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Cuba’s push for coronavirus vaccine sovereignty

A technician with a batch of vaccine vials in Cuba.
Cuba’s Finaly Institute, which is developing three ‘Soberana’ vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Yamil Lage/EPA

This is a transcript of episode 14 of The Conversation Weekly podcast ‘Cuba’s race for a coronavirus vaccine + making life’s big decisions’. In this episode, how Cuba is pushing ahead with developing its own coronavirus vaccines – and could be nearing “vaccine sovereignty”. And we hear from a researcher about what he learned from asking hundreds of people about the biggest decisions of their lives.

NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Gemma Ware: Hello and welcome to The Conversation Weekly.

Dan Merino: This week, how Cuba is pushing ahead with the development of its own coronavirus vaccines, and could be nearing vaccine sovereignty.

Amilcar Pérez Riverol: They say, “We can do this, we have been doing this for a long time, so at least we should try.”

Gemma: And we hear from a researcher about what he learnt from asking hundreds of people about the biggest decisions of their lives.

Adrian Camilleri: Many people indicated they spent years thinking about the self-development decisions.

Dan: I’m Dan Merino in San Francisco.

Gemma: And I’m Gemma Ware in London. You’re listening to The Conversation Weekly, the world explained by experts.

Dan: COVID-19 first arrived in Cuba in early March 2020, when three tourists from Italy tested positive for the virus.

Gemma: Throughout last year, Cuba was able to limit the spread of the disease across the island. But case numbers have been increasing in 2021. Currently around 1,000 new cases are being recorded every day.

Dan: By the start of May, Cuba had registered 675 deaths from COVID. That’s a death rate of 60 people per million, which is pretty good compared to 1,751 per million here in the US, or 1,904 per million in the UK.

Gemma: The pandemic has hit Cuba hard in other ways though, and it’s economy shrunk 11% in 2020. As well as the loss of tourism, an important source of foreign currency for the island, other structural issues, including the strengthening of some US sanctions, have caused a severe economic crisis, which has led to food shortages.

Dan: Now, with cases rising, there’s an urgent need to get people vaccinated. But instead of relying on other countries’ vaccines, Cuba has decided to go it alone.

Gemma: Yeah, Cuba has a strong biotechnology and healthcare sector, and it’s been investing public money in a handful of different candidate vaccines for COVID over the past year.

Dan: For this episode, I’ve spoken to three experts, to help explain how Cuba’s race for a coronavirus vaccine is going, and where it fits into the wider picture of global vaccine diplomacy.

Dan: This is a story about a small country, that despite living under a very restrictive US trade embargo, could be on the cusp of making its own vaccine. But it also illustrates a bigger story about who controls access to pharmaceuticals, and how this makes it much harder for people in the global south to get the vaccines and drugs they need.

Dan: A few months into the pandemic in May 2020, the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, began pushing for his country to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine. The country’s biotech sector moved quickly into action, and today there are number of vaccines candidates, and a few are almost ready for use.

Amilcar: Cuba is working with five different a vaccine candidate for COVID-19, two of them in phase 3 of clinical trials. We should refer to as vaccine candidate because they don’t have yet the data related to efficacy and also they don’t have, emergency use authorisation or full use authorisations.

Dan: This is Amilcar Pérez Riverol. He’s a postdoctoral researcher at the University of São Paolo State and a former professor of virology at the University of Havana in Cuba. He has been closely watching the progress of the five vaccine candidates.

Amilcar: Soberena 01, 02 and Soberena plus are being developed by the Finlay Institute of Vaccines.

Dan: The Finlay Institute was set up in the late 90s and is part of BioCubaFarma, a state-run holding company that includes more than 30 research institutes and pharmaceutical manufacturers. In the late 1980s, a precursor to the Finlay Institute developed the world’s first vaccine against meningitis B. Today, the institute produces ten vaccines routinely used within Cuba, but also sends hundreds of millions of doses abroad.

It’s the Finlay Institute which is making Cuba’s three Soberena vaccines. The name Soberena is pregnant with meaning. In Spanish, it means sovereign.

Amilcar: And then you have Abdala and Mambisa, which are being developed mainly by the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Havana.

Dan: Public money is being poured into the development of these vaccine candidates, which involve collaborations between a range of different institutions.

Amilcar: Most of them belonging to BioCubaFarma.

Dan: All five of Cuba’s candidate vaccines are what are called subunit vaccines. Subunit vaccines work by directly injecting a small piece of the targeted virus – a subunit – into a persons body. The body then generates an immune response against the subunit. This is different from mRNA vaccines, like Moderna’s and Pfizer’s – as well as adenovirus vaccines, like Johnson & Johnson and Astrazeneca’s, both of which deliver genetic material into the body and then a person’s own cells produce parts of the virus.

Read more: How are COVID-19 vaccines made? An expert explains

Amilcar: Cuba have a great expertise in working with subunit vaccines. Most of the vaccines that are currently being using are based in the whole spike protein. In the case of Cuba vaccine, they use just part of this protein.

Dan: The specific part of the spike protein used in Cuba’s vaccines is called the RBD - or the receptor binding domain. This is the subunit in the subunit vaccines.

Amilcar: So the idea is that you produce the RBD, and then you immunise people with the RBD so these people are able to produce specific antibodies against the RBD and neutralise the virus.

Dan: Two of Cuba’s vaccine candidates have begun stage three clinical trials, and remember that’s the final stage before a drug or intervention is approved by medical regulators.

Amilcar: So they are running these classic phase 3 clinical trials. And for Soberana 02 they have 44,000 people in the trial, and in the case of Abdala they have 48,000 people. But also they are running a study, they call it intervention study with 150,000 people for Soberana 02. And the number is quite similar for Abdala. And they are particularly running this study with healthcare workers. This is, let’s say a non-classical approach. So far we don’t see this for any other candidate for COVID 19.

Dan: Data on the efficacy of Cuba’s vaccine candidates is still limited, but Amilcar says what information there is, is looking pretty good, at least in the academic pre-prints that have been publishd. In late April, Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director general of the Finlay Institute, told the journal Nature that initial trial phases of the Soberena 02 vaccine generated an antibody response in around 80% of the people who got vaccinated. And that climbed to 100% when those people were given a booster dose of the Soberena Plus vaccine.

Amilcar: They are thinking that they will have the data related to efficacy, to the outcome of phase 3 clinical trials sometime around the end of May, June, or even July.

Dan: That’s pretty good, but other places have been giving vaccines to their population for months now. So, why you might be wondering, did Cuba decide to go it alone and produce its own vaccine? Well, according to Amilcar, it’s kind of because they can.

Amilcar: They say, “OK, we can do this, we have been doing this for a long time, so at least we should try.” Then they have mentioned that the country doesn’t have the money to pay for other vaccines. They say that they don’t have the money to enter in this Covax mechanism for World Health Organization.

Dan: Low- and middle-income countries can get vaccines from Covax for free. But Cuba is considered an upper middle-income nation so it would have to pay.

Amilcar: Also it will take time for the Covax facility to fulfil their commitment, you know, for the amount of those doses we need for immunise the whole population.

Dan: So Cuba decided to go it alone. The process hasn’t been all easy though.

Amilcar: I have to say that the embargo have an impact in Cuba biotechnology.

Dan: Though the US trade embargo on Cuba is not as tight as it once was, it’s still very difficult for Cuban organisations to access pharmacological raw materials and medical equipment, especially since Donald Trump’s toughened sanctions during his presidency.

Amilcar: They need, for example, some equipment that they use to conduct the analysis in the lab. And then you have also problem with some of the ingredients, that you need to produce the vaccine. But so far it looks like they will be able to finish the process of evaluation and also to produce the amount of doses that they will require to immunise the whole Cuban population and also to provide or offer doses to countries that eventually will be interested, for example, Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and also Argentina.

Dan: Despite these difficulties, two of the Cuban vaccines are in phase 3 trials as of earl May and Cubans have been enthusiastic.

Amilcar: You can see that a lot of people are going to the place where the clinical trials are taking place to be volunteers. The general idea that I get from people that I talk to in Cuba is that they are confident and they want to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Dan: But Amilcar also acknowledged concerns about these intervention studies – those are the two studies that have given the vaccine candidates to more than 100,000 health care workers each - and that is despite the fact that the phase 3 trials have yet to show efficacy.

Amilcar: This is a bit unusual, because you are immunising thousands of people with the candidate and you don’t know the efficacy yet. So you have some concern in the general population.

Dan: To be clear, the Cuban vaccines have been shown to be safe. The risk is that they just might not prevent COVID-19.

Amilcar: You will use a lot of resources in immunising a lot of people and you don’t know if this will have the benefits. I mean, for these vaccines, you have three doses. So you have to use a lot of resources to complete and to immunise these amount of people and you don’t know if they are protected and this can have an impact in the rate of infection in the country.

Dan: Pushing ahead with such a large number of vaccinations is certainly risky without efficacy results. Amilcar was waiting to see the results of the phase 3 trials showed, to really see how this whole thing would play out.

So that is where Cuba is at with the vaccine from a technical perspective, but perhaps just as interesting are the social dynamics of the pandemic in Cuba. Cuba is a one-party, communist state. Civil liberties and access to information are pretty severely restricted and expressing dissent can be, well, dangerous. In spite of, or perhaps because of this relationship between the government and people of Cuba, the coronavirus response seems to have been quite good. And this both from the perspective of outsiders, as well as those living on the island.

Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Hosek, I’m a full professor in languages, literatures and cultures at Queens University in Ontario, Canada.

Dan: Jennifer’s research on Cuban film and society means that she’s spent a lot of time there over the years. She’s been following the pandemic situation in the country really closely. Cuba has been able to keep death rates extremely low during the pandemic. She thinks one of the reasons for this is simply the country’s approach to healthcare.

Jennifer: The ratio between provider and patient is a very good one. There are neighbourhood clinics, family doctors, and a cradle-to-grave structure that basically aims to have the person be treated by family doctors that really know them and know them holistically. It’s also, of course, free and it focuses on public health and prevention rather than end of pipe. That also makes the healthcare much more affordable.

Dan: The government’s public health communication campaigns have made Cubans confident about their country’s vaccine strategy and health messaging in general. And there’s history here: this confidence has been earned through science-based campaigns to fight diseases including HIV, Ebola, dengue fever and the Zika virus.

Jennifer: Trust in the government in regards to healthcare that has been built up through many, many decades really stands the government in good stead because when it sends out clear, strong directives that are science-based and public health first, and it says, this is what you must do, and then it explains, why you must do it. And it explains it in different ways to different audiences.

Dan: This includes cartoons for children, where angry “red meanie” viruses are blocked by face masks. It also includes a daily news show with the epidemiologist Dr Fransisco Duran, who explains the science behind COVID-19 in accessible language. But to find out more about how Cubans have reacted to this health messaging, and to the politics around mask wearing during the pandemic, Jennifer surveyed residents of Havana online and later in-person while in Cuba in December and January.

Jennifer: I thought, “Wow! I wonder what’s going on in Cuba.” And you know, I have a big network there. So I just started a sort of informal WhatsApp interview using a snowball technique, which means that I started with people that I know and then asked them to interview people that they knew.

I think the most impressive or interesting, I guess, take-home message for me was that most people basically said: “It’s my responsibility to wear a mask because it’s, I’m responsible for myself, but I’m also responsible for others.” And I think that, that this kind of, that kind of idea of, like, “I am” in relation to the other, allows people to think, “I can only be healthy if the other is healthy.” Imagine if the global community thought this way.

Dan: According to Jennifer, the fact that Cuba is trialling five COVID vaccine candidates is because of the state’s dedication to science and the way it has prioritised its citizens’ health.

Jennifer: Cuba invested in healthcare. It invested in healthcare in a big way. They started in the 80s and 90s to build on this medical knowledge and build up biotech and medical research, because the Soviet Union was starting to end and Cuba needed to really stand on its own. And so they developed in this direction building on what they already had.

Dan: Cuba is famous for its medical diplomacy. It sees it as part of its international solidarity effort. Fidel Castro was the first to send Cuban medics to Algeria in 1963 and the country has sent more than 400,000 healthcare professionals to work in 164 countries, most notably this is done through its Henry Reeve Brigades, named after an American who fought, and died, for the Cuban independence forces in the mid-19th century. In late March 2020, Cuba sent 52 groups of doctors and nurses to Italy to help at the peak of the country’s first wave of coronavirus.

Cuba’s track record on healthcare diplomacy also means it’s been able to turn to a network of international collaborators when it’s come to trialling their vaccine candidates.

Jennifer: Cuba is characterised by internationalism and international collaboration and it’s drawing on this. China is one of the partners. Iran is another partner with which it’s working. In part to do the trials because they needed to have enough infected people to be able to do the trials, ironically enough.

So there are many countries that are really behind Cuba and that will help them produce even faster. It’ll enable Cuba to go back to some sort of normalcy, which will enable it to restart its economy. And tourism will be able to start, which is a big moneymaker for Cuba.

Dan: So that’s great for Cuba, but what about other countries in Latin America. Civil rights groups around the world are calling on companies or governments with successful vaccines to waive licences that prevent other manufacturers from producing vaccines, basically to share the intellectual property rights. I asked Jennifer if Cuba will allow other companies or places to make their vaccines.

Jennifer: Cuba has not yet made an official statement about this. What we do know is that Cuba has offered technology transfer, which means knowledge about the capacity to make vaccines, and also pharma supplies, to the country of Ghana. We know that Argentina is looking to collaborate to help Cuba produce its vaccine so that it can use it. We know that in the past what Cuba has done with its doctors, its famous Henry Reeve Brigades, that they typically send those brigades to poor countries for free and they charge for countries who can afford it.

Dan: Cuba’s push to make it’s own vaccine has benefits both internally, but also on the geopolitical map. Like the name of one of its vaccine candidates says, it’s given Cuba sovereignty. To understand more about where Cuba’s vaccine efforts fit into the complicated global politics of COVID-19, I called up to Peter Hotez.

Peter: I’m a professor of paediatrics and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine where I also co-direct the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development. We adopted a coronavirus vaccine program about a decade ago. We’ve developed several coronavirus vaccines, and now one for COVID-19 that’s being scaled up for production in India, going into phase 3 clinical trials.

Dan: Peter also has a long-term interest in the geopolitics of vaccines.

Peter: Vaccines are such powerful tools of public health that they become potentially very important instruments of foreign policy.

Dan: He recently wrote a book called Preventing the Next Pandemic. It describes what he sees as a decline in global cooperation on vaccine programmes over the past few years. The Covax project aside, he sees this lack of a global strategy playing out during the coronavirus pandemic too.

Peter: Right now you’re clearly seeing haves and have-nots, so the US the UK, some western European countries and Israel have looked after themselves and the rest of the world, not so much. And that’s going to have a lot of implications.

Dan: This unequal distribution of access to vaccines could give the small country of Cuba a lot of leverage to throw around if it does achieve vaccine sovereignty.

Peter: I haven’t followed their vaccine too closely, but the hope is that they work with PAHO, the Pan-American Health Organization, in the western hemisphere and WHO to go through who pre-qualification. And at that point then they can start exporting vaccine or providing it to the Covax sharing facility. That would be the best ideal outcome, I think, and not do what the Russians have done, which is this very transactional encounters with countries, ‘cause that has a lot of downside implications. They’re doing these kind of one-on-one arrangements in this unilateral negotiation. And I think that’s odd and also a lot of these countries adequate pharmacovigilance systems in place.

Dan: The pandemic had exposed significant shortfalls in the private sector focused system of global vaccine development and production.

Peter: This insistence that the multinational pharmaceutical companies can do everything. It’s not working. I mean, the multinational companies have an important role of course, but we need redundancy in the system. We need to have the ability to develop vaccines locally in Africa, expand capacity in Latin America and the Middle East, and in Asia.

Dan: Peter says one way small countries can break their dependency on multinational companies is to basically invest in their own capacity to make vaccines and other drugs.

Peter: Cuba definitely punches above its weight through the Instituto Finlay and, and other organisations. And I think that’s great. We need better capacity. And so what’s happened is a number of organisations have got together and branded themselves as the developing country vaccine manufacturers network. And it includes Cuba, it includes Brazil and includes India of course. India is probably the most advanced in terms of this concept. But we need more of that.

Dan: All of this would require serious investment, and that needs to come from the world’s biggest economies. It won’t be a quick fix to the manufacturing bottlenecks and equality issues surrounding COVID vaccines. But Peter says that’s not really the point.

Peter: We won’t have it in time for this pandemic, but the other pandemics will surely follow. And I think that would be a very productive investment in terms of encouraging security.

Dan: It’s quite possible that little Cuba, could succeed in producing an effective COVID-19 vaccine quickly and cheaply. If this happens, it could really poke a hole in the status quo of the global vaccine and broader biotech ecosystem that keeps power concentrated in wealthy nations. Jennifer Hosek summed it up nicely.

Jennifer: I was thinking about that famous metaphor of the fish and the fishing pole.

Dan: You know the one. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach that person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. Today though, the idea doesn’t seem to be teach someone how to fish, it’s more teach them how to make a fishing pole. Or in this case, a vaccine.

Jennifer: And so the US is now going to give away it’s extra fish before the fish rot as it were, but actually people around the world know how to make fishing poles and fish in order to catch their own fish. But the many rich countries and big pharma are disallowing them from making those fishing poles and feeding themselves, you know, vaccinating themselves.

And Cuba definitely is a counterexample to that because it’s showing us how a country that uses its resources wisely can organise to catch its own fish and not wait for the castoffs of big pharma, and not also spend its hard-earned money to buy vaccines when it can make it itself.

Gemma: This hunt for vaccine sovereignty is like the holy grail of the early 2020s, isn’t it?

Dan: Vaccines are power, both locally – go to the pub, get a beer – or on the global stage. It would be huge for Cuba to get its own vaccine.

You can read a story that Jennifer Hosek has written for The Conversation about the situation in Cuba by clicking the link in the shownotes. You can also follow the latest expert analysis on developments in coronavirus vaccines on our site.

Gemma: For our next story we’re talking about the big decisions that we all have to make in our lives. So Dan, tell me if you made any big decisions recently?

Dan: Yeah, I guess so. I decided to move back across the country to California after having lived on the east coast for a while.

Gemma: You know it’s funny. Sometimes you know that a decision that you’re about to make will be a big one, that it will change the course of your life. But sometimes you make a decision pretty quickly and realise afterwards just how big a choice it was. So to find out more about the process of making these kinds of decisions, I called up a psychologist.

Adrian: My name is Adrian Camilleri. I’m a consumer psychologist. I work at the University of Technology Sydney, and I’m interested in how people make judgement and decisions.

Gemma: Adrian’s recent research was all sparked by a question that he used to ask people at dinner parties.

Adrian: So at dinner parties, I tend to come prepared. And one of my favourite questions to ask at these events is how many of your life’s ten biggest decisions do you think you’ve already made? And this is a question that usually gets a good conversation going because people start to reflect on, “OK, well, what is a big decision and how many have I made so far? And what are the future big decisions coming down the road?” But I thought that maybe I could ask this question in a more scientific way. So I started to put together a questionnaire. And my goal was really to try to understand, well, what are life’s biggest decisions. When do they occur? How do people make these big decisions? Retrospectively, how do they evaluate those big life decisions, and how accurate are people at predicting their future big life decisions?

Gemma: Really interesting stuff. So tell us how you went about doing this.

Adrian: Yeah. So I started to put the questionnaire together in 2019. So first I asked people to tell me about their ten biggest past decisions. The second part of the questionnaire asked people to make predictions about their biggest decisions that are going to happen down the road. And then finally, I asked participants to fill in a number of different questionnaires that measure things like life satisfaction, their decision-making style, impulsiveness, personality, risk tolerance, all of these different individual different variables. So people had an opportunity to type into a box the details of that decision, but then they were asked to categorise those big decisions into some predetermined categories.

But there were also some followup questions. So things like how much time did you spend thinking about the decision before you made it? How much advice did you seek from others? Was it a more intuitive or analytical type decision? And then finally I asked participants to judge in retrospect, whether it was a good or bad decision.

Gemma: Who were you targeting it at?

Adrian: I was looking for an even split of males and females. So I was looking for about 50:50 in every age decile. So I wanted 100 people in their 20s another hundred in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s to 70s. So all up in the end, I had 657 people complete the initial study and these participants were dispersed around the United States and they were roughly consistent with the population distribution in the states.

Since that initial survey was completed, I actually built a website that put a much simpler version of the survey up online. That’s located at and thousands of people have now filled in that survey.

Gemma: Tell us, what were the kinds of some of the big life decisions that people revealed to you in this process?

Adrian: There were some fun stories in there of people, especially those who are older, doing fun things in the 50s and 60s, driving around the world. But the most commonly mentioned big life decisions are those that won’t surprise you. So starting a new job, getting married, pursuing a degree, having a child, relocating – so moving to a new state – buying a home.

But then there was some decisions that were – when they did occur, which was not that often in some cases – they were always right near the top of that ranking. And so these included ending a life. So this might be perhaps aborting a pregnancy. It could also relate perhaps to ailing parents, maybe who are on life support. But there was also some things up there like pursuing religion, or pursuing a philosophy. These got rated as quite important as well.

Gemma: So they might be rare, but they’re incredibly important to the person taking them?

Adrian: Exactly.

Gemma: So you’ve gone through so what are some of the biggest ones, but what do the results show about how people look back on certain decisions more positively or negatively?

Adrian: Yeah so for every decision that my participants mentioned, the final question was in retrospect, how do you evaluate that decision? Was it a good or a bad decision? And a couple of categories that stood out. The first were the self-destructive decisions, these include things like committing a crime and starting an addiction. So these decisions stood out as being quite different from the rest in that the majority of participants judge these as bad decisions. The other category that stood out were the self-developmental decisions. So these include things like starting a hobby or learning a new skill, travelling, pursuing a religion or a new philosophy. So these self-developmental decisions, the vast majority of participants indicated that these were good decisions.

Gemma: And are there any other trends that emerged in the way people evaluated or described the big decisions?

Adrian: There was two categories that stood out and again. It’s the self-destructive and the self-developmental categories. And when you look at these in terms of time spent thinking, the self-destructive decisions were uncommonly short in how much time was spent thinking. So the most commonly mentioned response was just seconds before engaging in whatever self-destructive activity that was.

And in contrast, if you look at the self-developmental decisions, these tended to be the ones that individuals spent the most time thinking about. So many people indicated they spent years thinking about the decision before they actually engaged in it.

Gemma: And I’m interested in that age question. So were there decisions that say younger people were more likely to have talked about than older people?

Adrian: So career-related decisions definitely increased over time and they actually peaked for people in their 60s. And that might be surprising for some people, but actually the final decision that one makes in their career is a huge one and that’s when to retire.

Other decisions that increase over time were finance-related decisions. So again, people tend to accumulate money, resources, and then they have to think about making decisions about these as they get older, including putting them in a will, which is also another big life decisions that happens later in life. We can also see increase in family-related decisions.

Gemma: You started this by asking people how many of their big decisions they think they have left. So was your data able to pull that out?

Adrian: Definitely. I got to ask my favourite dinner party question. What the results showed was that on average 20-year-olds tended to believe that they had already made three of their life’s biggest decisions.

Gemma: Three of ten.

Adrian: Three three of ten, that’s right. So it could have been maybe education-related decisions, maybe they’d had their first love. Maybe they’d moved already. The mid-point, the five decision point was at around age 44-years-old, that people kind of imagined that they had made half of their big life decisions.

And what was most interesting to me, I think, was looking at those who were older in the sample. So for example, those who were 70-years-old, they estimated that they’d made a little less than seven of their ten biggest decisions. So there were still three big life decisions coming. And when you started to look closely at some of the big life decisions that do happen later in life, you do start to realise that actually, there are a number of big decisions that keep coming up, whether you know, some people get married young, but then a lot of people get remarried when they’re older.

Gemma: What advice, drawing on all this analysis that you’ve done so far on the data that you’ve collected, would you give people on making big decisions in their lives?

Adrian: I guess the first thing to recognise is that, well, first big life decisions are front-loaded. So they happen most for those who are aged between say 16 and 35. But, they still occur for those of all ages. So, I guess keep an open mind to future big decisions and also don’t maybe put too much pressure on yourself when making current big decisions. I know they feel massive at the time, but in retrospect, sometimes they’re not as big.

Another thing that stood out was that there’s a lot of experience out there, that a decision-maker can utilise the wisdom from. So speaking to others and learning from those who have come before, I think are great options for those who are making big life decisions. The research that I conducted also suggests that taking your time is a good way to lead to a good decision, but also avoiding the burden of obligation. So there were some results suggesting that obligation-induced decisions led to poorer outcomes, and also using a more analytical approach rather than relying on pure intuition was more likely to lead to a positive outcome.

And in fact, in this regard, there’s some research related to regret and one way to avoid feelings of regret is to have very good justification for your decisions today. So that even if things turn out poorly down the road, you can turn back and think, “You know what? At the time, given what I knew about the situation, I made a good decision.”

And finally, I think there are some decisions that are very likely going to impact on your life satisfaction. So keep this in mind. So these self-destructive decisions that I’ve mentioned, like engaging in crime and taking up an addiction, these are very likely to lead, to decreases in life satisfaction. And I think the scary thing about these decisions is that they’re made in a fraction of a moment, but they actually tend to have very long-lasting consequences and put one on a treacherous life path.

On the flip side, self-developmental decisions, such as, you know, taking control of your life, pouring yourself into a pursuit or project, these tend to be associated with increased life satisfaction. So, although it can be hard to sometimes find the time for these non-essential, big life decisions, I think your future self will thank you.

Gemma: That’s some great advice there.

Adrian: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Gemma: Since I interviewed Adrian, I’ve been asking some of my friends his question. How many of your life’s big decisions do you think you’ve already taken? It’s a really good conversation starter, I recommend it. You can read more about Adrian’s research by clicking on a link to the story that he wrote in the show notes.

Dan: Now, to end the show, we’ve got some recommended reading from one of our colleagues in New Zealand.

Finlay: Hi, this is Finlay Macdonald. I’m one of the two editors in New Zealand and I’m based in Auckland. I have a couple of recommended articles that we’ve recently published and the first one is something I worked on with legal scholar, Eddie Clarke from Victoria University in Wellington. So this is quite a long-running and important story in New Zealand and it goes back to the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch in 2019. So one of the official responses to that atrocity has been to propose new hate speech laws. And we think there’s going to be a heated debate later in the year between proponents of such laws and free speech advocates who worry about the state interfering in our right to say and think what we want.

But the first challenge of course, is to understand what might change if those proposals became law. As Eddie explains, it could well tighten up definitions of hate speech, but broaden their application in the process, so there’s a real risk of overreach if we don’t get it right.

The second article I’m recommending is very different, but still kiwi, although in this case, the bird and our national symbol. Specifically how the kiwi was very first seen, identified and studied by Europeans. The authors, Paul Scofield and Vanesa De Pietri, from Canterbury University have unravelled what until now was a 200-year-old mystery about how this sadly dead kiwi eventually made it to England. It’s a remarkable tale, told through historical records, ships’ logs from the early 1800s and modern forensic DNA techniques, which tell us as much about early colonial scientific activity as they do about the bird itself. Hope you enjoy it.

That’s all from me for now. Happy reading.

Gemma: Finlay Macdonald there in Auckland.

That’s it for this week. Thanks to all the academics who’ve spoken to us for this episode. And to The Conversation editors Lee-Anne Goodman, Michael Lucy, Finlay Macdonald and Stephen Khan. And thanks to Alice Mason, Imriel Morgan and Sharai White for our social media promotion.

Dan: You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio or on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or email us at And if you want to learn more about any of the things we talked about on the show today, there are links to further reading in the show notes where you can also find a link to sign up to our free daily email.

Gemma: The Conversation Weekly is co-produced by Mend Mariwany and me, Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.

Dan: And I’m Dan Merinio. Thanks so much for listening.

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