Following the Trump twists, turns
One of President Donald Trump’s most fascinating recent linguistic misadventures has been his presumed push to extinguish certain buzzwords and phrases.
As soon as news reports complained that he was behind the move to ban phrases like “evidence-based” and “science-based” from the lexicon of the Centers for Disease Control, knee-jerk anti-Trump memes began circulating in protest against the administrative exile of these words. Meme posters wore the social media word banners like flags of a noble rebellion.
Let me make one thing clear — I am against political censorship.
At the same time, I have come to believe that selective outrage is foolish. Especially when it is automatic.
If President Trump is truly the author of this censorship, then it is yet another skewed effort to right some wrongs. In the pantheon of administrative wrongs, though, let’s put this in its place. Is this the worst thing Trump has (possibly) done?
Well, have you seen his abysmal cabinet?
But in the Food for Thought Department, his slate of not-so-regular Americans very much resembles President Obama’s cabinet of obscenely wealthy, powerful, and unrecognizable Americans.
In either case, the paucity of concern for the un-entitled and vulnerable is sweepingly stark.
Truth be told, I can’t be terribly shocked if Trump opposes certain turns of phrase. Take “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Questing scientific research and inquiry are essential to human comfort and improvement of life on planet earth. Evidence is a crucial component of all decisions and policies.
Nobody disputes the inherent goodness of those.
But the twists and turns of linguistic evolution bring subtle changes to the lexical landscape, so subtle that even intelligent, rational, reasonable people can’t see the spin insinuated into perfectly good terms. All it takes is hyphenating two words into a phrase, repeating it in the right context to a targeted group of people, and voila — a buzz phrase is born.
Is it science and evidence that Trump opposes? It is easy to make that argument based on some of his executive orders and policy priorities-aspects of a mixed bag of agenda items. But in this case, given the vast difference between the good guys-science and evidence-and the spun-out bogeymen their hyphenated cousins have become in a landscape of corporatized agendas, it’s hard to find indignation.
The problem is that the buzzwords have been appropriated by commerce and celebrity science, both of which have been distorting facts longer than Trump has been a political figure. Look at the numerous drug ads that have permeated television programming for years. All of them are “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Questioning their foundational research is heresy. But here’s another piece of evidence: opioids were once prescribed on a foundation of science-based research too. So too every drug for which there are now class-action lawsuits.
Many reasonable people rely on the evidence-based claims of celebrity scientists-medical practitioners with major network contracts and superstars like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Consider the evidence. Bill Nye is a mechanical engineer who possesses expertise in mechanical engineering. Except for that, he has the same base of knowledge everybody has. How is it, then, that he is the go-to guru for every field from astronomy to geology to biology?
Tyson carries heavier credentials with his honest-to-goodness doctorate in astrophysics. Which makes him an expert in astrophysics. Yet somehow, he is also a spokesman for big agriculture-a trusted name in the field of genetically-modified food, a subject in which he carries absolutely no credentials or expertise. DeGrasse Tyson straddles two worlds; he is a scientist, and he plays one on TV as well.
The entertainment lineup of medical practitioners and science spokesmen with lucrative corporate contracts gives heft to the buzzwords. If a lesser-known name offers contradictory evidence and research, the reasonable crowd will find safe harbor in the unreasonable reassurances of celebrity scientists bearing soothing buzzwords.
There is one underlying truth that emerges out of Trump’s admittedly clumsy lingo tango. Science and evidence are tools of a thinking mind. Buzzwords, on the other hand, tell us what to think.
That’s a line that deserves to be drawn.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org