Knowledge Discovery System for Research Hypothesis Generation from Serendipitous Findings

From the discovery of penicillin and x-rays to the development of many of today’s chemotherapy agents, serendipitous findings tangential to the researcher’s intended purpose, the “That’s funny…” moments, have greatly impacted the health and well-being of society. As an information behavior, these unexpected findings are an example of the Opportunistic Discovery of Information (ODI). ODI has been described in many contexts, from information behavior in virtual worlds to the impact of information encountering on health behaviors. Yet, little is known about instances of ODI within the context of scientific research. A major difficulty in the study of the ODI is the transient nature of the experience. People do not plan to find information unexpectedly, nor is it easy to develop an experimental environment that consistently fosters the ODI experience.

Content analysis may prove to be a useful methodology in revealing instances of ODI in documents, such as journal articles, and can be analyzed for both their manifest content (word use or count) and their latent content (themes and meanings). We believe that the current research literature holds latent references to these ODI experiences and can be systematically analyzed to reveal traces of this human information behavior.

We propose taxonomy of term use indicating the presence of serendipity in the research process and reveal the relationship between the authors’ word choice for serendipity and specific types of ODI experiences.