US public health ‘word ban’ sparks outrage

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reported move to ban words including “fetus,” “diversity” and “transgender” in budget-related documents triggered outrage, astonishment and calls for the decision to be reversed Saturday.

The Washington Post reported Friday that policy analysts were told at a meeting of the forbidden terms, which one analyst said also included “science-based,” “evidence-based,” “vulnerable” and “entitlement.”

Faced with a growing backlash, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, termed the reported ban on use of the words a “complete mischaracterization.”

“Among the words forbidden to be used in @CDCgov budget documents are ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based.’ Here’s a word that’s still allowed: ridiculous,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote on its Twitter account.

Michael Halpern, the deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy, said “effectively tackling public health challenges means being honest and open about risks and who faces these risks.”

“To prevent the agency from losing its legitimacy, CDC Director Fitzgerald must speak up now to reinforce the centrality of science to the agency’s work,” Halpern wrote in a blog post.

The March for Science, which saw thousands of people protest in Washington and elsewhere earlier this year, called for the reported decision to be reversed.

“We call on the administration to remove this ban and on our representatives to protect the scientific communities right to openly discuss their research and its impact on our world,” it said on Twitter.


NARAL Pro-Choice America, which advocates for women’s rights to abortions, added: “Forbidding scientists & researchers from using medically accurate terminology amounts to yet another backdoor tactic to curtail our basic rights & freedoms.”

The Department of Health and Human Services pushed back against the report.

“The assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process,” spokesman Matt Lloyd told AFP by email.

“HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”