Dec. 18, 2017 – We are concerned deeply by a report that staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were instructed not to use certain words in budget documents. As leaders of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, we are especially stunned that “evidence-based” and “science-based” are reportedly among the barred terms. Evidence-based advice to inform policymakers and public discourse has been the foundation of National Academies’ counsel since the creation of the NAS more than 150 years ago by Abraham Lincoln. Evidence-based advice drove American prosperity, health, and national security throughout the 20th century, and continues to do so today.
If it is true that the terms “evidence-based” and “science-based” are being censored, it will have a chilling effect on U.S. researchers – who may question whether their advice is still welcome – as well as on the quality of the counsel actually rendered to government. Other supposedly banned words – “diversity,” “entitlement,” “fetus,” “transgender,” and “vulnerable” – are equally important to the CDC research portfolio, and banning them is turning our backs to today’s reality. Such a directive would be unprecedented and contrary to the spirit of scientific integrity that all federal departments embrace. Although the guidance to CDC staff to not use certain words reportedly pertained to budget documents, it also sends a dangerous message that CDC’s broader research and public health mission could be unduly politicized as well.
President, National Academy of Sciences
C. D. (Dan) Mote, Jr.
President, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine