CommonWealth commentary pieces in 2022 poked at conventional wisdom and those in power
From taking on public health messaging on COVID to blistering ‘Warren Democrats,’ opinion writers challenged our thinking
Too often, opinion pages seem like predictable platforms, where already widely-held views of readers are simply amplified. While it can feel reassuring to nod along with commentaries that confirm your thinking, those voices that challenge a preconceived idea or cause you to reassess your view on something are what make opinion journalism stimulating and not just a validating echo chamber.
The most-read commentary piece in CommonWealth in 2022 took on what has become one of the most controversy-laden issues of our time – our approach to COVID and the suite of life-saving vaccines that have been developed to combat it. Dr. Shira Doran, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, and Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California – San Francisco, issued a call for a “campaign of honesty” to increase vaccination rates for all preventable diseases.
Doron and Gandhi, in a piece published in November that garnered more than 80,000 views, decried the misinformation that has damaged vaccine acceptance from anti-vaxxers warning of microchips in vaccine formulas and making other claims detached from reality. But they said public health authorities have also contributed to low vaccination rates for COVID, which are now spilling over to decreased childhood immunization rates against polio and measles, by making blanket claims about COVID vaccines that aren’t always supported by available evidence and that ignore the many nuances of the evolving state of knowledge on COVID and vaccines.
“We can and should tout the amazing success of vaccines at preventing severe disease while simultaneously acknowledging not only their shortcomings at preventing infection and transmission, but also the many unknowns that exist about these vaccines at any given moment,” they wrote.
Theirs may not be a popular opinion among those who fear acknowledging such uncertainties will undermine public health efforts, but Doron and Gandhi make a case that not being honest about the limitations of current scientific knowledge is what poses the real threat to public health efforts.
Other topics that figured prominently in CommonWealth’s most-read commentary pieces for the year – not surprisingly – were transportation and housing along with criminal justice and politics.
Three commentary pieces tallied more than 12,000 views each: Jarred Johnson of the advocacy group TransitMatters faulted the MBTA over its foot-dragging on the goal of building out and electrifying a system of “regional rail” that could transform the commuter rail system; former Boston transportation commissioner and Massport board member John Vitagliano had an outside-the-box solution to the constant need for expensive repairs on the Tobin Bridge: replace it with a tunnel; and MassINC research director Ben Forman called on the state to get creative with the huge drop in its prison population.
In the world of politics, centrist Democrat Liam Kerr was the skunk at the Massachusetts progressives’ garden party, suggesting Elizabeth Warren may have had a hand in helping Republicans gain control of the House.
Here are the 10 most-read commentary pieces published by CommonWealth in 2022, in reverse order.
- On housing, Wu should look to Somerville – January 8, 2022
By Mike Ross
Former Boston city councilor Mike Ross urged the city’s new mayor, Michelle Wu, to steal some good ideas from across its northern border, where Somerville has set out to tackle the affordable housing shortage through dramatic rezoning that included elimination of parking minimums for most projects and adding a “green score” that “allows for greater flexibility for landscaping and open space.”
- Huge upside to new MBTA upzoning guidelines – January 30, 2022
Also in January, Lee Pelton, president of The Boston Foundation, touted the potential for the state’s new MBTA zoning guidelines to help spur badly needed housing construction. “Cities and towns have the capacity to play a crucial role in solving our housing problem,” he wrote, “and we as citizens need to keep the pressure on them to do so.”
- How not to a build a highway – November 5, 2022
By Fred Salvucci and Anthony D’Isidoro
Fred Salvucci, a former state transportation secretary and lifelong Brighton resident, and Allston civic leader Anthony D’Isidoro revisited what they call the ill-considered construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike extension, a project they said used an independent authority, with its “Robert Moses-like chair,” to run roughshod over neighborhoods, while damaging vital rail capacity and encroaching on treasured parkland.
- If Dems lose the House, Sen. Warren may be to blame – November 12, 2022
By Liam Kerr
Liam Kerr of Priorities for Progress says left-leaning Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren were the party’s own worst enemy in the midterm elections by supporting progressive primary challengers to incumbent Democrats in the House. “Warren Democrats can deliver distractions, primary victories, and may achieve their goal of moving the Democratic Party leftward ideologically. But they don’t deliver votes for Speaker. Political science research shows primary challenges hurt incumbents,” he wrote.
- MBTA service levels need to be restored ASAP – July 23, 2022
By James Aloisi
Former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi decried the MBTA service reductions attributed to a staffing shortage at the T’s operations center. “What we have now at the MBTA is a full-blown crisis. It is a crisis worse than the winter meltdown of 2015,” he said.
- 30-40% of COVID patients at MGH incidentally infected – January 10, 2022
By Paul Hattis
Dr. Paul Hattis, in one of a series of Q&A’s he’s conducted during COVID with Dr. Jarone Lee of Massachusetts General Hospital, learned in July that “incidental” COVID infections – positive COVID tests among those hospitalized for other reasons – were accounting for 30 to 40 percent of those hospitalized at MGH at that point.
- What to do with the state’s half-empty prison system – May 19, 2022
By Ben Forman
MassINC research director Ben Forman lays out the case for thinking creatively about what to do with the excess prison capacity in the state amid declining incarceration rates.
- Stop repairing Tobin Bridge, replace it with a tunnel – October 15 2022
By John Vitagliano
Rather than continuing to pump millions of dollars into maintenance and upkeep of the Tobin Bridge, John Vitagliano, a former Boston transportation commissioner and Massport board member, says we should replace it with a tunnel.
- MBTA is missing big opportunity with commuter rail – April 12, 2022
By Jarred Johnson
“Transforming the commuter rail network into a regional rail system presents perhaps the biggest opportunity in the T’s history,” writes Jarred Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group TransitMatters. “Unfortunately, the MBTA continues to drag its feet in critical transit and rail investments.”
- Time to come clean about COVID-19 – November 26, 2022
By Shira Doron and Monica GandhiDrs. Shira Doron and Monica Gandhi call for a “campaign of honesty” on what we know and don’t know about COVID and COVID vaccines to combat the vaccine fatigue and hesitation impacting not only COVID vaccination rates but those for polio and measles as well.
“We can and should tout the amazing success of vaccines at preventing severe disease while simultaneously acknowledging not only their shortcomings at preventing infection and transmission, but also the many unknowns that exist about these vaccines at any given moment,” they write. “As much as it might be desired, a simple message is not always an honest message, and truth is paramount to trust.”