Did your mother ever threaten to wash your mouth out with soap when you were a kid? I bet it wasn’t because you said diversity, fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based, or evidence-based.
We’re 11 months into this presidency and words are being banned. On Thursday officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were ordered by the Trump administration to cleanse the seven words mentioned above from future budget documents.
A longtime CDC analyst told the Washington Post that when the order came down from the administration, the reaction in the room was “incredulous”. CDC officials were given alternative word options in some cases. For example, instead of using “evidence-based” or “science-based” they may say, “The CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes." The CDC official who spoke to the Post wished to remain anonymous, but said a “growing backlash” should be expected. "Our subject matter experts will not lay down quietly," the official said. "This hasn't trickled down to them yet."
Of course, administration officials are denying the reports. "The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," Health and Human Services spokesperson Matt Lloyd said.
Critics of the administration’s moves have not been shy about voicing their objections. "To pretend and insist that transgender people do not exist, and to allow this lie to infect public health research and prevention is irrational and very dangerous," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a written statement. "The Trump administration is full of dangerous science deniers who have no business near American public health systems like the CDC," she continued. "They are actually going to kill Americans if they do not stop."
Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Planned Parenthood called the order “reckless” and “unimaginably dangerous”. "You cannot fight against the Zika virus, or improve women's and fetal health, if you are unable to use the word 'fetus.' You must be able to talk about science and evidence if you are to research cures for infectious diseases such as Ebola," Singiser said. "You must be able to acknowledge the humanity of transgender people in order to address their health care needs. You cannot erase health inequities faced by people of color simply by forbidding the use of the words 'vulnerable' or 'diversity'."
This blatant censorship hasn’t limited itself to seven words. Since Trump took office his administration has raised questions about how to address issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion rights. According to the Washington Post, Health and Human Services (HHS), Justice, Education, and HUD have all changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. HHS has removed information about LGBT individuals from its website. The agency has also removed questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from several surveys of the elderly.
Has the word “authoritarianism” crossed your mind yet? In George Orwell’s novel 1984, "Newspeak" was the official language created by “the Party” to meet the ideological requirements of the totalitarian state. In the appendix to his novel, “Principles of Newspeak”, Orwell explained that Newspeak is “a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning”. "The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc (the name of the political regime), but to make all other modes of thought impossible." Sound familiar?
In other words, if we don’t say it, write it, or read it- it doesn’t exist. That’s a slippery slope that leads right down to the kind of censorship, state control of media, and information voids that characterize countries like North Korea and Eritrea. Is that the company we want to keep?
After Thursday's briefing Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, summed it up best, "Here's a word that's still allowed-Ridiculous!"
posted by Amy Levengood
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