About ‘Abduction in the Everyday Practice of Science’ for September 2020

Abduction in the everyday practice of science: the logic of unintended experiments


Generating new ideas—innovation and novelty—is central to what those of us practicing science hope to accomplish. We call it research, but what we really aim for is new-search—learning new things about the world and how it works. Charles Peirce gave the name “abduction” to what he described as the only logical operation that introduces any new idea. In this paper, I will focus on an unconventional understanding of abduction, one that goes beyond its usual meaning and concerns the situation when a surprising observation becomes reconfigured as an unintended experiment about a new research problem that previously was not being studied and possibly was unknown. For science, the con- sequences can be the beginning of a new field of investigation. For the researcher, the consequences can be life-changing.

Questions for Twitter

  1. Can an experiment be unintended – is it rather that the results were unintended from a set of actions rather than an actual experiment?
  2. I think we both agree that noticing is key. Which is more important – opportunity or surprise driven noticing?
  3. “Don’t give up a good hypothesis just because the data don’t fit.” (p.222) How do you reconcile this with  moves towards Open Science?
  4. What room is there in this story for just pure failure and how and when can we define that?

Citation & Links:

Grinnell, Frederick. 2019. Abduction in the everyday practice of science: The logic of unintended experiments. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society. Vol. 55, No.3 • doi: 10.2979/trancharpeirsoc.55.3.01

Is there a paper about serendipity that you would like to discuss in the journal club? Contact us at the Society email (see our contact page, here) to let us know.

Need a copy of the paper but don’t have access? Email the Society at our email address and we can send you one, with the author’s permission. Our contact page is here!