CDC’s banned-word list shows Trump’s contempt for science

Austin American-Statesman, December 20, 2017

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This blatant contempt for science must not stand.

Just when I think the Trump administration can no longer surprise me, they go and do it. But the latest stunt is more a shock than a surprise.

Senior budget officials of the esteemed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were called to a meeting last Thursday and read a list of forbidden words and phrases — including the term “science-based” — that the Trump administration does not want to see in the agency’s official budget documents to circulate within Congress and the federal government in preparation for the upcoming presidential budget proposal.

The banned words and phrases are “fetus,” “transgender,” “science-based,” “diversity,” “evidence-based,” “entitlement” and “vulnerable.” This to the home of many of the world’s leading epidemiologists and researchers whose job it is to provide for the defense of the nation against health threats and promote the public health.

Can you imagine the atmosphere in the room? I’m envisioning a stunned silence as jaws dropped and eyes widened. It’s a good thing they were sitting down.

The officials were given alternate phrases, such as turning science- or evidence-based into the clunky “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” — an outright admission of contempt of science and the triumph of politics and ideology over science. Why not use the more streamlined, “science- and politics-based” or maybe “evidence- and ideology-based?”

When I first started in neonatal intensive care almost 40 years ago, getting parents to sign consents for their baby’s immunizations was easy, no problem. But by the time I retired five years ago, it was the hardest part of my job. Using logic from the Trump administration, maybe the CDC should no longer recommend immunizations based “on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” Right? Wrong.

In health care, you can do things because you’ve always done them that way. Or … you can do things based on scientific research. The latter is what we do in neonatal intensive care, and what the best hospitals do in all areas. It’s called evidence-based practice. In practice, we look to the CDC for published guidelines on immunizations, infection control and for all manner of health statistics and research data.

Last year, I went to the emergency room after being bitten by a strange dog with nystagmus, a condition in which the eyes make involuntary, repetitive movements. The first thing the doctor did was go to her computer to look up rabies statistics from the CDC. Only then did she give me her recommendation regarding shots.

The CDC funds Texas’ basic health functions such as HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis control and prevention. It supports state laboratories for new technique development.

It funds disease surveillance. For example, on Dec. 15, the CDC reported with details how widespread flu activity had spread to 12 states, up from seven states a week earlier.

Surveillance is especially critical when you need to know in a hurry where infections are popping up. Remember the case of Ebola in Dallas in 2014? Officials from the CDC were dispatched immediately to help with training and surveillance. Remember the outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil in 2015 that caused children to be born with microcephaly? Hundreds of cases were reported in South Texas, but so far this year only 45 cases. The CDC surveils the virus and funds the Texas Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Birth Defect Registry.

If the administration is saying to the CDC that they can’t use the words transgender and diversity in their budget request, you can bet that means “don’t pay attention to those issues.”

This blatant contempt for science must not stand. We need the CDC to sustain and continue to build its vast repository of science information and its culture of excellence. Politics has no place there.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident, is a retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews. She also wrote a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial pages for 10 years.