"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character: Adventures of a Curious Character
Richard Feynman Albert Hibbs and Hibbs Edward Hutchings Ralph Leighton

Ended: Aug. 28, 2012

I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way—by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!
So I found hypnosis to be a very interesting experience. All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t”—which is just another way of saying that you can’t.
And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of Von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was Von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!
I was always dumb in that way. I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics. If the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition. I’ve always lived that way. It’s nice, it’s pleasant—if you can do it. I’m lucky in my life that I can do this.
I returned to civilization shortly after that and went to Cornell to teach, and my first impression was a very strange one. I can’t understand it any more, but I felt very strongly then. I sat in a restaurant in New York, for example, and I looked out at the buildings and I began to think, you know, about how much the radius of the Hiroshima bomb damage was and so forth…How far from here was 34th Street?…All those buildings, all smashed—and so on. And I would go along and I would see people building a bridge, or they’d be making a new road, and I thought, they’re crazy, they just don’t understand, they don’t understand. Why are they making new things? It’s so useless.
It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.
It wasn’t a failure on my part that the Institute for Advanced Study expected me to be that good; it was impossible. It was clearly a mistake—and the moment I appreciated the possibility that they might be wrong, I realized that it was also true of all the other places, including my own university. I am what I am, and if they expected me to be good and they’re offering me some money for it, it’s their hard luck.
I have sometimes been struck, when talking with wealthy people who have family foundations, how important the foundation appears to be to their sense of self. They can become genuinely emotional in discussing it. It gives them a sort of moral superiority. Something like this sense may also come, for example, from having donated to a college and having a building named after oneself. The behavior appears to be at once egotistical and altruistic, both motivations coexisting in the mind. And yet the rest of the world generally takes little note of family foundations or the names on campus buildings. We all would probably acknowledge, if our attention were ever drawn to the people behind the foundations or the buildings, that they are good people for having made these gifts. But we almost never meet these people and so do not think about them. Thus they are able to achieve a sense of public praiseworthiness, and achieve their own moral purposes, without inciting direct envy or hostility.
In fact, when one considers the aggregate stock market, it appears that price changes in the United States have been mostly due merely to changes in moods or attitudes or something else unrelated to the actual changes in real underlying value to which the changes are constantly ascribed. In my 1981 paper “Do Stock Prices Move Too Much to Be Justified by Subsequent Changes in Dividends?” I presented evidence, using stock market data for the United States since 1871, that the fundamentals corresponding to the aggregate stock market just never changed very much from year to year.6 If people had known the future perfectly and priced appropriately, then the stock market should have behaved pretty much like a stable upward trend. So it doesn’t make sense to think that all those fluctuations up and down around the trend could be attributed to “new information” about the future. Instead there is excess volatility in the stock market.
John Gartner, a psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, alleges that countries with a significant share of self-selected immigrants in their populations have attracted a large number of manic as well as “hypomanic” (a subdued version of manic) people.11 The United States, Canada, and New Zealand, he points out, are, according to studies published in psychiatric and medical journals, the three countries with the highest proportion of people who have mental illnesses that fit the medical definition of bipolar disorder. Hence they probably have a high proportion of hypomanic people as well. They are all nations of self-selected immigrants who had to overcome hurdles to reach their shores. I would think that other centers of business, like Dubai or Hong Kong or Singapore, have been favored by similar selection. People who emigrate from the comfortable environment in which they grew up are thus naturally selected for certain traits, both genetic and cultural. These hypomanic people are naturally more entrepreneurial.
I define a speculative bubble as a situation in which news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm, which spreads by psychological contagion from person to person, in the process amplifying stories that might justify the price increases and bringing in a larger and larger class of investors, who, despite doubts about the real value of an investment, are drawn to it partly through envy of others’ successes and partly through a gambler’s excitement.
There still are “brain bugs”—similar to bugs in computer programs—as neuroscientist Dean Buonomano has characterized them in a book with that title: “Simply put, our brain is inherently well suited for some tasks, but ill suited for others. Unfortunately, the brain’s weaknesses include recognizing which tasks are which, so for the most part we remain blissfully ignorant of the extent to which our lives are governed by the brain bugs.”2 Speculative bubbles are the effect on the entire financial system of a number of these brain bugs. I listed a number of them in Irrational Exuberance. The bugs include Anchoring, a tendency to be influenced by extraneous cues when in ambiguous circumstances, A tendency to be overly influenced by storytelling, particularly human-interest stories, Overconfidence, particularly in ego-involving judgments, Nonconsequentialist reasoning, a difficulty in thinking through the array of hypothetical events that could potentially occur in the future, and Social influence, a tendency to adopt the attitudes of others around us without realizing we are doing so.
There is also cognitive dissonance, which we discussed earlier. During a bubble, it operates on both an individual and a cultural level. At the cultural level, it contributes to the proliferation of a conventional wisdom that justifies the bubble-enhancing activities in which we are already involved. There are people who actively feed this conventional wisdom, as anything that disrupts the conventional wisdom will evoke cognitive dissonance in those who have internalized it—and who, moreover, may have made business arrangements or placed bets that are predicated on this wisdom.
The economist Paul A. Samuelson opined that stock prices are “micro efficient” and “macro inefficient.” He meant that there is more truth to the efficient markets hypothesis for individual stocks (micro in the sense that we are talking about tiny parts of the aggregate market) than for the stock market as a whole (the macro side of the market). We call this Samuelson’s Dictum. In a paper I wrote with my former student Jeeman Jung, we found evidence that gives some support for Samuelson’s Dictum.9 We noted that excess volatility is most apparent for the aggregate stock market. For the aggregate market, there has never been much fluctuation in earnings or dividends; they have always followed a trend—with only short-run interruptions that tend to reverse themselves in a matter of a few years—and so should not have a significant impact on stock prices. There has thus never been much genuine information predicting substantial future movements in economywide earnings or dividends away from the trend. So, for the stock market for an entire country, the bubbles have dominated.10 But when one looks at individual stocks, and not just at the aggregate stock market, one finds that the percentage movements in dividends are much larger. Even if these stocks are just as vulnerable to booms and crashes, the large movements in the fundamentals, to some extent forecastable, provide a justification for fluctuations in the price-earnings ratio.
Fischer Black, the co-author of the Black-Scholes option pricing theory, wrote in his presidential address to the American Finance Association that the efficient markets theory of the stock market “seems reasonable” if we adopt the right definition of “efficient.” He defined “efficient” to mean that individual company stock prices are between half true value and twice true value almost all of the time. And he defined “almost all” to mean “at least 90%.”12 That judgment seems roughly to correspond to Vuolteenaho’s assessment. As I interpret the evidence, financial markets are not perfect, and a substantial fraction of the variation in individual stock prices is not explainable in terms of anything that makes good economic sense—at least not sense that we can discern today. Bubbles are frequent and, when they occur, salient. But enough of the variability of individual stock prices, or other individual asset prices, does make sense that the market remains an extremely important source of information for directing resources.
We have ample reason to believe that financial markets are quite useful. And yet our wonderful financial infrastructure has not yet brought us the harmonious society that we might envision. There remains the ugliness of extreme economic inequality, of some who endure hardship while others are pampered. While some inequality is actually in many ways a good thing, for the motivation and stimulation it provides, arbitrary and extreme inequality poses problems. The public aversion to inequality is deep seated and ancient. It has been shown that even our distant relatives, nonhuman primates, share with us an aversion to inequity.1 It is an imperative that people feel society is basically fair to them.
There is an economic theory that would seem to justify something akin to sumptuary laws or taxes. The theory was described by Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class and the economic part of the theory was expanded by George Akerlof and other economic theorists.10 Many people spend lavishly on consumption that they do not really even enjoy merely to signal to others their status—a practice called positional consumption because its value to the consumer depends on how it establishes his or her position relative to others. As argued convincingly by social psychologist Leon Festinger, with his 1954 “theory of social comparison processes,” people are instinctively constantly comparing themselves with other people, and they delight when they are doing better.11 They tend to compare themselves with others close to them in the social ranking and who are attempting to achieve similar things, and disregard those who are doing very much better or very much worse or who are very different in their measures of success.
The comparisons are substantially subconscious, and since such comparisons are generally frowned upon, many people deny to themselves as well as others that they are making them. From Festinger’s other theory, of cognitive dissonance, we see that people often manage to convince themselves that they enjoy the positional consumption goods because the items consumed are intrinsically good; they experience a sense of enjoyment as if the enjoyment were intrinsic rather than positional. This is not to say that people cannot make value judgments independent of status considerations, just that such considerations impose a bias that affects their judgments, often subconsciously.
A 2007 study even identified a region of the brain (the ventral striatum) that is stimulated especially strongly after a reward if others nearby are seen as not receiving the same reward.12 There is thus a physical basis for the social comparison theory.
Switching from a progressive income tax to a similarly progressive consumption tax might be a good idea, for such an approach does not penalize one from earning a large income; it simply discourages excessive spending from that income, and it might encourage saving, philanthropy, or both. However, there are serious implementation problems that make progressive consumption taxes difficult. For example, in implementing such a new tax regime, it would be hard not to effectively reduce taxes on the highest-income people, and it would be hard to manage withholding on income, since responsible withholding would have to depend on unknown future consumption.14 Neither a sumptuary tax nor a progressive consumption tax is an easy and obvious solution to the problem of wasteful and resentment-inducing positional consumption. We need to keep such ideas in mind, though, as fodder for public financial innovation, possibly in some altered form or through reliance on future advances in information technology.
I have proposed that in the future nations should index their tax systems to inequality.19 Under inequality indexation (which I have also called inequality insurance) the government would not legislate fixed income tax rates for each tax bracket, but would instead prescribe in advance a formula that would tie the tax rates to statistical measures of pretax inequality. If income inequality were to worsen, the tax system would become automatically more progressive. This is a “financial” solution to the problem of inequality in the sense that we impose the indexation scheme before we know that income inequality will worsen, and before people know who might effectively be highly taxed by it. So the indexation scheme is dealing with a risk, the risk of rising inequality, before it happens, much as insurance contracts do. In fact, inequality indexation could be considered a kind of insurance—inequality insurance.
An inequality indexation formula might be enacted as a political quid pro quo for some pro-growth policy that is controversial because of its possible consequences for income inequality. The formula would promote average economic well-being as well as deal with risks to that well-being. Leonard Burman at Syracuse University and I did a historical analysis of the possible effects of inequality indexation, had it been imposed many years ago.21 We found that if an inequality indexation scheme had been legislated in 1979 that would have frozen after-tax income inequality at the then-current level, the marginal tax rate on high-income individuals would have increased to an extraordinarily high level, over 75%. This finding provides stark evidence of how much economic inequality has worsened since 1979. We were concerned that full inequality indexation might be too much to be accepted, and so we also proposed partial inequality indexation, as part of a broader attack on random economic influences that create inequality, using other insurance and hedging schemes. An inequality indexation scheme also has to be designed, and constrained, to minimize effects that encourage welfare dependency or provide strong incentives to immigrate or emigrate.
One challenge to motivating donations without external pressure or rewards may be that there is a lack of fulfillment when those who give to philanthropic organizations do not feel any real gratitude from the recipients, for they never meet the people who benefit from their contributions. Psychologists have shown that people are not well motivated in their charitable giving by mere statistics about human suffering: they have to see a suffering individual and put a human face on the need.
We must always bear in mind that our existing tax system was created taking into account computation limits that are no longer relevant. All its various “simplifying” measures should be reexamined with the goal of building real incentives into the system.
In big business, management tends to become impersonal. The huge aggregations of capital of big business mean that the number of public security holders is large. These investors are largely scattered. Management acquires a sort of feudal tenure as a result of the utter dependence of the public security holders on them. . . . There can be no question that the laxity in business morals has a direct relationship to the size of business. Empires so vast as to defy the intimate understanding of any one man tend to become playthings for manipulation.
I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time. The conference made me so nervous that a girl I knew in New York had to calm me down. “Look,” she said, “you’re shaking! You’ve gone absolutely nuts! Just take it easy, and don’t take it so seriously. Back away a minute and look at what it is.” So I thought about the conference, how crazy it was, and it wasn’t so bad. But if someone were to ask me to participate in something like that again, I’d shy away from it like mad—I mean zero! No! Absolutely not! And I still get invitations for this kind of thing today.
But we still suffer from an analogous illusion: an illusion that those in the business world will stand to benefit from business conquest, from aggressive and inhuman business tactics. Thus people think that the wealthy in our society—among them the financiers—have a real and genuine incentive to use devious means to attack and subjugate, economically, the majority of the population. To take a concrete example, people widely assume that it was in Goldman Sachs’s interest to deliberately double-deal its clients, as it allegedly did in 2007, urging securities on them that Goldman thought would eventually fail, because the securities were designed to benefit a different client, Paulson & Co.—a fact not disclosed to the clients. At the same time Goldman Sachs was effectively taking short positions in these same securities.2 As another example, people widely assume that Countrywide Financial Corporation deliberately issued and securitized mortgages that they believed would ultimately default. It has been claimed that the subprime mortgage collapse that brought on the current financial crisis was a deliberate plot by Countrywide and other mortgage lenders.3 There may well have been some moral lapses behind these events, but it is not correct to claim that these institutions acted deliberately in full knowledge of the actual outcome. To the extent that they misbehaved, it was not really in their ex ante interest to do so. The assumption today, analogous to Angell’s great illusion, often seems to be that businesses have a real incentive to behave in an aggressive and evil manner. This assumption, if left unchallenged, will create resentment toward business that will inhibit its proper functioning, thus threatening to slow the advance of the world’s prosperity in coming years.
There were a lot of fools at that conference—pompous fools—and pompous fools drive me up the wall. Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools—guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus—THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible! And that’s what I got at the conference, a bunch of pompous fools, and I got very upset. I’m not going to get upset like that again, so I won’t participate in interdisciplinary conferences any more.
Serbia, whose relations with Austria were strained, acceded to only some of the demands. Austria in turn invaded Serbia on July 28, 1914. Both countries had military alliances with other countries, who were thus drawn into the conflict. The events drew public attention to long-standing animosities among these other countries as well, and a war fever erupted that proved unstoppable. Politicians, after mobilizing their armies in response to the public’s appetite for war, could not realistically demobilize for fear of the internal political consequences. According to historian Gordon Martel’s 2008 assessment of the public spirit at the very beginning of that war,   It may now be difficult for us to imagine a time and a place in which war was not only acceptable but popular. . . . The kind of thinking that led people to rejoice at the prospect of war is now difficult to recapture—but rejoice they did: there was dancing in the streets and spontaneous demonstrations of support for governments throughout Europe; men flocking to recruitment offices, fearful that the war might end before they had the opportunity to fight; there was a spirit of festival and a sense of community in all European cities as old class divisions and political rivalries were replaced by patriotic fervor.9 That fever pitch was not purely psychological, for it was ultimately informed by an idea—the idea that Angell had called the great illusion, which inspired a genuine feeling of individual self-actualization through war.
The great illusion lived on long enough in public discourse to pave the way for a second world war, just as Angell had suggested in the 1930s.10 But by now we are much less afflicted by his illusion—as it applies to nation-states. Yet we still must deal with the popular notion that corporations and wealthy individuals have an interest in “conquest,” just as states were once thought to have. The idea is widely held that extremely wealthy people in our society have an interest as a group in aggressively preventing even the most modest redistribution, through taxes or regulation, that would tend to diminish their extreme wealth.
The futility of conquest in business mirrors the futility of conquest in war about which Angell wrote. Angell noted that it is impossible to extract much wealth from conquered countries. It is likewise impossible to extract much happiness from wealth that has been earned by antisocial financial means. There is little that one can do personally with a large fortune that is really satisfying, except to give it away. Owning a mansion or mansions is not intrinsically satisfying, as the law of diminishing returns soon sets in. One also suffers a degree of emotional distance from most people, as well as a sense of selfishness and social isolation when one is conspicuously wealthy and not sharing with others, to say nothing of fears about kidnapping or extortion. And yet there is a common presumption, replicated constantly in the news media, that business is relentlessly selfish—and ready to attack us all, if we ever let our defenses down. This presumption leads to an atmosphere of excessive suspicion, and that atmosphere has some of the same social costs that Angell envisioned. Just as that great illusion led in substantial measure to the world wars, so too does that same illusion in business lead to economic inefficiency and disappointment. There is a significant role for people of influence, including educators, in working to correct this illusion, and making that correction will be a fundamental step toward building the good society.
For example, a sudden fit of anger can be artificially stimulated by current to an electrode implanted near the “rage circuit” of the brain, and it can be stopped by merely cutting off the current. The brain even appears to have a program that can launch a rampage, or “forward panic.” The program facilitates joining a group to commit carnage against another, vulnerable, group, if a particular circuit is triggered. But Pinker argues that such violence “is not a perennial urge like hunger, sex, or the need to sleep,” and that people can go through their entire lives without seeing a forward panic triggered. These “inner demons” can be controlled in a society that encourages “gentle commerce,” an “expanding circle” of connections, and other socially constructive institutions.
Albert O. Hirschman, in his 1977 book The Passions and the Interests, traces a history of thought about human evils and of the origin of the concept of capitalism.16 Hirschman traces the idea that man “as he really is” is driven by passions that often create conflict. There is no escaping these passions. They are part of the natural human condition. Indeed one of the results of these passions is that the history of the world has in large measure been a succession of wars and rebellions. But, Hirschman argues, starting around the 1600s the idea gradually emerged that the best hope for reducing the damage from the unconstrained expression of these passions was to create a situation in which people have interests that countervail these passions. A modern economy, in which complex business interests develop, is just such a means of restraining passions. Hirschman traces this train of thought from Francis Bacon to Thomas Hobbes to Niccolò Machiavelli to Charles de Montesquieu and to James Steuart. He sees the development of capitalism in terms of a gradual decline in the concept of military glory as an end that might justify the expression of angry passions, and a recognition of the imperfectability of humankind, an understanding that human passions need to be controlled to prevent war. Given this imperfectability, the concept arose of setting up a structure that would provide “countervailing passions,” that is, one within which people have “material interests” that work against these passions. Material interests usually means financial interests: ownership of property, of shares, and of bonds, and long-term employment contracts.
The political scientists Bruce Russett and John Oneal, in their book Triangulating Peace, have presented a statistical analysis of data on wars around the world from 1886 to 1992.17 They conclude that three variables, measured for any given pair of countries, help explain the likelihood that those countries will be at war: economic interconnectedness, democratic traditions, and membership in international organizations. All three factors help prevent wars, and when all three are at their most favorable, the probability of war is reduced by 71%. Among these factors, Russett and Oneal found economic interconnectedness to be the most important.
Anderson.18 The relation could also be spurious: perhaps friendlier countries are more likely to trade with each other in the first place.
Yet part of the reason successful societies develop power elites is that they need a leadership that has the power to get things done. We have to make it possible for a relatively small number of people—a management—to use their personal judgment to decide on the direction of our major activities. One of the themes of this book has been that despite rapid advances in information technology, we are still just as dependent as ever on the judgment of individual human beings. The faculties of “complex communication” and “expert thinking” that Levy and Murnane found to have survived the information technology revolution are needed as much as ever for coordination of the economy, and a system of financial capitalism will eventually imbue those in possession of such faculties with wealth and power.
It’s one of those games I play. They want a receipt? I’m not giving them a receipt. Then you’re not going to get the money. OK, then I’m not taking the money. They don’t trust me? The hell with it; they don’t have to pay me. Of course it’s absurd! I know that’s the way the government works; well, screw the government! I feel that human beings should treat human beings like human beings. And unless I’m going to be treated like one, I’m not going to have anything to do with them! They feel bad? They feel bad. I feel bad, too. We’ll just let it go. I know they’re “protecting the taxpayer,” but see how well you think the taxpayer was being protected in the following situation.
One of these better sides is the philanthropic impulse, and the tendency, at least in the right social environment, for wealthy people to give much of their wealth away constructively. As we have seen, such a tendency ought to be considered central to financial capitalism. The gifts of the wealthy might in some respects be self-serving or motivated by ego, and they may in some cases generate resentment rather than gratitude, but financial capitalism makes full sense only when we recognize the importance of their gifts. A problem with philanthropy is that, in the words of Craig Calhoun, president of the Social Science Research Council, there is a “loss of dignity for workers and citizens to feel they are dependent on charitable gifts—rather than on protections rightly available to them.”9 Yes indeed, the financial power that some achieve is resented, even if they eventually give away much of the wealth from which that power derives. But wealth accumulation followed by charity will still play a fundamental role in the good society, for, as we have seen, allowing or even actively encouraging people to amass wealth and give much of it away creates a system that motivates them to do good things. The loss of dignity that Calhoun notes can be minimized, and it may be more than offset by the overall beneficial results of such a system. This conclusion is perhaps more sobering than inspiring. From what we know of human nature, we must continue to perfect a system that provides outlets for people’s aggressive nature, that allows them to be egotistical. The system must also give them the opportunity to express their better natures at some point in their lives, for the good of society as a whole.
One singularly important human impulse, which Nietzsche did not seem to appreciate but that is emphasized by Adam Smith in his book Theory of Moral Sentiments, is not a desire for power per se but a desire for praise.14 We see this desire plainly in the behavior of the youngest children and the oldest and weakest people, those with no hope of attaining “power” over others. There is an enormous literature in modern psychology confirming the importance of self-esteem. But Smith gave his discussion of the desire for praise a different slant, one perhaps more closely aligned with the contemporary psychological literature on essentialism,15 and one still not as appreciated today as it ought to be. Smith wrote that in mature people the desire for praise is transformed into a desire for praiseworthiness:   The desire of the approbation and esteem of those we live with, which is of such importance to our happiness, cannot be fully and intirely contented but by rendering ourselves the just and proper objects of those sentiments, and by adjusting our own character and conduct according to those measures and rules by which esteem and approbation are naturally bestowed. . . . We are pleased not only with praise, but with having done what is praise-worthy.16 He seems almost to be saying that this craving is inherent in the human psyche and that our brain wants to categorize the praise we receive by its essential truth, by the real category of people into which it places us. Smith notes that most people would find it unsatisfying to be praised by mistake, for something they did not do. No one is satisfied merely to look praiseworthy. One wants to be praiseworthy. This is an aspect of human nature that is essential to the success of our economic system.
Even criminals who commit frauds and violent crimes probably do not either. They merely imagine that they are praiseworthy within the confines of a moral philosophy that they perceive as sharing with their social group.
Economic development is in substantial measure the development of a social milieu in which it is harder and harder to find others who will truly feel that corrupt behavior is actually praiseworthy.
I had a certain psychological difficulty all the way through this period. You see, I had been brought up by my father against royalty and pomp (he was in the uniforms business, so he knew the difference between a man with a uniform on, and with the uniform off—it’s the same man). I had actually learned to ridicule this stuff all my life, and it was so strong and deeply cut into me that I couldn’t go up to a king without some strain. It was childish, I know, but I was brought up that way, so it was a problem.
It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated. Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another. The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn’t soak through food. Well, that’s true. It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will—including Wesson oil. So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.
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.
I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.
If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results.
So I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.