I'm interested in examining the efficiency of the scientific process. Part of this involves examining what actually goes into making a discovery. One common objection is:

Half of all important scientific findings were chance discoveries

The implication is that these things can't be analysed and we should just throw money and minds into a pot and let them do science.

I have a suspicion that due to the availability bias we tend to discuss surprise discoveries more and therefore overestimate their importance.

Has anyone published data on how frequently unexpected (chance) discoveries actually occur? Ideally, it would include a weighting on how important the discovery was.

  • $\begingroup$ There is a fact that almost all scientific papers are forgotten after 100 years. So it is assumed that almost scientists just research pop thema. Human's thought always face to fantasy, but a phenomenon tells us a scientific fact. It is hard to calculate the precise rate of unexpected discoveries. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2017 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest this question needs clarity on what constitutes a 'chance' discovery, but also that such clarity will be hard to provide. All discovery stories are different, and on reading or hearing a new one, some may think it was a matter of chance while others may disagree. If it's not possible to clarify here what is meant by a 'chance discovery', do you not think this expression may be only a pseudo-category, and thus the question unanswerable? $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    Jun 5, 2017 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Terry-S, Yes, to answer the question a rigorous definition of 'chance discovery' would need to be made. That definition might actually be as useful as the actual answer. It's difficult define as it goes to the root of how discoveries are made and what actually causes them to be made. I was hoping that people trying to answer the question might tackle this issue and help my thinking on the matter. $\endgroup$
    – reltnek
    Jun 9, 2017 at 3:52


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