How CDC word ban could 'cause many more people to get sick and die'

  • The Trump administration banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from using seven words, including "evidence-based" and "science-based" in their budget reports.
  • Such censorship would impede the agency from accurately describing issues facing its constituents.
  • So what would happen if the CDC is unable to make accurate recommendations and implement effective public health policy? Simple: people will get sick and die.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tami Chappell | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

Do you want your medical treatment to be based on science? The Trump administration disagrees. It banned the top U.S. public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from using seven words, including "evidence-based" and "science-based" in preparing official documents for 2018's budget.

Prominent public health advocates including Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, have expressed outrage about these measures.

Such censorship is a direct blow at the essence of science: accurately describing the physical world around us. Science is the best method that we as human beings have of figuring out the truth of reality, and wishing away the facts by trying to substitute them with "alternative facts" will greatly impede scientific progress.

Moreover, these measures will cause many more people to get sick and die. After all, how can the CDC implement effective public health interventions if it cannot use terms like "evidence-based" and "science-based" in its official budget documents?

To be clear, the CDC cannot get around this censorship by using terminology like "based on scientific studies." In fact, the Trump administration directed the CDC to replace "science-based" and "evidence-based" with "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

So apparently it wants doctors to shift away from treating people based on the best scientific research, and instead move toward the fuzzy standard of "community wishes."

Unfortunately, "community members" - are too easily fooled by false but emotionally appealing claims. For instance, the homeopathy industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Homeopathy is based on the false claim of the benefit of super-diluted substances and the principle of "like cures like."

"Such censorship is a direct blow at the essence of science: accurately describing the physical world around us."

While it has been debunked by hundreds of studies, people still want to believe in magic-like cures. Homeopathy is not harmless, yet despite the fact that it regularly harms or even kills people, only recently has the federal government taken steps to address this problem. Unfortunately, under the new guidelines, these steps may be rolled back, and the CDC may have to take homeopathy "under consideration."

For another example, consider the false claim that vaccines cause autism. This belief is spread widely across the US, and leads to many people failing to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles. While measles was practically eliminated in the US by 2000, in recent years outbreaks of measles have been on the rise in the U.S., driven by parents failing to vaccinate their children in a number of communities.

Donald Trump has frequently expressed the false view that vaccines cause autism, and we should be very concerned about this being one of the "community wishes" taken under consideration.

So what would happen if the CDC is unable to make accurate recommendations and implement effective public health policy? Simple: people will get sick and die. The diseases and deaths will come from among the most vulnerable. Hundreds of babies have already died due to taking homeopathic medications which were not vetted by the Food and Drug Administration. 2017 has seen the largest measles outbreak in the US, which mainly impacts children and babies.

Many more children and babies will get sick and die as a direct result of the Trump administration's censorship of science. However, these deaths will not be visible, just like the hundreds of thousands of deaths from pollution every year in the US are not visible. Because it is very, very difficult to trace an individual's death to a specific polluter, the polluters get off scot-free with killing thousands of people every year.

The Trump administration has already taken many steps that will result in thousands more people dying from pollution every year by rolling back government protections on pollution. Its steps in censoring the science on public health will result in many, many more children, babies, and adults getting sick and dying.

Yet because it will be incredibly difficult to trace a specific baby's death to the Trump administration's censorship, it will also get off scot-free.

Fortunately, the scientific community is working hard to push back against this proposed ban. Hopefully, their efforts will prevent the deadly costs of this dangerous censorship.

Commentary by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an assistant professor at Ohio State University. He is also the author of The Truth-Seeker's Handbook: A Science-Based Guide, president of the nonprofit Intentional Insights, co-founder of the Pro-Truth Pledge. Follow him on Twitter @Gleb_Tsipursky.

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