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- LBS 492 (§1) -

Scientific Virtue

Michigan State University
Fall 2017
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 option: Insoo Hyun, "Ethics at the Edge of Science.", Friday, Sept. 22 at 11:30 a.m. with refreshments served at 11:15 a.m., 1400 Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building. Attend and write up 2-page double spaced reflective paper.

• Extra-credit option: Ted Chiang, "Magic and Imaginary Science in Fiction.", Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 2:15 a.m. International Center Rm. 115. Attend and write up 2-page double spaced reflective paper.


Course Info

Room: W40 West Holmes Hall

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, 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
Chiang_Stories of Your Life Cover
Einstein "Ideas and Opinions" book cover
Gleick_Genius cover

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

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)

Stories of Your Life and other Stories by Ted Chiang (20160

Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein (1994)

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



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 28 No Class
Aug 30

Introductory Business
No readings

Week 2
Sept 4

MSU Holiday (No class)


Sept 6

Read: Pennock "An Instinct for Truth, Knowledge and Discovery" [handout]
Guest Lecture: Chet McCleskey on the purpose of science
Blog #1 due

Week 3
Sept 11

Read: Franklin's Autobiography [online] - Ch I - VIII
Blog #2 due

Sept 13

Read: Franklin's Autobiography - [online] Ch IX - XIX
Blog #3 due

Week 4
Sept 18

Read: Franklin's Autobiography - [online] Appendix; Pennock "A Kind of Utter Honesty" [handout]
Blog #4 due

Sept 20

Read: Darwin's Autobiography upto end of "…My Marriage Jan. 29, 1839"
Blog #5 due
Blog Compilation #1-5 due

Week 5
Sept 25

Read: Darwin's Autobiography from "Religious Belief" to end.
Blog #6 due
Presenters: Melody Marzjarani & Josilyn Clark

Sept 27

Read: Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics Bk 1 & Bk 2
Blog #7 due
Guest lecture: Chet McLeskey on Aristotele & Virtue Theory

Week 6  
Oct 2

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

Oct 4 Read: Pennock "Organized Curiosity" [handout]
Blog #9 due
Presenters: Devin Lake & McKenzie Miller
Week 7
Oct 9

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 1-4
Blog #10 due
Presenters: Ishi Nalamolu & Vraj Tripathi

Oct 11

Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 5-8
Blog #11 due
Presenters: Madison Cribbs & Daniel Nguyen-Tran

Week 8
Oct 16

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 9-12
Blog #12 due
Presenters: Julius Edwards & Alex Liska

Oct 18 Mid-Term Exam
Week 9
Oct 23 Read:Thoreau's Walden Ch. The Pond in Winter; Pennock "Ardent Observers" [handout]
Blog #13 due
Presenters: Bich-Tam Ngyyen & Jake Markovicz
Oct 25 Read:Pennock "Scientific Discipline" [handout]; Ted Chiang "Story of Your Life"
Blog #14 due
Presenters: Emily Wong & Samantha Thacker
Week 10
Oct 30

Read: Pennock "Courageous Humility" [handout]
Blog #15 due
Blog Compilation #6-15 due
Presenters: Josilyn Clark & Kristopher Zuhl

Nov 1

Read: Einstein: Pt V: Contributions to Science
Blog #16 due
Presenters: Madison Cribbs & Samantha Smyk

Week 11
Nov 6

Read: Einstein: Pt I: Ideas and Opinions
Blog #17 due
Presenters: Daniel Nguyen-Tran & Vraj Tripathi

Nov 8

Read: Einstein: Pt II: On Politics, Government, and Pacifism
Blog #18 due
Presenters: Melody Marzjarani & Devin Lake

Week 12
Nov 13

Read:Pennock "Creative Conflict" [handout]
Blog #19 due
Research instruction at MSU Library (Meet at library info desk). Research Resource Course Guide for our class.

Nov 15 Read: Feynman: Parts 1 - 3
Blog #20 due
Presenters: Alex Liska & McKenzie Miller
Week 13
Nov 20

Read: Feynman Part 4
Term paper proposal due

Nov 22

Read: Feynman Part 5
Blog #21 due
Presenters: Ishi Nalamolu & Bich-Tam Ngyyen

Week 14
Nov 27

Read: Pennock "Scientific Vices" [handout]
Blog #22 due
Presenters: Emily Wong & Julius Edwards

Nov 29

Read: Pennock "The Seeds of Science" [handout]
Blog #23 due
Presenters: Samantha Thacker & Jake Markovicz

Week 15
Dec 4 Read: To be announced
Blog #24 due
Presenters: - Honors option presentations
Dec 6

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

Final Exam Week  
Fri., Dec. 15, 7:45 - 9:45 am.

Term paper due through by 7 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.

• Raise hands to be recognized (previous speaker picks)
• Respect others
• Prof. should facilitate
• Don't assign sides
• Start w small group discussions
• Write discussion points on board before whole group discussion
• Use technology respondibly
• Remain attentive
• Step up, Step back


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. Riley Fosmoen's Blog

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

• Josilyn Clark's blog

• Madison Cribbs' blog

• Alex Liska's blog

• Melody Marzjarani's blog

• Bich-Tam Nguyen's blog

• Samantha Smyk's blog

• Kristopher Zuhl'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.


Page created: 8/28/2017. Last updated: 10/23/2017
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