Banning specific words in federal budget requests is invariably a bad look. But it’s especially alarming when a public-health agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shies away from using terms as fundamental to its mission as “science-based” and “evidence-based.”
CDC officials reportedly were directed to avoid those terms in next year’s budget materials, along with the words: “transgender,” “fetus,” “diversity,” “entitlement” and “vulnerable.” CDC officials have denied the existence of an agencywide word ban, saying the guidance extended solely to budget documents.
The gag order may not have been handed down from on high but appears to have been self-imposed by CDC officials themselves worried that certain words could “trigger” members of Congress, thereby endangering the agency’s funding requests.
Either way, it’s a problem.
Both scenarios reflect poorly on the state of politics in our country. One version suggests officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are indifferent about evidence and scientific data when deciding where to direct public spending — a scary proposition for an informed citizenry.
In an alternative scenario, CDC researchers are responding to members of Congress’ demonstrated pattern of disdain for quantitative data and science by pre-emptively stripping any mention of such concepts from their budget requests.
Scientists’ fear of reprisal would not be unfounded. After researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a 2015 paper saying the Earth’s temperatures have risen steadily over the past 20 years — countering the notion of a global warming hiatus — U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, accused the scientists of fabricating data and subpoenaed their emails.
This year, Scott Pruitt, administrator of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, unseated scientists receiving EPA grants from some of the agency’s science advisory boards, replacing them with industry representatives and others who disdain environmental regulations.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to tweet and repeat proven falsehoods — inflating Republicans’ winning record in congressional races, exaggerating crowd sizes and wrongly labeling the United States as one of the world’s highest-taxed nations.
It all adds up to a political culture that regards reality as malleable and fluid, where ideological stances rule over facts. In this version of the world, pesky things like evidence or science can only interfere.
Whatever the origin of the CDC’s list of words that must not be named, it is a symptom of a much larger problem that must be rectified. Scientific evidence is something our elected officials should search out and value, rather than scorn and fear.
Yes, Virginia, one vote really matters
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
One year after a panel of three federal judges upheld Virginia’s law requiring a photo ID to vote, the balance of power in Virginia’s legislature rests on a single vote.
In a recount, Democrat challenger Shelly Simonds won House District 94 race by a final count of 11,608 to 11,607, but a three-judge panel refused to certify the vote Wednesday. It said a ballot that election officials found invalid should have been counted for the Republican incumbent, making the race a tie, which under state law will likely be “settled by lot,” essentially a coin toss.
The result illustrates how much one vote matters. Conversely, it also illustrates how consequential it can be when even a single vote is suppressed by photo ID requirements. A 2014 analysis by the Government Accountability Office of the effect of voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee found turnout dropped 1.9 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively, with likely Democratic voters most affected.
The voters who enabled Simonds to tie a Republican incumbent were part of a Democratic wave that elected a Democratic governor and gave Democrats big gains in the House. Opposition to President Trump has energized Democratic voters, but they are also angry about Republican state legislators who’ve narrowed access to voting and have warped the election results in their favor through gerrymandering.
Those efforts to undermine democracy are being countered by a surge of it, one vote at a time.