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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Introduction
Serendipity, Science’s Well-Guarded Secret

I exist
But only in you if you want me . . .
All things are meaningless accidents, works of chance
unless your marveling gaze,
as it probes, connects and orders,
makes them divine . . .

— Wilhelm Willms, “God Speaks”1

Contemplating the genesis of the great medical breakthroughs of the last century, most people picture brilliant, well-trained scientists diligently pursuing a predetermined goal — laboriously experimenting with first this substance and then that substance, progressing step by step to a “Eureka!” moment when the sought-after cure is at last found. There in the mind’s eye is Marie Curie stirring a vat of pitchblende over many years to recover minute amounts of radium, or Paul Ehrlich testing one arsenical compound after another until he finds Salvarsan, the “magic bullet” against syphilis, on his 606th attempt. In the contemporary setting, one looks to what might be called Big Science. Surely, we imagine, in the halls of ivy-draped universities and the gleaming labs of giant pharmaceutical companies, teams of researchers in smart white coats are working in harmony to cure cancer, banish the common cold, or otherwise produce the Next Big Thing in medicine.

For its own reasons, the medical establishment is happy to perpetuate these largely false images. By tradition and protocol, it presents science as a set of facts and strong beliefs that, like the Ten Commandments, have been set in stone by a distant all-knowing authority and, if followed, will lead inevitably through a linear process to the desired results. Furthermore, it portrays the history of scientific advances as a sequence of events that have led to more-or-less direct progress.

The reality is different. Progress has resulted only after many false starts and despite widespread misconceptions held over long periods of time. A large number of significant discoveries in medicine arose, and entirely new domains of knowledge and practice were opened up, not as a result of painstaking experimentation but rather from chance and even outright error. This is true for many of the common drugs and procedures that we rely on today, notably many antibiotics, anesthetics, chemotherapy drugs, anticoagulant drugs, and antidepressants.

Consider the following examples, all typical of how things happen in medical research:

  • At the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1947, two allergists gave a new antihistamine, Dramamine, to a patient suffering from hives. Some weeks later, she was pleased to report to her doctors that the car sickness she had suffered from all her life had disappeared. Drs. Leslie Gay and Paul Carliner tested the drug on other patients who suffered from travel sickness, and all were completely freed of discomfort, provided the drug was taken just before beginning the potentially nauseating journey. A large-scale clinical trial involving a troopship with more than 1,300 soldiers crossing the rough North Atlantic for twelve days (Operation Seasickness) decidedly proved the drug’s value in preventing and relieving motion sickness. Dramamine is still used today, available over the counter.
  • A professor of biological chemistry and medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was studying a particular blood protein when he found another protein contaminating his sample. Rather than simply discarding it, Dr. Peter Agre realized that he had stumbled upon the structure of the channel — folded-up proteins piercing cell walls — that can control the flow of water molecules into and out of living cells. For making this basic discovery, which, he said, “really fell into our laps,” he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2003.

    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

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...
  • Book Jacket: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers were uniformly impressed by this difficult yet heartwarming ...
  • Book Jacket: Boy Erased
    Boy Erased
    by Garrard Conley
    Growing up in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley did not quite fit the mold of his strait-laced, ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets and friendship.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.