Excerpt from Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers M.D., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Happy Accidents

Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs

by Morton Meyers M.D.

Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers M.D.
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 408 pages
    Dec 2008, 408 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

  • A similar circumstance proved very beneficial to the neurobiologist David Anderson of the California Institute of Technology, who publicly announced his serendipitous breakthrough in the New York Times in July 2001. Researching neural stem cells, the cells that build the nervous system in the developing embryo, Anderson discovered the “magic fertilizer” that allowed some of them to bloom into neurons, sprouting axons and dendrites: “It was a very boring compound that we used to coat the plastic bottom of the Petri dish in order to afford the cells a stickier platform to which to attach. Never would we have predicted that such a prosaic change could exert such a powerful effect. Yet it turned out to be the key that unlocked the hidden neuronal potential of these stem cells.”
  • An unanticipated variable seriously hampered the efforts of biochemist Edward Kendall to isolate the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which partly controls the rate of the body’s metabolism. After four years of meticulous work on the gland, he finally extracted crystals of the thyroid hormone on Christmas morning 1914 at the Mayo Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota. But when he moved to expand production, Kendall could no longer recover active material. Only after fourteen months of futile efforts was he able to trace the cause of this setback to the decomposition of the hormone by the use of large galvanized metal tanks in which the extraction from the gland was being done. The iron and copper in the metal tanks rendered the crystals ineffective. From then on, he used enamel vessels. By 1917, Kendall had collected about seven grams of crystals and was able to start clinical studies.
  • The Normal versus the Revolutionary
    In his highly influential 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn contributed an idea that changed how we see the history of science.6 Kuhn makes a distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” science. In “normal” science, investigators work within current paradigms and apply accumulated knowledge to clearly defined problems. Guided by conventional wisdom, they tackle problems within the boundaries of the established framework of beliefs and approaches. They attempt to fit things into a pattern. This approach occupies virtually all working researchers. Such efforts, according to Nobel laureate Howard Florey, “add small points to what will eventually become a splendid picture much in the same way that the Pointillistes built up their extremely beautiful canvasses.”

    Kuhn portrays such scientists as intolerant of dissenters and preoccupied with what he dismissively refers to as puzzle-solving. Nonetheless, a period of normal science is an essential phase of scientific progress. However, it is “revolutionary” science that brings creative leaps. Minds break with the conventional to see the world anew. How is this accomplished? The surprising answer may be “blindly”! Systematic research and happenstance are not mutually exclusive; rather they complement each other. Each leads nowhere without the other.

    According to this view, chance is to scientific discovery as blind genetic mutation and natural selection are to biological evolution. The appearance of a variation is due not to some insight or foresight but rather to happenstance. In groping blindly for the “truth,” scientists sometimes accidentally stumble upon an understanding that is ultimately selected to survive in preference to an older, poorer one.

    As explained by Israeli philosophers of science Aharon Kantorovich and Yuval Ne’eman, “Blind discovery is a necessary condition for the scientific revolution; since the scientist is in general ‘imprisoned’ within the prevailing paradigm or world picture, he would not intentionally try to go beyond the boundaries of what is considered true or plausible. And even if he is aware of the limitations of the scientific world picture and desires to transcend it, he does not have a clue how to do it.”

    Excerpted from Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers, M.D. Copyright © 2007 by Morton Meyers, M.D. Excerpted by permission of Arcade Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

    Membership Advantages
    • Reviews
    • "Beyond the Book" backstories
    • Free books to read and review (US only)
    • Find books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
    • Book club discussions
    • and much more!
    • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
    • More about membership!

    One-Month Free Membership

    Discover your next great read here

    Join Today!

    Editor's Choice

    • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
      Castle of Water
      by Dane Huckelbridge
      When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
    • Book Jacket: Havana
      by Mark Kurlansky
      History with flavor...culture with spice...language with gusto...it would be hard to find a better ...
    • Book Jacket: Temporary People
      Temporary People
      by Deepak Unnikrishnan
      In this powerful and innovative collection of 28 short stories, Deepak Unnikrishnan presents a ...

    Book Discussion
    Book Jacket
    The Nest
    by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

    A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

    About the book
    Join the discussion!

    First Impressions

    • Book Jacket

      The Stars Are Fire
      by Anita Shreve

      An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
      Reader Reviews

    • Book Jacket

      Manderley Forever
      by Tatiana de Rosnay

      Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
      Reader Reviews

    Who Said...

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed on and digested.

    Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

    Word Play

    Solve this clue:

    Y S M B, I'll S Y

    and be entered to win..

    Books that     

     & enlighten

    Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

    Join Today!

    Your guide toexceptional          books

    BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

    Modal popup -