The Law of….

Posted by on November 11, 2019 in Blog, Brexit, film, History, News, Politics, women scientists | 4 comments

Tony Curtis “Some Like It Hot”/Creative Commons

Have you noticed that when referring to items of news or occurrences, that it has become extremely fashionable to talk of the ‘unintended consequences’?

So I decided to look at some classic examples of things that have gone wrong (and very occasionally right) with something in a way that no one could have possibly anticipated. Or if they did, they kept quiet about it.

Now we shouldn’t assume that these consequences are always a BAD THING. One such example is the development of Viagra. Stop sniggering in the back row please. It was developed as a drug to lower blood pressure and its more well-known properties were only discovered as a side effect during clinical trials.  Staying with pharmaceuticals, we all know about the fact that the humble aspirin, developed as an analgesic, turned out to be an anticoagulant that can help prevent heart attacks.

Medicines aside, the world of literature and culture is littered with examples of unintended consequences. I recently watched Some Like It Hot – probably for the fourth time. Having been in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessing a gangland shoot out, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon spend the rest of the film escaping the consequences of their decision to get out of town fast by dressing up as women.

Alice in Wonderland is a glorious example of the concept.  Alice’s adventures all stem from her impulsive decision to follow the White Rabbit down the hole. If she had known what she was getting into, I do wonder if she might have thought twice. But probably not.

I am sure that for many people, their misspent youth definitely had some unforeseen results. I will spare the details, but only Dame V and I know how Kenneth Williams, or at least his picture, saved us at a particularly critical moment in our teenage years.  I assume readers of damesnet will have their own memories of how they extricated themselves from situations when the original plan somehow lost its way.

Moving swiftly on, we need to talk about dynamite. Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel invented it in the 1860s, working with his father, brother Emil and other engineers. They were looking to develop an explosive that would be more powerful than gunpowder, or black powder as it was known. Their research took them to France, where Theophile Jules-Pelouze and his pupil Ascania Sobrero were working on the properties of nitro-glycerine.  Nobel and his brother Emil were experimenting with nitro-glycerine at a factory on their father’s estate. There was an explosion at the factory that killed Emil and several other workers.  Definitely not something that was intended.

Scientific research has had other casualties of course; Marie Curie died of aplastic anaemia from the cumulative exposure to radiation, whose study was the core of her life’s work. A tragedy – yet what a legacy she bestowed to the world, as well as being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win it twice, and to completely ice the cake, the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields.  Did she know or just ignore the danger she was courting?

The unintended consequences of Brexit just keep unfolding. Apparently, it was Zhou Enlai, not Mao Tse-tung who made the comment that it was still too early to judge the consequences of the French Revolution. It now turns out that he didn’t mean the 1789 event, rather the 1968 student revolution in Paris. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?


  1. The cane toad in Australia is another example of this. They were introduced to Queensland from South America with the intention that they would eat the cane beetles threatening Australia’s sugar crops, but they did nothing to control them, and the poison emitted from glands on their heads kills thousand of local species and pets. What’s more they have spread rapidly southwards. Big mistake!

    • Hmm – thanks for this. Who knew?

  2. Now you’ve started me thinking Barbara! There must be many examples of unintended consequences. Japanese Knotwood springs to mind. Think of the trouble that innocent introduction has caused.

    I won’t rest until I have a list!
    Thanks again for a fascinating article.

    • Brilliant! Keep them coming!

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