OP-ED

Trump, Stalin and the Price of Replacing Science with Ideological B.S.

Donald Trump and many of his closest advisors have been accused of colluding with Russia to win his election as President. We shall see what Robert Mueller and the FBI discover in that regard. But, whatever truth emerges there is no doubt that Trump has ripped a page from a long-dead leader of the Soviet Union, the monster Joseph Stalin, to undercut science in the name of his ideological goals.

Friday the Washington Post reported that a senior leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was told not to use certain words in documents “related to the budget and supporting materials that are to be given to the CDC’s partners and to Congress”. Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta the Post said were given a list of forbidden words at a meeting with senior CDC officials. The seven prohibited words are:

  • Vulnerable
  • Entitlement
  • Diversity
  • Transgender
  • Fetus
  • Evidence-based
  • Science-based

What does Trump’s disgraceful censorship of science by banning words known to be useful, valuable, essential and important have to do with Stalin and Russia? Everything.

Stalin like Trump only wanted to hear scientific words when they confirmed his political beliefs. He did not care if by implementing false news he killed millions of his citizens. Trump with his decision to ban scientific terms in public policy that don’t suit his taste is proudly marching in Uncle Joe’s bloody footsteps.

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was a scientist who spouted the long discredited Larmarckian theory of evolution by acquired characteristics –that environment directly shaped genetic heredity.

Unfortunately for Lysenko and for those living in Russia and the other Soviet republics —Lamarck’s theory of evolution by acquired characteristics was wrong. Darwin’s theory of natural selection accurately explains how plant crops evolve. Joseph Stalin did not give a damn. Lysenko’s nonsense fit nicely into Stalin’s Marxist beliefs about the malleability of humans. When Lysenko promised greater crop yields using Lamarckian nonsense, he listened. Then he made it a state-sanctioned truth. The USSR Academy of Science was told by Stalin and his minions in 1948 to pass a resolution outlawing any biological work that was not based on Lysenko’s ideas. Stalin banned words he disliked just like Trump.

Lysenko’s followers went on to make increasingly grandiose claims regarding crop yields and how to produce new crop species. Not until 1953, after the death of Stalin, did the Soviet government acknowledge that Soviet agriculture had failed to provide the food needed by Russia and the Soviet State. Millions died.

Words matter. Science matters. A lot. Censorship and demands for ideological purity over scientific truth in Russia, Germany, China, North Korea and elsewhere can and have killed hundreds of millions.

Trump has now done worse than collude with a totalitarian regime. He has chosen to emulate the worst of them by putting ideology in the place of science, fabulation as a required substitute for facts, ignorance as a guide to policy over the truth.

No democratic nation can long survive fake science. A diet of lies and denialism will condemn you and your children to a grim, bleak and horrific future. The world we enjoy rests on the back of science. It will collapse if Trump and his allies insist on a foundation built out of ideological bullshit.

 

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25 replies »

  1. “I am”

    Yes, the moronic tweets of an unabashed serial liar are such refreshing transparency.

    “and we get some major anti-trust legislation on the books….”

    Yes, from the Congress who just gave the 1% corporate class their dream tax cut. You must be still hopeful for universal Medicare for all as well.

  2. I am 🙂
    This is by far the most transparent administration, some by choice of Twittering, some not by choice.
    Every check and balance in our system is being exercised and tested repeatedly, and so far so good.
    Lots of things kept under wraps for decades are breaking open….
    No new wars. Economy still standing…
    Could have been better if the GOP wasn’t the party in charge of legislation, but hey, that’s how democracy works….
    Maybe next time 🙂
    Maybe we get a Dem Congress that is interested in getting stuff done more than it’s interested in kvetching about the President, and we get some major anti-trust legislation on the books…. That would be really nice…..

  3. “I choose not to be offended because I prefer rough & tumble democracy to an offense-free system.”

    Then you must be happy with Trump and how he’s advancing “democracy”.

  4. Why scary? Every person who has ever written a budget request (internal or external) engages in precisely this type of literary exercise in flattery and avoidance. It would be dumb, irresponsible and very poor form otherwise.

    Now, you may be offended by the sensibilities of current Congress majorities, but rest assured that people were equally offended by the sensibilities of the previous Congress.
    I choose not to be offended because I prefer rough & tumble democracy to an offense-free system.

  5. I think the CDC should include some necessary words as well:
    God, flat earth, witchcraft, creation, Trump is not a moron, blood letting, Putin, private enterprise, tax cut, more guns.

  6. “But in follow-up reporting, The New York Times cited “a few” CDC officials who suggested the move was not meant as an outright ban, but rather, a technique to help secure Republican approval of the 2019 budget by eliminating certain words and phrases.”

    That’s not scary enough for you Margalit?

  7. Hey y’all, long time no comment here.

    I read the thread. I understand that this may have just been guidance on what not to say so that budget items have a better chance of not getting kneejerk-axed by anti-science idiots. In my view that’s one baby step away from the “thought police” scenario in Caplan’s post.

    As I said on Facebook, “if using words like evidence and science will ENDANGER REPUBLICAN APPROVAL OF THE BUDGET, then I’ve had it anyway. Any party that is opposed to science should only be allowed to send its members to witch doctors when they get sick.”

    Honestly, regardless of what Trump did or didn’t say that led to this, we have to face up to what’s going down in DC. Not allowed to MENTION that there are vulnerable people?

    Remember that a couple of years ago the Texas GOP had an item in its platform banning the teaching of critical thinking skills in public schools! How’s that for forced dumbing-down?

    When it was trumpeted in news reports they said “Hey, how did that get in here???” and yanked it out. Right: I’m SURE the GOP platform is a loosely controlled document.

    Think about this, and re-read Caplan’s post about what happened when Stalin acted in similar ways. And if you want, read the (fairly boring) book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which details (from these 27 boring shrinks’ perspective) the ways Trump’s psyche resembles Stalin’s, Mussolini’s, etc.

    Finish it off with a glass of Pastor Niemoller. Because remember, we’re only at month 11 of this regime. And it ain’t just Trump that’s the problem – if he’s removed from office we still have the rest of that party: the ones who’ll nuke budget items if they have those Words About Actual Reality in them.

  8. My take is that the administration and CDC owe the public a full airing of what ACTUALLY took place. They must be held to account, and allowed to defend their story. The Wash Post would not cavalierly publish Lena Sun’s piece…and she’s a fair journalist of the highest caliber. That said, I’m willing to believe that the truth is a shade different that her story portrayed. Of course, the EPA has been given similar directives to avoid terms Trump and his minions don’t like.

    Meanwhile, on a lighter note….here are 8 words that should never (and probably never will) be applied to Trump: HONEST, INTEGRITY, FAIR-MINDED, EMPATHETIC, ALTRUISTIC, KIND, GENEROUS AND WELL-BALANCED

  9. I am not sure that not being able to use certain words if you want your grant approved, or an outright ban are really all that much different in practice. Still, that is many steps away from Stalin. The proper way to handle this is not with over the top comparisons, but rather to make fun of the people who are anchorage and won approve grants with those words. Give them heck for being too PC.

    Steve

  10. Sorry. I don’t buy it.

    This administration was built by people who say and do things and then realize they miscalculated and then say, “Nope never happened.”

    Did it come from the White House? I doubt it.

    But when your administration puts a political appointee in a position they never have been and they do something that causes a political explosion, you own the resulting mess.

    The mess isn’t the fault of the messenger …

  11. Okay ..

    We’re going to have to do better than the “lady from the CDC says it didn’t happen that way ..”

  12. John, first, the lady from the CDC said it didn’t happen that way.
    Second, the most likely scenario is that somebody probably said something like this: “…hey you guys, if you want your stuff to get a budget, better stay away from words like transgender, diversity, fetus… or whatever could trigger the super-conservatives….”.
    If I were the editor, I would certainly have this reported as a funny, pathetic thing that happened at the CDC…. not as some Armageddon edict from Torquemada himself…. but that’s just me….

  13. But the problem is that it really happened, Margalit.

    The Washington Post reported that the CDC has received a list of words that agency employees have been forbidden from using.

    They didn’t sit around their newsroom dreaming up potentially explosive social media friendly CDC stories. The story came to them.

    It came to them because somebody walked into a meeting and issued an edict.

    If as the newly installed editor of the newspaper, you said, “Well, I don’t think this that big of a deal” and killed that story, what would you be doing?

    You would be filtering the news through your own ideology.

    And you’d be wrong.

  14. Yes, but the Washington Post was successful in it’s mission. Following the article, social media lit up with outrage, other people wrote their own pieces, like the one here, amplifying the outrage, and when the truth eventually comes out, nobody will bother to pay any attention at all.
    This is how the media is operating now, this is how psych manipulation works, and for the life of me I don’t understand how smart and highly educated people have no problem with being toyed with this way.
    This is a deliberate power play. There is no higher purpose here. And even if there was a lofty purpose, the professed ends cannot possibly be achieved by these means. Something will certainly be achieved, but it’s not what you think you’re “fighting” for.

  15. Actually, there is no proof that Trump or anyone in the Trump administration had anything at all to do with this list. In fact, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Michael Halpern: “It is unclear whether the directive came from Trump administration officials or from career staff self-censoring to avoid falling into political traps. Career staff at government agencies often modify language to stop their work from being politicized.” Halpern is “an expert on political interference in science and solutions to reduce suppression, manipulation, and distortion of government science.” The Washington Post was disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst in this piece.

    https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/is-cdc-banning-the-use-of-scientific-words-its-time-for-cdc-director-brenda-fitzgerald-to-speak-up

  16. Studies of gun violence would potentially involve mass casualties. The gun violence Congressional action came from the 2nd amendment folks. The maternal mortality reporting issue had to do with the differences in the data state by state related to the various definitions of a truly maternal related death that existed among the states, AND the fact that many states had truly high rates that they did not want published as in New York, Michigan as well as Mississippi and Georgia. The purest epidemiology statisticians held out, and still do, for totally accurate data. Meanwhile, our nation’s over-all maternal mortality ratio has worsened 25 years in a row. The accuracy issues do not affect the over-all state by state trends, separately or collectively. We would need to reduce it by at least 70% to rank among the 10 OECD nations with the lowest maternal mortality ratio as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). Nothing has changed since the AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA reported its study in 2000. Its pretty grim, by the way.

    True Believers, as insightfully described by Eric Hoffer in 1951, can resist change in odd ways, as evidenced by religious conflict that pervades the recorded history of human survival to this very day.

  17. Unless you have information otherwise, I am pretty sure that the ban on mass casualties was really just a ban on research on gun violence. (I had heard this claim before and that was all I could find.) Good data on maternal mortality rates is, I believe, mostly an issue of funding, not so much an ideologically driven choice.

    Steve

  18. Somehow I remember that the cytoplasm of the initial fertilized ovum originates from a maternal cell. The origins of a person’s innate temperament and homeostasis are probably related to this influence as well as the maternal gestation that exists in its immune-tolerant state for the next 40 weeks.

  19. Ten years ago, we should not forget that studies on the epidemiology of mass casualties by the CDC was banned by Congress. About the same time, there was also a poorly disclosed and orchestrated ban on the release of state by state, maternal mortality data from the CDC. Even now, I have been told that this data (published 10-2016 for 2005-2014) is now in the process of being “redacted.” And, the actual cause(s) of our nation’s mass casualties are vaguely attributed to “foreign influence,” and our worsening maternal mortality ratio (aka rate, wrongly) has no comprehensive explanation.
    .
    We should also not forget our nation’s distant history of research on syphilis, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B (among 7-10 other known instances) that can only be described as immoral and unethical, especially as defined by the Nuremberg Code. The defined list of banned words would seem to fit in with the words of President Thomas Jefferson long ago:

    …I am certainly not an advocate
    …for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions.
    …I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with;
    …because, when once known, we can accommodate ourselves to them,
    …and find practical means of correcting their ill effects.
    …But, I know also, that laws and institutions must go
    …hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes
    …more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made,
    …new truths disclosed, and manner and opinions
    …change with the changes in circumstances,
    …institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.
    …We might as well require a man to wear still the coat
    …which fitted him when a boy, as a civilized society to remain
    …ever under the regiment of their barbarous ancestors.”

    The quotation is permanently enshrined on the inside East Wall of the Jefferson Memorial at the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.

  20. Epigenetics means methyl or ethyl groups are stuck on DNA or histones and affects the rate of transcription of some genes. The environment does this.

    So we do have a little inheritance of acquired characteristics. It rarely is passed to the next generation, bur sometimes it is.

    Genetic information is written in ink in our DNA and is written in pencil in our epigenetic markers.

  21. There are several steps between banning some words and Stalin. I would look at this as conservative political correctness. A particularly stupid form, but still just PC.

    Steve

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