Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fenyman on what it takes to be a scientist

In his famous 1974 Cal Tech commencement address, Richard Fenyman explained his philosophy of science,
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
Not fooling yourself is not trivial, and as soon as you are comfortable that you've succeeded, you run the risk of slipping. Plus, the pursuit of honesty sometimes runs against other human emotions, such as ambition, a need for security, and a desire for recognition.

Yet scientists are still among the most trusted professions, ranking above pollsters, athletes, and civil servants. I suppose that there is an incentive to lie in most every profession, but scientists are among the most introspective of that fact.