HHS and CDC push back on reports that Trump administration has banned words like 'science-based'

cdc
The Trump administration wants the CDC to avoid using words like "fetus" and "transgender," according to a new report. (James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The Trump administration has submitted a list of terms to several HHS agencies that they should avoid in draft documents for next year's budget, according to a new report. 

Multiple agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services were instructed to avoid using terms like "entitlement," "diversity" and "vulnerable" in their budget documents, sources told The Washington Post. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received a list of seven banned words that included "fetus," "transgender," "evidence-based" and "science-based," according to the article. 

The CDC has pushed back against the Post's reporting, however. In a Facebook post on Sunday, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., said that "there are no banned words" at the agency and it will continue its public health work. 

"As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work," Fitzgerald said. 

But the report's sources contend that HHS staffers were also instructed to refer to the Affordable Care Act as "ObamaCare" and refer to its insurance marketplaces as "exchanges," according to the article. The word bans reportedly extend beyond HHS, too, as officials at the State Department were told to refer to sex education as "sexual risk avoidance." 

RELATED: Trump's budget sows doubt about the future of precision medicine, major research efforts 

Sources told the Post that the language rules are a departure from prior policies. The administration offered alternatives, according to the article; for example, instead of saying "evidence-based," CDC staff could say that the "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes." 

"People were surprised, people were not thrilled," an HHS official told the newspaper. "We all kind of looked at each other and said, 'Oh, God.'" 

RELATED: Trump administration taps Brenda Fitzgerald to lead CDC 

HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd also disputed the report in a statement issued to CNN. 

"The assertion that HHS has 'banned words' is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process," Lloyd said in the statement. "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." 

The report was met with backlash from the scientific and medical community. Michael Munger, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement that the language rules constitute an "obvious attempt to politicize the most fundamental tenets of science and research." 

RELATED: Anti-vaccine movement fears grow as Trump takes office 

The changes, Munger said, could have a "chilling effect" on how the CDC uses science for public health initiatives. 

"When the top public health agency in the country is—in an unprecedented move by the administration—required to temper its reliance on evidence-based medicine, the health of the public is at risk," he said. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science didn't mince words, either. 

Democrats, too, have been critical of the move. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., said the administration's word ban was "deeply disturbing and offensive," and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, called it "dangerous." 

 

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