Scientific discoveries often involve an element of chance or luck. When I say luck, I mean a Richard Wiseman sort of luck… not a horseshoes and 4-leaf clovers sort of luck.
Scientists are often surprised by what they discover. In my own research I am often surprised. Good scientists recognize when their scientific data is leading them down a different path than the one they thought they would originally follow. The traditional scientific method I learned in elementary school taught me to construct a hypothesis and then test that hypothesis. I mostly follow this method, but in the midst of my research I find myself revising (almost continually, sometimes) my hypothesis and tracking down side hypotheses. Eventually, somewhere in the midst of my data gathering and experiments, I finally refine my hypothesis and figure out what I am going to say as I write up my research.
Scientific research is often more meandering than linear. This can be a good thing. I think that good scientists allow their science to evolve as they learn and discover. Good scientists also set boundaries for their meanderings and try to evaluate these meanderings objectively. Just because you have a favorite meandered-upon hypothesis doesn’t mean that the data will support this hypothesis.
Scientists can also be surprised by good opportunities. Whether or not these opportunities lead to “lucky” scientific discoveries depends on if and how scientists recognize and follow-up on these opportunities.
Reading the news this morning, I found this incredible science story about a lucky scientist discovering a new lizard species in rural Vietnam… in a lunch menu!
After reading this article, I had the following thoughts:
1. Lizards for lunch. Ewwwww…. I’m an adventurous(ish) eater, but no way.
2. How cool that this species unknown to science is apparently very well-known to local restaurants and has found its way into the local cuisine! The scientists even hired local children to catch the lizards.
3. How wonderful that the Vietnamese scientist recognized this- er- edible lizard as a new species and called in his colleagues.
4. These lizards are all chicks! The daughters are all clones of their mothers. A little creepy, but no male lizards required! A perfect scientific topic to blog about on skepchick.
Isn’t science cool? I am amazed that we are still discovering new species of relative large animals such as lizards and even monkeys! There is clearly still much to learn about our planet.