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Is there a word for this? Independent discovery of a previously known thing?
February 23, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Is there a word for this? Independently coming up with a "breakthrough idea" that turns out to have been previously discovered and explored.

Yesterday, I came up with what I thought was a completely independent, brilliant idea. Then I find out the idea was invented and fully explored in the 1970s. People won awards and accolades for this. Now, mind you, they did the full experimentation and publishing work for it, too. But still ... the exact same idea. Given the right timing, I could have won those awards and accolades.

There must be a word for this.
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
We call that unoriginal where I come from, or possibly "revisited" if you are trying to apply it to contemporary times.
posted by michaelh at 8:59 AM on February 23, 2012


Patent lawyers call this "Independent Invention", and in the US at least, it's not a defense against patent infringement.
posted by Oktober at 9:01 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Multiple discovery is when the thing happens at the same time, e.g. both Newton and Liebniz discovered calculus at almost exactly the same time despite having very little in the way of communication.

But if you simply stumble across something someone else has already fully worked out, I think it's called "not doing the research".
posted by valkyryn at 9:01 AM on February 23, 2012


In relation to knitting technique, Elizabeth Zimmerman calls this "unventing." She pretty much assumed that, people having knitted so much, for so long, any clever thing she figured out had already been invented by some other person, long, long ago, and didn't take credit for discovering, only for unventing.
posted by BrashTech at 9:02 AM on February 23, 2012


If I had to coin a term, it'd be convergent invention (w/ the obvious parallel to evolution) Eponysterically, it seems others have used this term before.
posted by MangyCarface at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2012


I've come to think of it as "reviewing the literature".
posted by mediated self at 9:16 AM on February 23, 2012


People into varying degrees of "woo" talk a lot about the hundredth monkey effect.
posted by gerryblog at 9:21 AM on February 23, 2012


Scientists often refer to being "scooped", like reporters, when someone working in their field comes out with a paper on the exact subject that they've been working on. This is relevant to your question because I've also heard people jokingly say "I got scooped 20 years ago" when they discover a 20-year-old paper that addresses the exact problem that they've been thinking about in the present day. "Pre-scooped" might be a good way of putting it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2012


But if you simply stumble across something someone else has already fully worked out, I think it's called "not doing the research".

I've come to think of it as "reviewing the literature".

No, that's not what he's asking. He didn't stumble across someone else's idea. He had the idea independently, but it turned out someone else had already had the idea. They also fleshed it out by doing research, but the OP did not get the idea from that research.
posted by spaltavian at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2012


The word is "anticipatory plagiarism". It's what occurs "when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born" (source).
posted by faustdick at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Then I find out the idea was invented and fully explored in the 1970s. People won awards and accolades for this.

There's a pretty significant chance that if it was that important, it's been fully integrated into the zeitgeist by now, and you might have just put it together backwards from the follow on concepts.
posted by empath at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This experience is usually referred to as "90% of your career as a scientist."

Also, what empath said above. When an idea is really important, it shifts the whole field in a hundred subtle ways, all of which make the idea less surprising, more "natural," and easier to rediscover, even for people who have never heard it explicitly stated.
posted by escabeche at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel your pain here as I was once well on my way to inventing the Wankel Rotary engine until I realized where I was going. (I started with the concepts of cosine and "top dead center" which I suspect is where Wankel started.)

So if there is a generally accepted term, it's wrong and Faustdick is right.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Shitty luck"? :)
posted by Falwless at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's called either, take your pick, "A day late and a dollar short", "Re-inventing the wheel", or "Great minds think alike."
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 AM on February 23, 2012


In Maggie Boden's book "The Creative Mind" she calls the act of inventing something that is new to the inventor p-creativity (psychological creativity) and that of inventing something that has never been invented in the world before h-creativity (historical creativity). So your idea is p-creative but not h-creative.
posted by Jabberwocky at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2012


I'm told the Italian colloquialism that maps to the American "reinventing the wheel" is "You have discovered hot water."
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:39 AM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Gazumped
posted by IndigoJones at 4:00 PM on February 23, 2012


I've always called this a duh-piphany.
posted by Awakened at 10:56 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Medical researcher discovers integration, gets 75 citations
posted by j03 at 10:56 PM on February 23, 2012


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