Why The Ban on “Evidence-Based” Is More Orwellian Than you Think

By now, you’ve likely heard the bizarre news that the Trump Administration has asked the CDC to avoid using certain words in their upcoming budget documents.

While the details are sketchy, one thing is certain: a list of seven emotionally-charged words are now flying across the web, provoking all sorts of responses on social media.

Before you go ahead and bumper-sticker your car with these terms in protest, however, you may want to take a closer look at one phrase in particular:


Of all the words included in the list, this one seems to be causing some of the most ire.

If “evidence-based” is one of the seven forbidden words, the thinking goes, surely it must be because Trump is anti-science.

Evidence is evidence, is it not?  Objective, rational… true?

How much more Orwellian can you get than a ban on truth?

Unfortunately, this is where it all gets more twisted than you may realize.

In recent years, “evidence-based” has become one of the phrases du jour of the banking elite.

Though the public remains mostly in the dark, banks like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs are busy developing “innovative” financial tools that put public services in private hands.  And these tools, which include social impact bonds and “Pay for Success” contracts, rely on privately-developed “what works” clearinghouses, designed to serve as menus of “evidence-based” social services for investors to choose from.

(See below for a thorough explanation.)


In many cases, however, “evidence-based” doesn’t have much of anything to do with truth or objectivity.

Instead, evidence-based means data-based, and data, it turns out, can mean just about anything that gives investors higher rates of return.

In some cases, the results can be devastating.

Currently, a “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy” bill sits in the Senate that will launch these new financial tools into overdrive by ramping up data-collection on virtually every public service that exists.

Perhaps because I have a three-year-old and am well aware of how useful reverse psychology can be, it all makes me wonder if that’s really what’s going on here.

Trump’s cabinet, after all, is filled with former Goldman Sachs bankers, and Goldman is at the forefront of the move toward  “evidence-based” (again, we’re talking data-based) social capital markets.

What better way to drum up support for the “evidence-based policy” bill than by pissing everyone off with a totally off-the-wall word ban and getting the term trending on Twitter?

I’m not saying to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Evidence does matter.

But let’s be real:  if I can mess with my three-year-old’s mind to get him to put on his sneakers, don’t you think it may have crossed their minds to mess with you to get you to support their multi-billion dollar plans?




Misery Money

I remember the day A.J. first drew a portrait of me.

We were supposed to be doing math, but that year, we almost never did what we were supposed to be doing.

It was my first year teaching, and I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow (for reasons I am only just now beginning to understand) the City of New York deemed it reasonable to put a twenty-two year-old with no background in education at the helm of a special education class for children who were, according to their IEP’s, “severely emotionally disturbed.”

For the first few months, I spent most of my time watching in disbelief as the kids threw punches at one another, screamed curse words at me, and even, once or twice, held scissors to my neck for a few terrifying minutes.

A.J., ordinarily distracted (watchful, really) by every movement in the classroom, was meticulous as he drew his picture of me.

He drew my ponytail, the polka-dotted blouse I had on that day, my flats.  He even made a smile and rosy cheeks, which delighted me.

But then, inexplicably, a flare of anger flashed across his eyes.

Beside the portrait, he drew a car.

Then, he flipped his pencil around and vigorously began to erase the image he’d made of me, so hard that the paper tore.

Turning his paper ninety degrees, he then drew me a second time – just as meticulously – but this time lying flat beside the car.

Finally, he took a red crayon and scribbled imaginary blood across the picture.

When he was done, he ripped the entire piece of paper into a hundred pieces and, without saying a word, threw them in the trash.

I watched the whole thing without saying a word either – dumbfounded and horrified.

I spent the next three years in the same classroom, looping with the kids from third all the way to fifth grade.

And things did get better over time.

A.J and the others slowly decided to trust me, and then eventually even to like me.

I have a whole folder full of pictures that A.J. drew for me over those three years, and most of them aren’t bloody.  In some, we are even hugging.

But, even with all the time we spent together, I think I only barely glimpsed just how far and deep and wide the pain of some children can be.


Nationwide, there is a movement afoot to focus on the “social and emotional” needs of students, and teachers – many like me, who know the hurt and brokenness of so many children – are falling for it left and right.

But it makes me feel sick to my stomach, in part because it is filled with insanely terrible ideas.

For example, there is a push to give kids digital, game-based avatars that they can use (for a fee) to “practice” social skills.

I’m serious.

There really are people out there – powerful, absurdly wealthy people – who think that the best way to help hurting kids like A.J. is to isolate them on a computer, ask them to choose “thought options” from a drop-down menu, and then to collect data on their “growth.”

Ultimately, the goal is to monetize the “evidence” they’ve gathered.

If you think I’ve lost my mind, or if none of this makes sense to you, I implore you to watch this short video from a fellow blogger:

The packaging is glamorous, and they know all the right words to pull on your heart strings.

But the product is the same as it so often is: a gimmick designed to exploit our most vulnerable populations.

A.J., and millions of kids like him, don’t need digital avatars. They don’t need drop-down thought-menus to choose from while they are plugged in, alone, to an electronic device.  And they don’t need data-wells built on their backs that are designed to make the rich even richer.

What they need are grown-ups – like us – to demand that the exploitation stops.