CNN hosts a scientist to explain why Trump’s government agencies banning words is dangerous and anti-science

Rush Holt: “This epidemic of neglect of evidence is really serious because if you want policies and regulations that work, they should be based on our best understanding of how things are”

From the December 18 edition of CNN's New Day:

Video file

ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): What's wrong with words like “transgender” and “fetus” and “vulnerable?”

RUSH HOLT: Nothing's wrong with the words. The problem comes in excising them. A lot of people have been calling this Orwellian. The head of the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], Dr. [Brenda] Fitzgerald, said, oh, no, we're not doing that. And a spokesperson said, well, this is just a mischaracterization. Well, all I can tell you is somebody said something that got word to the employees that they should not use these words in budget documents. So there's a -- that creates self-censorship at least. But it's --

CAMEROTA: Yeah, and just out of curiosity, what happens -- I mean, let's pretend that they stop using these words like “fetus.” I mean, I don't know how -- I don't know what other word use you use for “transgender.” I don't know what other words you can substitute for some of these things like “vulnerable” and “science-based.” But let's say they stop using those words. What's the upshot? What's the danger in not using these?

HOLT: There is a serious side here. Of course, most people, when they heard this, they just laughed. How ridiculous. Some talked about George Carlin's trenchant seven dirty words.

CAMEROTA: Seven dirty words. It does hearken back to the seven dirty words that you can't say on TV. It sounds like this is taken from that page.

HOLT: It reminded me of something I haven't read for years. But I remember in Catch-22, the World War II farce by Joseph Heller, the censors of letters from the war front would one day censor all nouns. The next day, they would censor all verbs. The day after that, they would censor all adverbs and adjectives. And this might be called a farce if we weren't in the middle of an epidemic. It's ironic, this is the Center for Disease Control. They look at epidemics. 


HOLT: Well, the epidemic I'm talking about is a widespread negligent attitude towards science, neglect of evidence, where people far and wide seem very comfortable substituting wishful thinking and opinion and ideology for evidence. 

CAMEROTA: I mean, and also we should mention that because I assume you're basing that on the idea of the reports that they had removed “climate change,” those words, from EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] documents and website. 

HOLT: And removing questions from various surveys. It's -- the State Department said instead of saying “sex ed,” sexual education, you should talk about “sexual risk avoidance.” So, this epidemic of neglect of evidence is really serious because if you want policies and regulations that work, they should be based on our best understanding of how things are. 


HOLT: And that's what science is. Science is a way of asking questions so that we can get our best sense of how things actually are. 

CAMEROTA: Yes, and in general, also in the United States, we don’t ban words.


CAMEROTA: So away from that sort of bureaucratic speak, the way I understand their argument is that what they say is that the terms “evidence-based” and “science-based” have been used so often that they're almost -- they're virtually meaningless now. So they're going to phrase it differently because these have become catch words. 

HOLT: Some of these words that were flagged -- “fetus,” “transgender” -- suggest that there's an ideological -- there's ideology creeping in here. And ideology is the enemy of evidence-based thinking. Evidence-based thinking is the antidote for the kind of thinking that is not based on how things actually are. And so it's hard enough to make evidence-based decisions without having the very idea disparaged.


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