Johannes Vermeer - The Geographer.

- LBS 327B (§1) -

Scientific Practice

Michigan State University
Fall 2018
Dr. Robert T. Pennock

Course Info | Grading | Professor Contact Info | Textbooks | Class Schedule
Study, Paper & Exam Tips | Academic Integrity | Discussion Guidelines
Additional Info | Useful Links | Blogs

- Announcements -
Check here periodically for late-breaking news

Extra credit talk opportunity: Sharper Focus/Wider Lens "Doubting Science & Technology" Panel discussion w/ Dr. Kevin Elliott, Dr. Aaron McCright, Dr. Georgina Montgomery, Dr. Rick Walsh. When: Monday, Oct. 22 at 7 pm. Where: MSU Union 2nd Floor Ballroom.

Extra credit talk opportunity: Dr. Matthew Slater (Bucknell University) "Scientific Consensus and the Public Trust of Science." When: Friday, Oct. 19 at 3pm. Where: 530 S. Kedzie.

Extra credit opportunity: Theatrical performance of Silent Sky about astronomer Henrietta Leavitt at Williamston Theater. (Sept 11 - Oct 21)


Course Info

Room: C102 Holmes Hall

Time: MW 3 - 4:45 pm

Course Description:

Science is a vocational practice with a characteristic set of values that underlie its distinctive methods and mindset. While it is common to speak of medical practice, the notion of scientific practice is not as well understood. This course will explores the motivations and methodologies of scientific endeavors, using these to help illuminate some of the relationships between science and other major human institutions such as religion, politics, government, and the economy. This interdisciplinary course emphasizes scholarship and methodologies from the social sciences and empirically-minded philosophy of science.

As appropriate to our topic, this course will emphasize practice. We will work to develop habits for effective group discussion, writing, and other skills important for scientific excellence.



- Attendance – 10%
- Regular, active class participation - 10%
- Blog (Reading journal) & misc. assignments –20%
- Mid-term exam – 30%
- Research proposal (5 pages) – 5%
- Research project/essay (15 – 20 pages) - 25%

• Grade scale: For your final course average, the 100 pt scale will be translated to grades as follows:
- 90 or above – 4.0; 85 to 90 – 3.5; 80 to 85 – 3.0; 75 to 80 – 2.5;
- 70 to 75 – 2.0; 65 to 70 – 1.5; 60 to 65 – 1.0; Below 60 – 0.0

• I do not round up averages that fall below a cut-off, but resolve borderline grades entirely on the basis of optional extra-credit assignments completed before the last class period. You may earn up to two (2) percentage points by such options, which I will announce periodically during the semester. A common extra-credit option is to attend some relevant university guest speaker talk and turn in a reflective paper about it.

• Late assignments will be accepted, but will be docked half a grade per day (e.g, from an equivalent of 4.0 to 3.5).

• At least half of each period will be devoted to discussion of the material. Class participation means not only attendance see below), but also regular and active participation in class discussions, workshops, simulations etc. (10%). It is not possible to have a meaningful discussion or to get the most out of lectures unless you come to class having read and thought about the assigned material. Be prepared to answer questions I may ask about the reading and to engage in thoughtful, productive reflection upon it together with your classmates. Often we will break into small discussion groups, and it will waste your colleagues’ valuable time if you have not read the material or completed an assigned exercise in advance.

• Academic Dishonesty: Your work should always be your own. The penalty for cheating or plagiarism will be a failing grade of 0.0 for the course. You are expected to have read MSU’s policies on academic integrity <> and the Briggs honor code.

• Attendance. Everyone is allowed one unexcused absence. Thereafter, one percentage point is deducted for each unexcused absence. Days missed due to sickness will be excused if you have a doctor's note. Days missed because of a team commitment or a religious holiday will be excused, but only if you let me know in advance. If for any reason you do miss a class, you are responsible for getting notes and assignments from a fellow student. Class will start promptly. Please be on time. Arriving late or leaving early counts as a half absence, or more if it causes disruption or inconvenience to your colleagues in class.

• If you are having problems, don't wait until the end of the course to do something about it. See me right away. Helping you learn how to learn is what I'm here for. Welcome to the course!


Professor Contact Info

Please don't hesitate to contact me to talk about anything substantive related to class. Face-to-face discussions are always the most effective and enjoyable, so the best options are to drop by my office hours or talk to me after class. Send me an e-mail message to set up an appointment if you can't see me another time. (Whenever you send me e-mail or leave a phone message, be sure to give not just your name, but also indicate what course you are in.) I'm always happy to talk philosophy or to discuss your thoughts about your learning. However, if you were absent from class and need to get assignments, notes or other material you missed, you should get that from someone in your base group.

Office: BPS 1446 and Holmes W-34.
Office hours: Friday 4:30 - 5:30 pm (BPS 1446). or by appointment or by open door (Holmes W-34).
Phone: 432-7701.

E-mail: pennock5[at]



Representing and Intervening. by Ian Hacking

Various articles, including excerpts from:

Philosophy of Natural Science. by Carl Hempel

Choice and Chance. by Brian Skyrms.

The Structure of Scientific Revolution. by Thomas Kuhn.

Laboratory Life. by Bruno Latour

An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science. by Robert T. Pennock


Class Schedule

NOTE: This is a tentative reading list. Any changes will be announced in advance. Read the assigned selections before the class period.

Week 1 Beginnings
Aug 27 No Class
Aug 29

Introductory Business
No readings

Week 2 Science as a Vocational Practice
Sept 3

MSU Holiday (No class)

Sept 5

Read: Max Weber "Science as a Vocation"
Blog #1

Week 3 Practice & Malpractice
Sept 10

Read: Albert Einstein - "Principles of Research"; Roach "Doctors are scientists"; Smith - "Doctors are not scientists"
Blog #2 due

Sept 12

Read: Bal - "Introduction to Medical Malpractice in the US"; John et al - "Measuring Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices."
Blog #3 due

Week 4 Inconvenient Facts vs. Alternative Facts
Sept 17

Read: Haines et al - "Climate change & human health"; McCright & Dunlap "The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010"
Blog #4 due

Sept 19

Read: Miller - "The Conceptualization and Measurement of Civic Scientific Literacy for the Twenty-First Century"; Passmore et al "Models in Science and in Learning Science"
Guest speaker: Jon D. Miller (postponed)
Blog #5 due
Blog Compilation #1-5 due

Week 5 Practice & Methods Pt 1: Deductive vs Inductive Logic
Sept 24

Read: Hempel Ch 2; Salmon Ch 1 §1.5; Skyrms Ch 1.
Blog #6 due

Sept 26

Read: Hempel Ch 3 "The Test of a Hypothesis"
Blog #7 due

Week 6 Practice & Methods Pt 2: Inductive Methods & Paradoxes
Oct 1

Read: Skyrms Ch V; Salmon Ch 1.1 - 1.10, 1.15.
Blog #8 due

Oct 3 Read: Wesley Salmon "Confirmation"
Blog #9 due
Week 7 Practice & Methods Pt 3: Scientific Tests
Oct 8

Read: Skyrms Ch VIII
Blog #10 due

Oct 10

Mid-Term Exam

Week 8 Theory & Practice Pt 1: Positivism vs. Scientific Realism
Oct 15

Read: Hacking Ch 1 & 2
Blog #11 due

Oct 17 Read: Hacking Ch 3
Blog #12 due
Week 9 Theory & Practice Pt 2: Paradigms & Incommensurability
Oct 22 Read: Kuhn Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Ch 2, 4, 6, 9
Blog #13 due
Oct 24 Read: Hacking Ch 5
Blog #14 due
Week 10 Theory & Practice Pt 3: Postmodern Social Construction
Oct 29

Read: Latour & Woolger Laboratory Life. Ch 2 (upto p 63), Ch 6 (all).
Blog #15 due
Blog Compilation #6-15 due

Oct 31

Read: Harding "Science and Democracy-Replayed or Redesigned"; Nanda "Restoring the Real"
Blog #16 due

Week 11 Theory & Practice Pt 4: Truth or Post-Truth?
Nov 5

Read: Feyerabend "How to Defend Society against Science"
Blog #17 due

Nov 7

Read: Hacking 'Break' & Ch. 9
Blog #18 due

Week 12 Theory & Practice Pt 5: Experimental Practice & Realism
Nov 12

Read: Hacking Ch 11
Blog #19 due

Research instruction at MSU Library w/ Ben Oberdick (Meet at library info desk). Research Resource Course Guide for our class.

Nov 14 Read: Hacking Ch 16
Blog #20 due
Week 13 Practice & Pratitioners Pt 1: Excellence in Scientific Practice
Nov 19

Read: None
Term paper proposal due
Naturally Obsessed

Nov 21

Read: Pennock "Courageous Humility" or alternative chapter [handout]
Blog #21 due

Week 14 Practice & Pratitioners Pt 2: The Norms of Practice
Nov 28

Read: Pennock "Creative Conflict" or alternative chapter [handout]
Blog #22 due

Nov 28

Read: Merton "Science and the Social Order"
Blog #23 due

Week 15 Practice & Pratitioners Pt 3: Integrity
Dec 3 Read: Pennock "Reaffirming the Norms of Science"
Blog #24 due
Honors Option Presentation
Dec 5

Read: Pennock "We Are Scientists Second"
Blog #25 due
Blog Compilation #16-25 due

Final Exam Week  
Mon., Dec. 10, 3 - 5 pm.

Term paper due through by 7 am.  Hard copy due at beginning of class.  You should be prepared to give a 3 minute explanation/defense of your thesis.




Study, Paper & Exam Tips Philosophy courses can sometimes be intimidating for students who are used to standard courses where the task is to learn a bunch of facts. In philosophy, the key task is to learn how to improve one's thinking, so the focus is not so much on the conclusions themselves but rather on the arguments on which conclusions are based. This requires that you study in quite a different way than you might be used to. To help, I have written a short guide that you may find useful. Click here.  

Academic Integrity This is sufficiently important that it is worth repeating: Your work should always be your own. I expect that all students understand how to properly document sources; this is not something for which one may plead ignorance. If you are not sure what counts as plagiarism, find out before you turn in an assignment. The penalty for cheating or plagiarism will be a failing grade of 0.0 for the course. I expect you to have read MSU’s policies on academic integrity and the Briggs honor code.  

Discussion Guidelines

Here I will include the guidelines that you generated and we agree to govern ourselves by for class discussion.

• Be respectful
• Be relevant
• Be organized
• Be prepared
• Be engaged
• Be confident
• Speak loudly to be heard
• Keep an open mind


Additional Info

What is a blog? The term "blog" is a contraction of "web log". A blog is essentially a journal of one's thoughts about some subject that is posted on a web page for the world to read. Blog entries are usually short, typically no more than a paragraph or two. They may be of varying levels of formality, depending upon one's audience.

For us, the subject is the course readings, so think of it as a reading journal. What I expect is that you will keep a regular log of your thoughts as you are doing the assigned reading. Try to write something about each reading. These are not meant to be essays but neither should they be just notes. What I expect to see is evidence that you are thinking about what you are reading as you go along. In particular, I want to see that you are identifying and reflecting upon the philosophical issues that arise. The purpose of the blogs is to make you engage the material and start to form your own views about the topics we will be discussing in class.

They are also meant to give you practice with pre-writing, where the goal is just to get ideas andthoughts quickly onto the page that can later be edited. The key is to write intensely for 25 minutes. In that time you should aim to produce several paragraphs.

BLOG REQUIREMENTS: On the day blogs are due, you should send them to me by email in the following manner:
- The subject line of the message should say: 327 - Blog #X - Your Name.
- Repeat that same information <327 - Blog #X - Your Name> as the first line of the body of the message, in the same way you would submit a paper or assignment.
- Cut the text from your document and paste it into the body of the email message to send to me. <>
- DO NOT send your blog to me as an attachment. (5 pts off for doing that.)
- As a check to see that your email was delivered, you should cc yourself.
- Your blog must be emailed before you come to class on the day that it is due.

Public posting is optional. If you do want to set up a real blog page with your thoughts so your fellow students (and the world!) can read them, you should do so on your AFL space. Send me the URL with your assignment and I'll post that link on this web page. (However, do keep in mind that the blog is an official graded assignment, so the primary audience should be your professor--me--in the same way that other written assignments are.)



Here is an example of a blog from a student in a previous class. Riley Fosmoen's Blog

Here will be links to blogs of students in class who make their blogs public.



Useful Links

I'll put links here that are relevant to what we are discussing. If you come across items that you think would be worth sharing, send me the URL.

• Freed, David "Doctors are not scientists, but we need them"
• CNN "Larry Nassar apologizes, gets 40 - 125 years for decades of sexual abuse" (2/5/2018)
• Climate Reality Project "An Inconvenient Truth: Then and Now."
• A serious case of questionable research practices: "Top Cornell food researcher has had 13 studies retracted. That's a lot!" (9/21/2018)
• Kofman, Ava "Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science" New York Times (10/25/2018)
• Mandelbaum, Ryan "Here Are All the Candidates with Science Backgrounds Who Just Got Elected." (11/7/2018)



Page created: 8/24/2018. Last updated: 12/5/2018
Return to Dr. Pennock's Home Page