Commentary: The CDC can’t use 7 terms on paper. Here’s what to expect

  • Toni Inglis
  • Special to the American-Statesman
2:30 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 Opinion
David Goldman
The Trump administration last week issued a list of seven words and phrases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are “forbidden” from using in documents related to next year’s budget, The Washington Post reported on Friday. Those terms include “fetus,” ”transgender” and “science-based.”

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.

HOW WE GOT HERE: CDC given list of ‘forbidden’ words for budget.

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

The officials were given alternate phrases, such as turning “science-based” 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 worked neonatal intense care, we gave immunizations based on recommendations published by the CDC. In 1980, when I started until the year 2000, I don’t recall a single baby whose parents refused to sign the consent. But when I retired in 2012, reasoning with a new wave of empowered, educated parents to vaccinate their babies had become 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.

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Last year, I went to the emergency room after being bitten by a 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 the control and prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. It supports state laboratories for development of new techniques. It funds disease surveillance — especially when you need to know in a hurry where the infections are popping up.

Remember the case of Ebola in Dallas in 2014? Officials from the CDC were dispatched 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 there’s only 45 cases. The CDC funds the Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Texas 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.

Inglis is a retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse in Austin.

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