Do we need another crisis before changing how biosamples are shared?

What is a crisis? According to dictionary definitions it is a time of great difficulty or danger when problems must be solved or important decisions must be made. Here, Robert Hewitt looks specifically at crises affecting biosample sharing.

It’s important to recognise a crisis because only then can one put things right. Unfortunately, it appears to be part of human nature to be slow in this recognition. We have seen this in our delayed responses to climate change and our delayed responses to the current pandemic.

            To respond to a crisis, we need to change our ways of doing things, but most people don’t want change and don’t want their comfortable routines to be disturbed. Reinforcing this reluctance to change, there are many known psychological factors that delay recognition of crises. These include optimism bias, outcome bias, confirmation bias and ‘Groupthink’.1 Together, these factors explain why intelligent people faced with a crisis can behave like ostriches and ‘put their heads in the sand’.

            The good news is that once a crisis is recognised, then it can be a powerful accelerator of change. We can see this in the effects of lockdown: the sudden acceptance and flourishing of video conferencing, online education and working from home. We had all the tools for years; the pandemic has just given us the push needed to use them. No doubt this change in behaviour will bring benefits long after the pandemic is over.  ‘Never waste a good crisis’ is a popular saying at times like these.

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