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?




Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

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

  1. Hi Emily – I love the way you’ve been following this and have been putting all the pieces together. I guess being on the forefront of the receiving end, you’ve had to be. I’m wondering if you have a piece that you’ve written (or know of one that someone else has written) that gives a sort of summary/Intro 101 to the issues of student privacy, “personalized”/”competency based” learning, “social emotional learning”, data tracking/mining, etc. Thanks!


  2. Hey Emily,
    This is Stef!!! Hope you are doing well!! I’m off facebook but would love to touch base with you. Is there a chance you can privately e-mail me?


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