Statue of Arete (Virtue)

- LBS 492 (§1)-

Scientific Virtue

Michigan State University
Fall 2009
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

• Research Proposal Assignment. And research resource page put together by the librarian Suzi Teghtmeyr for our class.

• Nov. 17. Extra-Credit Option: Dr. Georgina Montgomery. "Pathways to a Career in Science." Undergraduate Women in Science.
Tuesday, Nov. 17, 6 pm. Holmes Hall C-101.

• Extra-Credit Option: Dr. Bruce LaBrack, an internationally known leader in a variety of intercultural fields. You're invited to join us for his presentation on ...

Understanding the ‘Culture of Science’ and ‘Culture in Science’
Of all human activities it would seem that the practice of science would be the least affected by cultural variability because of the universal acceptance of the theories, methods and protocols of scientific inquiry. In reality, culture continues to play a significant role, sometimes negatively, in how effectively international research teams function. Cultural attitudes, values and misperceptions can have negative consequences even in the laboratory when highly skilled scientists from different backgrounds are working on collaborative projects. This session will outline why culture continues to matter even in what is supposedly a value neutral context. It will also review some of the major intercultural communication barriers and common types of cultural misunderstandings that can be encountered in the process of doing research in science and technology areas. Suggestions on how to recognize such conflicts when they occur and ways to alleviate or minimize them will be discussed.

This program is scheduled for 3:00 – 5:00 PM on Wednesday, Nov. 18 in Spartan Room B of the International Center. Light refreshments will be served. R.S.V.P. to Inge Steglitz (2-2685)

• Extra-Credit Option: Dr. Catherine Belling. "Pandemic Flu Preparedness and the Uses of Narrative"
Wednesday, November 11, 12:00 Noon. C-102 East Fee Hall

Course Info

Room: W-40 Holmes Hall

Time: MW 10:20 am to Noon

Course Description:

What are the characteristics of the best scientists? Which distinctive qualities do scientists value in one another? Who are the scientific role models and heroes that other scientists should emulate? What are the qualities of the scientific character and how can they be cultivated. Science is often described as being "value-free" but these questions about the ideals of scientific character show how there is an essential moral element that the scientific community takes for granted. This course will examine the concept of what we may call "scientific virtue" by looking at the lives of eminent scientists, including Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Barbara McClintock and Richard Feynman.

This course will be conducted primarily in seminar format, emphasizing class discussion and student-led presentations. We will work to develop skills of effective group discussion and oral presentation. Students will also write and defend a thesis in a major research paper.



- Attendance – 10% (minus 1% per absence)
- Regular, active class participation - 10%
- Two formal seminar presentations - 10% each
- Blog (Reading journal) –10%
- Mid-term exam – 20%
- 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).

• As a seminar-style tutorial course, at least half of each period will be devoted to discussion of the material. Class participation means not only attendance (5%, 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: Holmes Hall W-35.
Office hours: Mon. 9:15 am - 10:15 am, Wed. 2-3 pm. or by appointment or by open door.
Phone: 432-7701.

E-mail: pennock5[at]
To prevent spread of viruses, NEVER send me any attachment to an e-mail unless we have specifically arranged it in advance.


Browne_Darwin Voyaging cover
Browne_Darwin Power of Place cover
Keller_Feeling for the Organism cover
Isaacson_Einstein cover
Gleick_Genius cover

Charles Darwin: Voyaging by Janet Browne. Princeton Univ. Press (1996)

Charles Darwin: The Power of Place by Janet Browne. Princeton Univ. Press. (2003)

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson Simon & Schuster (2007)

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller Times Books (1984)

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick Vintage Books. (1993)


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
  Introductory Business
No readings
Sept 2

Week 2
Sept 7 MSU Holiday (No class)
Sept 9 Read: Voyaging: Collector Ch 1-3
Blog #1 due
Week 3
Sept 14

Read: Voyaging: Collector Ch 4-6
Blog #2 due

Sept 16

Read: Voyaging: Traveller Ch 7-9
Blog #3 due

Week 4
Sept 21

Read: Voyaging: Traveller Ch 10-14
Blog #4 due

Sept 23 Read: Voyaging: Naturalist Ch 15-18
Blog #5 due
Week 5
Sept 28

Read: Voyaging: Naturalist Ch 19-21
Blog #6 due

Sept 30

Read: Power of Place: Author Ch 1-4
Blog #7 due

Week 6  
Oct 5

Read: Power of Place: Experimenter Ch 5-8
Blog #8 due
Presenters: Becky Aslakson & Amber Bengtson

Oct 7 Read: Power of Place: Celebrity Ch 9-12
Blog #9 due
Presenters: Trisha Slocum & Braden Galvin
Week 7
Oct 12

Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 1-4
Blog #10 due
Presenters: Alex Schmiege & Emily Riddell

Oct 14

Read: Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 5-8
Blog #11 due
Presenters: Chad Shirk & Jessica Humphrey

Week 8
Oct 19 Read: Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 9-12
Blog #12 due
Presenters: Dustin Harris & Amanda Simon
Oct 21 Mid-Term Exam
Week 9
Oct 26 Read: None.
Blog #13 due - SKIP
Oct 28 Read: Einstein Ch 1 - 4
Blog #14 due
Week 10
Nov 2

Read: Einstein: Ch 5 - 8
Blog #15 due

Nov 4

Read: Einstein: Ch 9 - 12
Blog #16 due

Week 11
Nov 9

Read: Einstein: Ch 13 - 16
Blog #17 due
Presenters: Becky Aslakson &Amanda Simon

Nov 11

Read: Einstein: Ch 17 - 20
Blog #18 due
Presenters: Trisha Slocum &Dustin Harris

Week 12
Nov 16 Read: Einstein: Ch 21 - 24
Blog #19 due
Nov 18 Read: Einstein: 25 & Epilogue
Blog #20 due

Week 13
Nov 23

Read: Genius: Prologue & Far Rockaway
Term paper proposal due

Nov 25

Read: Genius: MIT
Research instruction at MSU Library w/ Suzi Teghtmeyer (meet at library info desk)

Week 14
Nov 30

Read: Genius: Princeton
Blog #21 due
Presenters: Emily Riddell & Chad Shirk

Dec 2

Read: Genius: Los Alamos
Blog #22 due
Presenters: Amber Bengtson & Alex Schmiege

Week 15
Dec 7 Read: Genius: Cornell
Blog #23 due
Presenters: Braden Galvin & Jessica Humphrey
Dec 9

Read: Genius: Caltech & Epilogue
Blog #24 due

Final Exam Week  
Fri., Dec. 18, 10 am-Noon

Term paper due through by 9 am.  Hard copy due at beginning of class.  You should be prepared to give a 10 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.


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. 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.

What about length? These are not meant to be essays. I'm looking to see a paragraph or two for each reading. What that should come to is about a page a week, if you were to print it out.

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: 492 - Blog # - Your Name.
- Repeat that same information <492 - Blog # - 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. You may do this as an extra-credit option to earn half a percentage point added to your final course average. (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. Sarah Vinyard'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.



Page created: 9/1/2009. Last updated: 11/24/2009
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