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December 21, 1957

SERENDIPITY—BIG WORD IN MEDICAL PROGRESSDOES "PURE LUCK" DESERVE ALL THE CREDIT?

JAMA. 1957;165(16):2084-2087. doi:10.1001/jama.1957.72980340011013

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Abstract

How some safety engineers click their tongues over that creature they call "accident prone." He is forever, it seems, crashing into automobiles, fouling up machinery, falling off ladders. But there is another kind of accident-prone individual who is dearly in demand today. He is the one who manages to make some valuable or pleasant discovery without deliberately looking for it. This ability is called serendipity, and it is broadening its smile of surprise throughout the fabric of medical progress.

Last October, for example, headlines announced that after a 25-year search, scientists at last had found a vaccine to prevent many cases of the common cold. But was the discovery leader, 34-year-old ecologist Winston H. Price of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, looking for a cold preventive? He was not. Said Dr. Price: "We isolated the cold virus purely by luck. We weren't searching for it. It

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