The White House Gave the CDC a List of Forbidden Words — Including “Evidence-Based”

Forbidden Words

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly received a list from the Trump administration on Dec. 14 consisting of seven words or phrases that will be banned in all official documents prepared for 2018’s budget. Many in the U.S., both those who work in public health and concerned citizens alike, are struggling to come to grips with the nature of the terms that are being censored.

The seven forbidden words or phrases are: “evidence-based,” “science-based,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” Regarding the ban on using “evidence-based” or “science-based,” the White House suggested the alternative: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

The wordy stand-in would require the CDC to allow the personal and emotional wants of the public to influence scientific-based decisions surrounding human health. Other banned words did not even have a suggested replacement.

It doesn’t seem logical or likely that scientists will halt future experimentation and studies until the public weighs in with personal opinions on the evidence. Why, then, must the language change?

The current administration has shown considerably less confidence in peer-reviewed science as a foundation for decision-making than past administrations, as evidenced by the recent, growing divide between science and government. One such controversial move was the  Trump administration’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement — a science-based document through which countries pledged to work towards specific climate goals.

Removing Science From the Conversation

It’s not clear yet how the CDC will proceed in terms of these banned phrases’ potential to complicate their research efforts. Aside from the blatant refusal of scientific, evidence-based recommendations or studies to be mentioned or discussed directly, many of the banned words could also drastically affect research and health. While “transgender” and “vulnerable” may not seem like scientific terminology to everyone, they are essential for discussing significant public-health issues faced by the U.S. today.

For example, the CDC has partnered with other organizations to research ways to better reduce the levels HIV and other health concerns experienced specifically by transgender individuals. Additionally, the CDC will be hard-pressed to explore potential birth defects caused by Zika virus without studying, or so much as discussing, the health of fetuses.

In the Footsteps of Zika: The Next Critter-Borne Viruses [INFOGRAPHIC]
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According to these new rules, the CDC cannot propose a budget in which evidence-based or science-based research is explicitly completed. They also cannot support the health and survival of transgender people, a staggering percentage of which attempt suicide or are assaulted. Additionally, the budget cannot include research, or even so much as discuss, the word fetus — eliminating preventative health measures, life-saving research, and a more general support of women’s healthcare.

A budget that excludes the banned words is a budget that does not take the realities of science or health into account for health-oriented scientific research and care. It is a contradictory move on every level.

It is not yet clear how the CDC will handle or explicitly respond to this move. But if the CDC truly cannot use these words moving forward, then its scientists will not be able to do their jobs researching heart disease and cancer, preventing infectious disease outbreaks, and other threats to public health.

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Net Neutrality Has Been Destroyed. Here’s What Happens Next.

Fighting to Keep Net Neutrality

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality in a very close 3-2 decision. Without net neutrality, there’s nothing stopping Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from controlling how people use the internet, and which websites they’re allowed to see and use. Companies big and small may have to pay ISPs like Comcast and Spectrum an exorbitant amount of money to ensure their products, services, and operations aren’t slowed down.

Some state lawmakers and attorney generals aren’t letting net neutrality go without a fight, however. Following the FCC’s decision, politicians from California, New York, and Washington released statements explaining their support of net neutrality, and their plans going forward. some will sue the FCC, while others will move to enforce net neutrality in their states.

In a post published to Medium, California State Senator Scott Wiener stated he’s working to introduce new legislation requiring net neutrality in the state. Working together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and other organizations, they’re exploring the ways open to them, and will draft a bill they aim to introduce in 60 days.

“California can regulate business practices to require net neutrality, condition state contracts on adhering to net neutrality, and require net neutrality as part of cable franchise agreements, as a condition to using the public right-of-way for internet infrastructure, and in broadband packages,” said Wiener.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released a statement calling the FCC’s decision “a blow to New York consumers,” and an “early Christmas present” to ISPs that enables them to put their own interests above their customers’. In retaliation, Schneiderman is seeking to sue the rollback of net neutrality before it’s finalized.

“This is not just an attack on the future of our internet,” said Schneiderman. “It’s an attack on all New Yorkers, and on the integrity of every American’s voice in government – and we will fight back.”

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also published a statement criticizing the FCC, revealing he sent the organization a letter asking for the vote to be delayed, though it was seemingly ignored. Alongside other attorney generals in the U.S., Ferguson intends to file a legal challenge, arguing the FCC violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

“Allowing internet service providers to discriminate based on content undermines a free and open internet. [The FCC’s] action will seriously harm consumers, innovation and small businesses.”

Expected Consequences

Yesterday, we asked several experts and prominent voices in business and media what they thought of the FCC’s move to repeal net neutrality. Universally, everyone believed the decision would work against consumers and would only help ISPs. The argument could be made that the absence of net neutrality will breed competition between companies and lead to better services, but as Florian Schaub, professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, perfectly explains, such an outcome is not guaranteed.

“The notion that competition between ISPs will ensure open and cheap access to the internet is just wishful thinking on part of the FCC given that, in most parts of the United States, people have no choice from which ISP they get their internet connection,” said Schaub to Futurism.

As for the attorney generals, state senators, and their plans, they may not lead to the desired results. As CNET explains, when the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, it also reclassified broadband internet as an “interstate information service,” meaning it can’t be regulated as if it was a utility like electricity and water, and states can’t introduce new laws to keep previous regulations around.

“The order makes plain that broadband will be subject to a uniform, national framework that promotes investment and innovation,” CNET reports Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly saying in a statement. “Broadband service is not confined to state boundaries and should not be constrained by a patchwork of state and local regulations.”

It’s undoubtedly going to be a fight to correct the FCC’s latest actions, as it’s largely expected to change the internet as we know it. If nothing is done as soon as possible, it’s likely we’ll see numerous changes to our lives for the next few years.

As Blake Reid, professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Law School University, explained to Futurism yesterday: “if the approach adopted by the Commission today stands in the long-term, I fear tremendous harm to the economic, technological, and democratic pillars of our society that now have their foundations in free and open access to the internet.”

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Climate Change Is Increasing Forest Fires, and the Cost Will Be Huge

The skyrocketing cost of putting out this year’s record-breaking forest fires in British Columbia is serving as a stark warning about the economic toll of climate change.

Fire-related expenses averaged $ 182 million between 2006 and 2016, but in the first nine months of this year, more than $ 500 million was spent fighting the flames, while costs associated with reconstruction and other damages remain unknown.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the region’s two biggest forest fires alone caused more than $ 127 million in insurance damage.

So can we attribute the fires — and therefore these costs — to climate change? While scientists agree that the factors at play are disparate, including changes in land use, vegetation composition, and natural climate variability, evidence is mounting that climate change is now driving the worrying trend.

A 2016 study published in PLOS estimated that under a high emission scenario, the cost of fire management in Canada could reach $ 1.4 billion per year by the end of the century, an increase of 119% compared to the average spent between 1980 and 2009. With this year’s forest fires exceeding even the most pessimistic forecasts, those grim economic projections look like they may become reality.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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And the problem is not unique to Canada.

“Human caused ignitions, warmer temperatures, dry and wet spells, and accumulation of fuels are some of the factors contributing to longer wildfire seasons, increases in the number of large and long-duration fires, and more severe effects from the wildfires,” said Paul Steblein, fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “Such conditions — along with the wildfires that accompany them — are likely to increase in the future.”

After a five-year drought, California has been devastated by over 50,000 fires, burning 8.9 million acres of land. According to the California Department of Insurance, as of October 2017, insured losses accounted for more than $ 3 billion.

“The number is sure to grow, as more claims are coming,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “The insured losses only tell part of the tragic story of the October fires. We must remember that 43 people lost their lives and behind every insurance claim is someone who has lost their home, their business, and their precious memories. It will take years for these communities to recover and rebuild.”

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