell the difference between fact and opinion. And regardless of semantics, continue to provide health care that is based on sound evidence and science. 

References

1. Sun LH, Eilperin J. CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity. Washington Post. Available at: www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidde.... Accessed December 27, 2017.

2. Belluz J. The CDC’s “word ban” may be politics as usual. But it’s still concerning. Vox. Available at: www.vox.com/2017/12/18/16792124/cdc-word-ban-science. Accessed December 27, 2017.

3. Treston C, Kwong J, Katona P, Mitchel S. Forbidden Words: Censorship at the C.D.C.? Available at: www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/opinion/censorship-cdc.html. Accessed December 27, 2017.

 

This article was not subject to the Ostomy Wound Management peer-review process.