The First Principle is a blog for commentary on the political landscape from the perspective of those engaged in the business of changing public policy. It covers politics, policy, and trends in public and elite opinion. Although the blog is an organ of the Niskanen Center, it represents the opinions of only one man – its president, Jerry Taylor – and the individual guest bloggers who will appear here from time to time.
The blog takes its name from a passage in a tremendous commencement address given by physicist Richard Feynman at Caltech in 1974:
But this long history of learning how to not fool ourselves – of having utter scientific integrity – is, I’m sorry to say, something that we haven’t specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you’ve caught on by osmosis. 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 would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist … 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.
Although The First Principle is engaged in political science – not natural science – Feynman’s admonition remains important. Too many of us allow our ideologies to color our interpretation of facts and data. Too many of us ignore the arguments of those who don’t share our world view … and give undue intellectual deference to those who do. Consequently, too many of us fall into the trap identified by Richard Feynman.
The First Principle offers commentary on the political landscape but does so with Feynman’s admonition in mind. The blog is not primarily aimed at giving intellectual aid and comfort to libertarians (although I hope that it might do so occasionally). It is instead dedicated to providing a clear-eyed view of the political and policy terrain so that libertarians might better advance the causes they hold dear.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”