It's what Oakeshott called "the pursuit of intimations" or what others call dumb luck. Human progress often comes about by accident, improvisation, random confluences, and unintended consequences. Science is often just as prone to this serendipity as other fields of inquiry. Which is good news for America, at least the America that has so far resisted governmental attempts to regulate and control and rationalize it:

It is not just that hypertension drugs led to Viagra or that angiogenesis drugs led to the treatment of macular degeneration, but that even discoveries we claim come from research are themselves highly accidental. They are the result of undirected tinkering narrated after the fact, when it is dressed up as controlled research. The high rate of failure in scientific research should be sufficient to convince us of the lack of effectiveness in its design. … America's primary export, it appears, is trial and error, and the innovative knowledge attained in such a way. Trial and error has error in it; and most top-down traditional rational and academic environments do not like the fallibility of "error" and the embarrassment of not quite knowing where they're going. The U.S. fosters entrepreneurs and creators, not exam-takers, bureaucrats or, worse, deluded economists. So the perceived weakness of the American pupil in conventional studies is where his or her very strength may lie.

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