It can be difficult to measure change during challenging years such as 2021, and to know whether we came out better than before. We need only to look at the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the millions of lives lost, or read about ongoing political debates that seem entrenched, or talk to family and friends who are struggling economically, to wonder whether we lost more than we gained.
Yet there was progress as well. Despite new virus variants, vaccination rates are increasing. Not as quickly as many of us would like, but businesses and organizations are making plans to reopen their workplaces. And throughout all these difficulties, there are examples of leaders at the federal, state, and local levels working in bipartisan ways with data to drive thoughtful policy improvements.
I’m happy and proud to note that Pew’s expertise, and the support of our philanthropic partners, has helped many of those efforts. Our evidence-based research and advocacy helped to shape some of the policy advances in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which became law in November. The law invests $65 billion to expand access to high-speed internet by empowering state and local governments to collect data, build partnerships, and follow best practices. Measures to support those officials closest to the problem reflect years of research by Pew and others that finds that funding alone cannot bridge the digital divide.
Similarly, Pew relied on data showing that society saves $6 for every $1 invested in disaster mitigation to advocate that the infrastructure bill boost funding for research focused on making communities more resilient to floods and other natural disasters. We also worked with state leaders and partners to ensure that the act addressed another serious concern: the vehicle collisions with animals that injure or kill tens of thousands of Americans each year. The infrastructure legislation includes $350 million dedicated to building wildlife corridors that allow animals to cross highways unimpeded, saving the lives of the animals—and people. In this issue of Trust, you can read about these and other data-driven accomplishments—on topics from payday loans to public safety—that marked significant changes for good in 2021.
Looking back can help us measure progress. But finding a path to future success is always our priority—often in partnership with other organizations. That’s what we’re doing to help address the global health threat of antibiotic resistance. A recent study by Pew and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 1 in 3 antibiotics prescribed at doctor’s offices and other outpatient settings is unnecessary. The problem persists in hospitals too. This overprescribing of antibiotics is creating drug-resistant superbugs—which, as you’ll read in this issue, the United Nations warns could cause 10 million deaths a year worldwide by 2050.
To help address this challenge, Pew works for the development of stewardship programs to make sure that antibiotics are the right drugs prescribed at the right dose for the right duration of time. We’re also partnering with CARB-X, a global nonprofit, to spur development of new antibacterial therapies. This is critical, because preventing the overuse of current antibiotics is only half the problem. The other half is creating incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics. As Kathy Talkington, who directs Pew’s public health programs, explains, development of a new antibiotic can cost $1.3 billion over 10 to 15 years for a drug that “would ideally be used only when absolutely necessary and in the smallest dose possible.” That leaves drug companies with little incentive to create new ones. So that’s why Pew also supports passage of the PASTEUR Act—federal legislation that would provide financial incentives to drugmakers to ensure that companies receive a sufficient return on investment while minimizing pressure to sell more than is necessary.
We understand the threat of antibiotic resistance. Other challenges come from a simple lack of understanding one another, including how religion and nationhood can be central to a person’s identity. In partnership with the John Templeton Foundation, the Pew Research Center studied this issue in one of the most populous and religiously diverse countries in the world: India. It was the largest single-country survey the Center has conducted outside the United States. Among its many findings—based on face-to-face interviews with almost 30,000 adult Indians speaking 17 languages—is that religious tolerance is core to India’s national identity and what it means to be “truly Indian.”
Neha Sahgal, the Center’s associate director of research, explains: “For Indians, being tolerant of others and valuing tolerance is not antithetical to wanting to live a religiously segregated life.” This tolerant-but-separate model of pluralism is in sharp contrast to the melting pot model that has long characterized how most Americans think of pluralism. Our story, “A Tangle of Tolerance and Segregation,” details the thought-provoking findings of the Center’s study of India and the many ways in which the nation’s numerous cultures and faiths live both separately and side by side.
Although 2021 did not bring an end to the pandemic or many other challenges, it did show that even in a disrupted and evolving America, we can make change for the good. Finding common ground, built on nonpartisan analysis and data, helps us find workable solutions for even our toughest problems and puts us on a path to even greater success.
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