Words matter. Even more in public health policies

Policy facts

The editorial entitled Dangerous words published on The Lancet starts stating that “Medicine is underpinned by both art and science. Art that relies upon strong therapeutic relationships with patients and populations. And science that brings statistical rigour to clinical and public health practice”. This statement introduces the decision of Trump administration to ban words like health equity, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based from government documents for the US$7 billion budget discussions about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


A Health and Human Services’ spokesperson stated that “science should always drive the narrative […] recent media reports appear to be based on confusion that arose when employees misconstrued guidelines”. Moreover, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine observed that “such a directive would be unprecedented and contrary to the spirit of scientific integrity”. One Twitter user tweeted on January 6, 2018: "Dangerous words to be banned from US government documents" - The absurdity of this initiative is just overboard. How can truth and progress be discussed without these words?”

Food for thought

The editorial continues saying that “The disenfranchisement of people and perversion of science undermines trust in government and places the health of Americans at risk”. It also claims that a collaborative response is needed from within the USA, as well as “from health leaders around the globe, particularly from WHO, whose constitution specifies a government's responsibility for the health of its people, recognizes the importance of research, and calls for all necessary action to attain the objective of the organisation”.


ASSET experts performed a semantic analysis in order to understand to what extent ethical issues are dealt within the national pandemic preparedness plans. This study detected the lack of Science-in-Society issues, such as ethics, gender and participatory governance that, as it has been proved according to the project experience, are of great relevance in case of epidemics and pandemics. Conversely, based on the concerns expressed in the Lancet article mentioned above, it is arguable that if words matter in defining policies in general, they are even more significant to express specific concepts in public health programs. Going further into such reasoning and applying it to the relationship between science and politics, that perspective is easily retrievable in most public health actions, or at least it should be the main driver. Since 80’s, for example, the CDC Behavioural Risk Factors Surveillance System (BRFSS) monitors both the temporal and the geographical trends for several health-related behaviours in the population with the final aim of “turning information into actions”. Moreover, science communication (in its widest spectrum) is in charge of becoming the joining link in a chain that goes from science and research to public health policies.

MMLAP and other EU Projects

Health system analysis to support capacity development in response to the threat of pandemic influenza in Asia
Making society an active participant in water adaptation to global change
Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation
Engaging all of Europe in shaping a desirable and sustainable future
Expect the unexpected and know how to respond
Driving innovation in crisis management for European resilience
Effective communication in outbreak management: development of an evidence-based tool for Europe
Solutions to improve CBRNe resilience
Network for Communicable Disease Control in Southern Europe and Mediterranean Countries
Developing the framework for an epidemic forecast infrastructure
Strengthening of the national surveillance system for communicable diseases
Surveillance of vaccine preventable hepatitis
European monitoring of excess mortality for public health action
European network for highly infectious disease
Dedicated surveillance network for surveillance and control of vaccine preventable diseases in the EU
Modelling the spread of pandemic influenza and strategies for its containment and mitigation
Cost-effectiveness assessment of european influenza human pandemic alert and response strategies
Bridging the gap between science, stakeholders and policy makers
Promotion of immunization for health professionals in Europe
Towards inclusive research programming for sustainable food innovations
Addressing chronic diseases and healthy ageing across the life cycle
Medical ecosystem – personalized event-based surveillance
Studying the many and varied economic, social, legal and ethical aspects of the recent developments on the Internet, and their consequences for the individual and society at large
Get involved in the responsible marine research and innovation
Knowledge-based policy-making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, mainly based upon the practices in Parliamentary Technology Assessment
Assessment of the current pandemic preparedness and response tools, systems and practice at national, EU and global level in priority areas
Analysis of innovative public engagement tools and instruments for dynamic governance in the field of Science in Society
Public Engagement with Research And Research Engagement with Society
Computing Veracity – the Fourth Challenge of Big Data
Providing infrastructure, co-ordination and integration of existing clinical research networks on epidemics and pandemics
Promote vaccinations among migrant population in Europe
Creating mechanisms for effectively tackling the scientific and technology related challenges faced by society
Improve the quality of indoor air, keeping it free from radon
Improving respect of ethics principles and laws in research and innovation, in line with the evolution of technologies and societal concerns
Investigating how cities in the West securitise against global pandemics
Creating a structured dialogue and mutual learning with citizens and urban actors by setting up National Networks in 10 countries across Europe
Identifying how children can be change agents in the Science and Society relationship
Establishing an open dialogue between stakeholders concerning synthetic biology’s potential benefits and risks
Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence