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Jean-Claude Bradley reviews Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs by Morton A. Meyers. Morton says:

An applicant for a research grant is expected to have a clearly defined program for a period of three to five years. Implicit is the assumption that nothing unforeseen will be discovered during that time and, even if something were, it would not cause distraction from the approved line of research. Yet the reality is that many medical discoveries were made by researchers working on the basis of a fallacious hypothesis that led them down an unexpected fortuitous path.

Jean-Claude adds:

We can share our failed experiments. We can share our research plans. We can discuss science freely admitting what we don’t know. We can record our talks at closed meetings and make them public. We can initiate and participate in serious scientific conversations going on in the blogosphere without worrying about everyone’s title and rank.

Basically, we can collaborate in ways that are most conducive to serendipitous discoveries. The free social software, databases and other infrastructure now available make this information exchange easier than ever.


  1. #1 PhysioProf
    August 26, 2008

    What you do is basically lie in grant applications, proposing only the most predictable shit. When you get the money, you use it to also do the cool experiments with truly unpredictable outcomes.

  2. #2 MartinB
    August 26, 2008

    In one of my last (successful) applications (in materials science) I stated something like this: “We expect the outcome of this experiment to show that yadda yadda. If, contrary to expectations, this should not be the case, this would be very interesting because blahblahblah”

    Reviewers are scientists, they know that sometimes the unexpected happens. Reading your grant proposal, they want to get the feeling that you know what you are doing and what is the expected outcome, but nobody should expect certainty.

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