Language, Science, and Politics: The Politicization of Public Health

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On December 16, 2017, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and Prevention (CDC) staff were instructed not to use 7 words in its 2019 budget appropriation request: diversity, transgender, vulnerable, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based. These basic phrases are intrinsic to public health. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offered alternative word choices, such as by modifying “evidence-based” with “community standards and wishes” and using “unborn child” instead of “fetus.

HHS repudiated reports that it banned words as a “complete mischaracterization,” but rather was guiding CDC toward a successful congressional request. The National Academy Presidents issued a joint statement saying HHS guidance could impede research and “the quality of counsel rendered to government.” This Viewpoint explains why HHS’ budget advice undermines science and ethics—even if it is lawful.

Publication Citation

Lawrence O. Gostin, Language, Science, and Politics: The Politicization of Public Health, 319 JAMA 541-542 (2018).