Venkata: There are no banned words

A scare to researchers is a reminder to verify hurtful news that doesn’t seem impossible, because it still may be.

by Uma Venkata

There are researchers on the University of Minnesota campus grappling with allowing their research to be compromised — or considering abandoning it altogether — because of several operative words being banned by the White House. The Washington Post reported in December 2017 that words such as “fetus,” “diversity” and “transgender” were banned, and if the CDC received submissions for publication that contained them and their lexical relatives, the CDC would have to deny publication in order to keep federal funding. This would silence particular researchers on the main platform of unbiased, scientifically sound authority.

This is not true. There is no ban on words. 

Some dramatic changes have happened, though. Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry, the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and of the Department of Energy, respectively, are unconvinced by the accepted scientific conclusion that human activity has caused the planet’s warming. The EPA’s website and other federal sites have been almost flushed of the phrase “climate change,” and public access to climate change information has been pointedly reduced or buried deeper. In some places where “climate change” used to be, the sites now read “sustainability.” 

The Bureau of Land Management cut out the climate change information from its main website and deleted its  climate change-specific website. The December 2017 Washington Post report claimed that some documents at the State Department have changed “sex education” to “sexual risk avoidance.” After the leadership change at the CDC in July, the center began to curtail its usual public addresses about public safety concerns, due to some directive or passive pressure. The addresses would have been about the impending flu season (which is currently approaching proportions greater than the 2009 swine-flu epidemic), the water-contamination issues from the past hurricane season and new infections due to drug resistance in bacteria. These are a few of many varied changes.

To say that the Trump administration has been a change to the status quo is, on both sides of the aisle, an understatement. 

We must, however, keep in mind that not every surprising fact that’s found counter to public health or scientific conclusion is the result of the current administration, bombastic as it has been. Since 1996, the Dickey Amendment has forbidden the CDC from researching the effects of gun violence on public health. In 1982, Reagan’s White House remained silent about the overwhelming AIDS epidemic, in 1983 the Surgeon General suppressed a CDC report that concluded that abortion does not harm women’s health, and the administration tried to fire — but only could demote — a CDC employee who appeared to support abortion.

I do not excuse the Trump administration for the drastic, careless new restrictions and scale-backs it imposes on the public that Trump has sworn to protect by upholding the Constitution. But, we must bear in mind that even though something jarring like banned words may sound characteristic of the administration, as a public, we must stay on the lookout and verify conclusions before jumping to them. It’s unclear and tedious homework, but now more than ever, we have to do it.