Discovery by serendipity: A new context for an old Riddle [Book Review]

Foundations of Chemistry 11 (1):33-42 (2009)
In the last years there has been a great improvement in the development of computational methods for combinatorial chemistry applied to drug discovery. This approach to drug discovery is sometimes called a “rational way” to manage a well known phenomenon in chemistry: serendipity discoveries. Traditionally, serendipity discoveries are understood as accidental findings made when the discoverer is in quest for something else. This ‘traditional’ pattern of serendipity appears to be a good characterization of discoveries where “luck” plays a key role. In this sense, some initial failures in combinatorial chemistry are frequently attributed to a naïf appropriation of a “serendipity model” for discovery (a “serendipity mistake”). In this paper we try to evaluate this statement by criticizing its foundations. It will be suggested that the notion of serendipity has different aspects and that the criticism to the first attempts could be understood as a “serendipity mistake.” We will suggest that “serendipity” strategies, a kind of blind search, can be seen sometimes as a “genuine part” of scientific practice. A discussion will ensue about how this characterization can give us a better understanding of some aspects of serendipity discoveries.
Keywords Discovery  Combinatorial chemistry  Serendipity
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DOI 10.1007/s10698-008-9061-6
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