Sunday, December 17, 2017

Science Says

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity
Now, to be sure, I'm not certain that this story is everything it's cracked up to be. The information comes from a "CDC analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly." Of course, one wonders why "hey people, don't use these words in budget documents" would effectively be classified (after all, unless the documents in question are classified, people would start noticing the omissions), but we live in a world where any group of people larger than two has apparently world-shattering secrets. But for whatever reason, we have an anonymouse scurrying to the press to reveal supposed inner workings of the Trump Administration.

I'm fairly certain when I see this story in my social media feeds, it's going to effectively be marked with "this is something that aligns with my prejudices." And what makes it interesting is that you can align it to Liberal and Conservative sensibilities. On the Liberal side, there will be shoutrage; how dare the Trump Administration attempt to muzzle scientists for political purposes! The word "censorship" is already being thrown around, although there aren't any legal, or even administrative, punishments threatened in the piece for analysts who don't comply. On the Conservative side, there is also likely to be some shouting. The Washington Post article is fairly clearing disapproving, and Red America will likely response with "what's wrong with the standards and wishes of the community?" In this, it becomes a two-fer. The Trump administration shows that it cares for what communities (of Trump voters) want and it shows the "Mainstream Media" as biased yet again. So one could make the case that the leaker could be on either side.

The most interesting bit of this is the: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” part. Because it speaks to (and fits into people's prejudices about) the relationship between conservative communities, especially religiously conservative communities, and scientific institutions. For many religious conservatives, the Bible is more than a book of scriptures, it's a history of the world and a basis for all understanding of right and wrong (the parts of it that comport with what they actually want to do, anyway). Which isn't a problem in itself. It's when those two things become linked, as in "if the Bible isn't an accurate historical document, then its teachings of right and wrong are irrelevant," that the problem begins. While one can decide that the story of Adam, Eve and their sons is suspect in places (So... if Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve's two children, how did Cain find a wife and where did enough people to build a city in the land of Nod come from?) for many people the broader point is that the Judeo/Christian/Moslem God created the first people as separate from all the animals. Evolution, which argues against the specific creation of individual species, including humans, undermines, this. In some quarters, this is taken to mean that the scientific community has fallen for a ruse set by a supernatural adversary to lead people away from God. In others it's taken as proof that the scientific community is in on the deception.

The linking of science to the Culture Wars is unsurprising. The scientific method and academic studies often come to conclusions that undermine traditional understandings of the world at large, and to the degree that long-standing policy was based on a given traditional understanding, proponents of change (especially those who saw change as progress) looked to science as a "value neutral" means of demonstrating that theirs was the proper understanding of the world, and that policy needed to be changed, the current standards and/or wishes of the community involved be hanged. As science more and more came to be seen as having taken the "liberal" side of the culture war debate, a certain conservative distrust for scientists began to develop. This supposed Trump Administration edict, which supposes to prevent liberals using the scientific community to push "agendas" on unwilling communities by simply saying, "What you want doesn't matter, because science," can be viewed as the Trump Administration stepping in to protect the desires of people who don't like to consider things settled until their buy-in has been obtained.

The thing about culture war victories like this, however, is that they are fleeting. After all, the Trump Administration won't be office forever, and do the degree that it mollifies supporters and causes crises in opponents, it sows the seeds of a Democratic successor, who would simply rescind whatever ban was in place. And so the fight will go on, regardless of the outcome of this alleged skirmish.

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