CDC director defends agency over reports it bans "dirty words"

"Dirty words" backlash

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is defending her agency following a report that it compiled a list of seven "dirty words" that should not be used when asking Congress for money.

The seven words that sparked outrage are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based and "science-based." CBS News has learned that budget analysts at the CDC were told to consider avoiding those words in order to get the broadest congressional support for funding. That advice came from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald quickly refuted reports that the CDC was banned from using those terms, tweeting out, "I assure you there are no banned words."

A federal official told CBS News that this was simply guidance provided to people that write budget proposals and was not out of the ordinary. 

But Kathleen Sebelius, who was head of HHS from 2009 to 2014, has her doubts. 

"I don't know how you talk about maternal and child health without using the word 'fetus,'" Sebelius said. "I hope it doesn't send some of the competent, talented people out the door, adding that it's "a very troubling message, not just to the CDC but to the American public about public health."

During the CDC's recent budget meeting, an alternative to "science-based" or "evidence based" was suggested: "[The] CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes."

That raises a question: What happens if a community standard -- such as opposing immunization -- is not "science-based"?

  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook