ANA Responds to Reported CDC Word Ban

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Dear Director Mulvaney and Acting Secretary Hargan:

As the premier professional society of academic neurologists and neuroscientists devoted to advancing the goals of academic neurology, the American Neurological Association was deeply concerned by the news reported in the December 16 Washington Post that the Trump administration may be prohibiting the use of specific words that enable the CDC to effectively communicate its needs and goals in budgetary documents. We are writing to express our strong opposition to any action taken by the government to impede the life-saving research conducted by the CDC in this way.

Our membership, as well as many of our peer organizations representing researchers and clinicians, share the CDC’s goals of conducting research, providing resources, and delivering care that improve health outcomes worldwide. To achieve these objectives, scientists must be confident that their ability to secure funding will not be jeopardized by a political agenda. Any censorship – or even stated preferences – of scientific vocabulary in CDC documents is a threat to scientific progress, and therefore, to the safety and wellbeing of the American people.

Inhibiting the work of one of our nation’s most valuable centers of health research by restricting the language used to communicate their budgetary needs is a dangerous precedent to set. While some reports indicate that the directive from the Department of Health and Human Services was not a “word ban” but rather a set of recommendations to bolster a budget document against congressional scrutiny, the implications are the same: a government body is incentivizing researchers to skew scientific realities to appease political sensibilities. Encouraging this self-censorship, even indirectly, creates an environment in which scientific thought is compromised by the need for funding.  

It is our hope that the HHS responds to these public concerns by affirming that scientific research will be protected from political impediments, and that the department will explain how it plans to safeguard our essential health institutions in the future.

Sincerely,

David M. Holtzman, MD
President, The American Neurological Association