Statue of Arete (Virtue)

- LBS 492 (§8) -

Scientific Virtue

Michigan State University
Fall 2016
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

• 10/10/2016 - Extra Credit Option: Take a week and live with intentional attentiveness. Keep track of your discoveries. Write up a 2-page description of your findings.

• 11/7/2016 - Term paper proposal assignment guidelines.

• 11/21/2016 - Extra Credit Option. In the wake of the election, scientists have expressed concern about the effect that the new administration's disregard of science will have on scientific reserach and medicine. Research some example of this and then write a 2 page paper explaining what policy you think that responsible scientists should advocate that President-elect Trump should adopt and why.

• 11/28/2016 - Guidelines for research essay.


Course Info

Room: W25E West Holmes Hall, 5 doors north of the laundry room

Time: MW 10:20 am to 12:10 pm

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, Barbara McClintock, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, E. O. Wilson 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%
- 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 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 1145). or by appointment or by open door (Holmes W-34).
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.


Benjamin Franklin Autobiography cover
Browne_Darwin Power of Place cover
Keller_Feeling for the Organism cover
Isaacson_Einstein cover
Gleick_Genius cover
E.O. Wilson - Letters to a Young Scientist book cover

Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. [Free online pdf]

Charles Darwin: Autobiography by Nora Barlow (Ed.) (1996)

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

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

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman. W.W. Norton Books. (1985)

Letters to a Young Scientist by E. O. Wilson. W. W. Norton & Co. (2013)


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 29 No Class
Aug 31

Introductory Business
No readings

Week 2
Sept 5

MSU Holiday (No class)


Sept 7 Read: Franklin's Autobiography [online] - Ch I - VIII
Blog #1 due
Week 3
Sept 12

Read: Franklin's Autobiography - [online] Ch IX - XIX
Blog #2 due

Sept 14

Read: Franklin's Autobiography - [online] Appendix
Blog #3 due

Week 4
Sept 19

Read: Pennock "An Instinct for Truth, Knowledge and Discovery" [handout]
Blog #4 due

Sept 21

Read: Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics Bk 1 & Bk 2
Guest Lecture: Chet McCleskey on virtue ethics
Blog #5 due
Blog Compilation #1-5 due

Week 5
Sept 26

Read: Darwin's Autobiography upto end of "…My Marriage Jan. 29, 1839"
Blog #6 due
Presenters: Maya Regalado & Grant LeVasseur

Sept 28

Read: Darwin's Autobiography from "Religious Belief" to end.
Blog #7 due
Presenters: Lucas Hicks & Caitlin Papa

Week 6  
Oct 3

Read: Scientists' obituaries - Darwin (Huxley, Nature, Times) and others (Find an additional obituary of some scientist on your own.)
Blog #8 due
Presenters: Allie Buck & John Kaschalk

Oct 5 Read: Thoreau's Walden Ch. The Pond in Winter; Pennock "Attentiveness and the Love of Nature"
Blog #9 due
Presenters: Damon Sidhu & Erica Hotchkiss
Week 7
Oct 10

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 1-4
Blog #10 due
Presenters: Ria Patel & Kacey Joseph

Oct 12

Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 5-8
Blog #11 due
Presenters: Won Choi & Katelynn Cox

Week 8
Oct 17

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 9-12
Blog #12 due
Presenters: Riley Fosmoen & Bryn Moody
Guest lecture: Eric Berling
on Moral Explanation

Oct 19 Mid-Term Exam
Week 9
Oct 24 Read: Einstein Ch 1 - 4
Blog #13 due
Presenters: Lucas Hicks & Caitlin Papa
Oct 26 Read: Einstein: Ch 5 - 8
Blog #14 due
Presenters: John Kaschalk & Grant LeVasseur
Week 10
Oct 31

Read: Einstein: Ch 9 - 12
Blog #15 due
Blog Compilation #6-15 due
Presenters: Erica Hotchkiss & Katelynn Cox

Nov 2

Read: Einstein: Ch 13 - 16
Blog #16 due
Presenters: Guest lecture: Eric Berling on Scientific Virtues Survey

Week 11
Nov 7

Read: Einstein: Ch 17 - 20
Blog #17 due
Presenters: Ria Patel & Won Choi

Nov 9

Read: Einstein: Ch 21 - 24
Blog #18 due
Presenters: Kacey Joseph & Bryn Moody

Week 12
Nov 14

Read: Einstein: 25 & Epilogue
Blog #19 due

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

Nov 16 Read: Feynman: Parts 1 - 3
Blog #20 due
Presenters: Maya Regalado & Allie Buck
Week 13
Nov 21

Read: Feynman Part 4
Term paper proposal due

Nov 23

Read: Feynman Part 5
Blog #21 due
Presenters: Damon Sidhu & Riley Fosmoen

Week 14
Nov 28

Read: Wilson Letters to a Young Scientist - Prologue - Ch 7
Blog #22 due
Presenters: None

Nov 30

Read: Wilson Letters to a Young Scientist Ch 8 - 14
Blog #23 due
Presenters: None
Guest Lecture: Chet McCleskey on moral expertise in medicine

Week 15
Dec 5 Read: Wilson Letters to a Young Scientist Ch 15 - 20
Blog #24 due
Presenters: Riley Fosmoen & Maya Regalado - Honors option presentation
Dec 7

Read: Pennock "Are Pre-Existing Condition Exclusion Clauses Just?"
Blog #25 due
Blog Compilation #16-25 due

Final Exam Week  
Wed., Dec. 14, 12:45 - 2:45 pm.

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.

• Be respectful of others
• Be engaged in the conversation
• Don’t dominate the conversation
• Don’t interrupt
• Don’t be afraid to have your own viewpoint
• Be open-minded
•Stay relatively on topic
• Don’t have to raise hands but recognize if someone does
• “The giraffe thing”


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.

Alekxandra Kourtney's Blog

Riley Fosmoen's Blog

Grant LeVasseur's Blog

Caitlin Papa's Blog



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.

2016 Science Debate - The Presidential candidates answer science policy questions

• Note the scientific values highlighted in this petition by scientists against Trump.


Page created: 8/12/2016. Last updated: 12/5/2016
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