Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Random chance fuels innovation

From Wikipedia's page on mustard gas:
In 1943, during the Second World War, a US stockpile exploded aboard a supply ship that was bombed in an air raid in the harbor of Bari, Italy exposing and killing thousands of civilians and 628 Allied troops. The deaths and incident were classified Top Secret for 55 years and labeled as a mystery illness. It was noted by the U.S. Army's medical workers that the white cell counts of exposed soldiers were reduced, and mustard gas was investigated as a therapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. Study of the use of similar chemicals as agents for the treatment of cancers led to the discovery of mustine, and the birth of anticancer chemotherapy.
A random event allowed for a natural experiment which led to a new treatment for disease. It is random that I stumbled across it, and it is random that you have now read it. It's random--but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter.