Accidental Science

Having an open mind and documenting everything are important features of scientific discovery.

I can’t recall anything I have learned accidentally through experimentation, but I have learned things accidentally through exposure to the media. Once, I fell asleep in front of the TV by mistake. When I woke up a few hours later, a history documentary, something I wouldn’t normally watch, was on. I ended up becoming interested and watching the rest of the show. A few days later, I had a test with a bonus question about the exact topic of the documentary!

Having a Prepared Mind

Having a prepared mind means being ready to learn. It means paying attention to the details of your surroundings, and not discounting things you don’t expect. It also means being willing to follow up on your observations, even if you see something you didn’t expect or that you think is impossible. The same properties apply to opening your mind to chance. You have to have attention to detail and be prepared for everything.

Science and Accidents

Scientists can act on their accidents because they are supposed to document everything that occurs, even if it is not the expected result of their experiment or seemingly a result at all. Science is also open to accidental discoveries since any result that is gained through a valid scientific procedure is considered good data. Good science does not come from the results but from the process, and so accidents will be observed, recorded, and followed up on.

Accidental science does carry some dangers, however. The biggest one is that if you don’t know the properties of the material you are working with, you cannot adequately protect yourself. This is true of volatile chemicals, dangerous materials, or contagious organisms. If you don’t know that the bacteria can make you sick, you may not wear the right protective gear or store the organism properly. Alexander Fleming was lucky that the fungus he cultured was an antibiotic and not contagious in and of itself. Madame Curie, who died of exposure to radium, wasn’t so lucky.

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