Seven Dirty Words


Readers of this blog have probably already heard how the Trump administration has barred officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using a list of seven words or phrases in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.  According to the Washington Post, policy analysts were told of the list two days ago at a meeting with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget.

The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees the CDC. In March HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people.  The department has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. And its Administration for Children and Families archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.

At the CDC, several offices have responsibility for work that uses some of the prohibited terms. For instance, the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention is working on ways to prevent HIV among transgender people and reduce health disparities.

Notably, the CDC’s work on birth defects caused by the Zika virus includes research on the developing fetus.  As the AAUP’s recently released report, National Security, the Assault on Science, and Academic Freedom, documented, “Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration, has asked whether ‘we really need government-funded research at all.’  Specifically, Mulvaney questioned research demonstrating the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly.”

The list reminded me of the late comic George Carlin’s famous routine about the “seven dirty words” forbidden for use on broadcast airwaves by the Federal Communications Commission.  Here’s a video of that routine:

I wonder how much we will hear about this kind of blatant effort to censor government scientists from the chorus of self-righteous pundits who repeatedly warn that college students who advocate “politically correct” language are the main threat to freedom of speech today.  For instance, will New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has suggested that “fragile thugs who call themselves students” are partly responsible for an existential “crisis of Western Civ[ilization]” be equally bothered by this misuse of government power against science and medicine?  Somehow I doubt it.  After all, under the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Cervallos, as public employees doing their jobs CDC scientists probably don’t enjoy First Amendment protections.  That is apparently reserved for campus lectures by the odious likes of Ann Coulter, who would publicly endorse the murder of abortion providers, or Milo Yiannoupoulos, who would label transgender individuals “mentally damaged.”

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