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Faye Flam

A Seven-Word Mystery at the CDC

That viral story of censorship at a public health agency may have been too good -- or outrageous -- to be true.


Photographer: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It now appears the rumor that the government was banning the term “evidence-based” from the Centers for Disease Control was itself not entirely evidence-based. The very thought of the U.S. government banning words -- any words -- is shocking. Over the weekend, outrage spread through the media like wildfire through California. Many people judged this alleged threat to the concept of evidence to be far too serious to warrant waiting for evidence. 

It all apparently started with The Washington Post reporting on Friday that an unnamed “analyst” had said that, at a meeting last Thursday, unnamed officials told CDC workers that they were “banned” from the use of seven words: entitlement, diversity, vulnerable, transgender, science-based, evidence-based and fetus. The story and others that cribbed from it were short on the who, what, when, where and (especially) why, but tried to make up for it comments from important people expressing their thoughts on the matter.