Federal officials reacted with disgust to the “stupid and Orwellian” restrictions imposed on the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention regarding certain words like “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and others, said The New York Times on Saturday.
“It’s absurd and Orwellian, it’s stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the C.D.C. does,” said a former official. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what CDC can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”
A former CDC official who asked not to be named said, “I don’t know exactly who said what in the meeting, but I have to assume this came from HHS [Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC] people, because they’re the ones who have to make the budget. I’ve also heard that some of the words might have been a little misconstrued. ‘Science-based’ and ‘evidence-based’ might not have been considered as unusable as the others.”
A HHS spokesman tried to downplay the controversy.
“The assertion that HHS has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process,” said Matt Lloyd of the HHS in an email. “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.”
“There seemed to be confusion around the public health agencies about whether the ban originated at the agency’s parent department, Health and Human Services,” wrote the Times‘ Sheila Kaplan and Donald G. McNeil, “or inside the C.D.C. itself; and whether such a ban would apply beyond budget documents.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — which is also under the HHS organizational umbrella — said that it hasn’t received any similar guidelines.
“We haven’t received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at FDA to describe our policy or budget issues,” said FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez.
The directive came down on Friday, said The Washington Post, and was met with stunned disbelief by many CDC employees.
“It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’” said one person at the CDC. “In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint.”
“Whether this is a directive from above is not clear,” said former Surgeon Gen. Vivek Murthy. “But for CDC or any agency to be censored or passively made to feel they have to self-censor to avoid retribution — that’s dangerous and not acceptable. The purpose of science is to search for truth, and when science is censored the truth is censored.”