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Some even very significant discoveries have been accidental, but if science is supposed to be rational, then accidents should be oddities for this if they cannot be quantified.

Are there generally accepted (or official-like) guidelines about what the role of "accidents" are or can be in professional chemistry?

What (for example, tests, procedures, standards, ...) must one fulfill additionally in order to have "accidents" progress into use?

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    $\begingroup$ Drug design always looks more rational in restrospect $\endgroup$
    – Waylander
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ Be careful about format of your questions. This is Q/A site, focused on particular answers of reasonable size and scope. Too general or opinion based questions, leading to chat are not suited for this site. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ Take drugs. Many are discovered accidentally. But how they are discovered is irrelevant to their being used. To get used they have to pass many rigorous tests of efficacy and safety. How they were discovered is irrelevant to this process. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think you use the word "science" for two distinct concepts: the scientific method, on the one hand, which includes Descartes' rational doubt; and knowledge and technical advancements, on the other hand. This double meaning of "science" confuses your argument that "science is supposed to be rational". The method is rational, the doubts are rational; but it doesn't make sense to say that knowledge is rational. Knowledge of a drug is something we either have or don't have, and whether we acquired this knowledge following an accident or following a hunch is a bit irrelevant to rationality. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Feb 18, 2023 at 14:55

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Sticking with the specific example of drug discovery, in the United States, the FDA has two general requirements for approval of a new drug: 1) it must be relatively safe for the consumer and 2) it must be effective at treating something, ie outcomes are more favorable than for patients given a placebo. There is no evaluation of how the drug was identified as potentially useful as a treatment, nor is it even necessary to know how it works. (A well known example of this is lithium treatment for bipolar disorder. It's been used for decades, and there's still a lot of debate about how it works.)

For example, if a company is testing a drug as a potential treatment for high blood pressure, and they notice that all recipients of the drug experienced extra hair growth, they might change course and begin evaluating it as a cure for baldness. If another company developed a competing drug based on decades of study of hair follicle physiology, the two drugs would still face the same evaluation process.

So for the case of drug discovery, there is no additional requirement for the acceptance of "accidental" discoveries.

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    $\begingroup$ Please use 1. and 2. to indent your points. Otherwise, I don't know where the 2nd one ends $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2023 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, is not the Q rather about discoveries in chemistry in general, using drugs just as an example? The answer is rather about pre-clinical and clinical proper and controlled practice in medicine, leading to the eventual approval. A drug approval and drug discovery are very different processes. Sure, clinical testing can discover yet another potential usage of the drug (like Viagra, originally tested as a cardiology drug), but that is not a typical discovery. Another thing is a compound being discovered as a potential drug to be tested/approved is rather discovery of medicine than chemistry. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Feb 18, 2023 at 13:23
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Nature of matter is too complex to be fully predictable, so what is not predictable at current chemistry level is discovered accidentally, not being foreseen until encountered.

The first paragraph is incorrect, being rational and making accidental discoveries does not exclude each other. Ability to predict unknown phenomena is rather rare (like prediction of antimatter).

Ability to predict behavior of some molecule within the known is easier.

But all is very case dependent, there is hardly any general approach.


In several last decades, applying advances of quantum chemistry, there have been developed a screening method of evaluation of various compounds before them being synthetized yet, eliminating the ones not being promising. One of the leading scientists on this field was the late prof. Rudolf Zahradník Researchgate.net - scientific-contributions 1959-2013, a former head of the Czech Academy of Science.

In recent years, there are being developed AI powered screening computational methods, based on learn structural patterns of biological objects, organic molecules and their relations and interactions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes so maybe there's acceptance of uncertainty in discovery, but there's still much other things to do before it can join the body of science as a valid part of it? So what would these be, given an accidental discovery? $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ It looks your topic targets rather the whole science then chemistry itself. You should explicitly mention in the question the summary of results of your prior research about scientific approach, before asking. As the site is not substitution for own searching for the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ Well, or the criteria for scientific method in chemistry. And this should be much easier answered by a practiced professional than a literature research by amateurs. $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ The criteria for scientific method are the same across the science. Only objects and methods differ. // The amateur research provides results from many professionals. The point is, the site rather hesitates to provide answers that can be easily found elsewhere, not to make redundancy on internet, sometimes on the site itself. That is the reason why the OP is supposed to do own offline/online search for the answer before asking. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Feb 17, 2023 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ But they are not necessarily followed in practice, for example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis $\endgroup$
    – mavavilj
    Feb 17, 2023 at 13:28

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