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The Handbook of Global Science, Technology, and Innovation by Andrea Filippetti, Daniele Archibugi

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Chapter 25Serendipity and Chance in Scientific Discovery: Policy Implications for Global Society

Donald Gillies

Introduction

Many researchers have found the concepts of serendipity and chance (or accident) useful for analyzing discovery in science and technology. Here are a few examples. Royston M. Roberts published in 1989 a book entitled Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science. Kantorovich and Ne’eman in 1989, and van Andel in 1994 published papers on serendipity. In 2004, there was published, for the first time in English, a long book by Merton and Barber on serendipity. This book had originally been written in 1958, but did not appear in print until 2002, when Il Mulino published an Italian translation. In 2010, Norrby published Nobel Prizes and Life Sciences, and chapter 2 of this book is entitled “Serendipity and Nobel Prizes.” Anguera de Sojo et al. (2014) discuss “Serendipity and the Discovery of DNA.” What they deal with is not the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by Watson, Crick, Franklin, and Wilkins in 1953, but the much earlier discovery of the molecule itself, originally called nuclein. This discovery was made by the Swiss chemist Miescher in 1869.

This paper fully endorses the importance which has been given to the role of serendipity and chance in scientific discovery. However, the concept of serendipity is not entirely clear, and indeed has been used in different senses by different authors. Moreover, the relationship between serendipity ...

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