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- LBS 492 (§4) -

Scientific Virtue

Michigan State University
Fall 2019
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: Paul Thompson: Ethics Training for Scientists Lunch. Oct 03, 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM Engineering Building, 428 S Shaw Ln # 3540, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. Register here.

Extra-credit option: Over the course of 3 - 4 weeks, document your work to develop a habit of attentiveness or meticulousness. I'll discuss this further in class.

Extra-credit option: Susan Shapiro: Speaking for the Dying: Life-and-Death Decisions in Intensive Care. Nov. 13, 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM; C102 Patenge Rm. East Fee Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.

Extra-credit option: Union of Concerned Scientists: Testifying for Science Lunch. Nov. 21, 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM Engineering Building, 428 S Shaw Ln # 3540, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. Register here.


Course Info

Room: W40 West Holmes Hall

Time: MW 3 to 4:50 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 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% (minus 1% per absence)
- Regular, active class participation - 10%
- Two formal seminar presentations - 10% each
- Pomodoro Blog (Reading journal) –15%
- Mid-term exam – 20%
- Research proposal (5 pages) – 5%
- Research project/essay (15 – 20 pages) - 20%

• 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]


Benjamin Franklin Autobiography cover
Browne_Darwin Power of Place cover
Keller_Feeling for the Organism cover
An Instinct for Truth book cover
Einstein "Ideas and Opinions" book cover
Gleick_Genius cover


Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. [Free online pdf]

Charles Darwin: Autobiography by Nora Barlow (Ed.) (1996) [Free online]

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

An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science. by Robert T. Pennock. MIT Press (2019)

Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein (1994) [Free online pdf]

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 26 No Class
Aug 28

Introductory Business
No readings

Week 2
Sept 2

MSU Holiday (No class)


Sept 4

Read: Pennock Ch 1 "An Instinct for Truth"
Blog #1 due

Week 3
Sept 9

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

Sept 11

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

Week 4
Sept 16

Read: Franklin's Autobiography - [online] Appendix; Pennock Ch 2 "A Kind of Utter Honesty"
Blog #4 due

Sept 18

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

Week 5
Sept 23

Read: Darwin's Autobiography from "Religious Belief" to end.
Blog #6 due
Presenters: Andrew Dagenais & Emily Graham

Sept 25

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

Week 6  
Sept 30

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

Oct 2 Read: Pennock Ch 3 "Systematic Curiosity"
Blog #9 due
Presenters: Josh Duran & Joey Woodman
Week 7
Oct 7

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 1-4
Blog #10 due
Presenters: Seth Warren & Danielle Hohman

Oct 9

Read: Feeling for the Organism Ch 5-8
Blog #11 due
Presenters: Audrey Laport & Sonia Khalid

Week 8
Oct 14

Read: A Feeling for the Organism Ch 9-12
Blog #12 due
Presenters: Alexandra Calin & Austin Benedict

Oct 16 Mid-Term Exam
Week 9
Oct 21 Read:Thoreau's Walden Ch. The Pond in Winter; Pennock Ch 4 "Ardent Observers"
Blog #13 due
Presenters: Andrew Dagenais & Sarah Wennerstrom
Oct 23 Read:Pennock Ch 5 "Scientific Discipline"
Blog #14 due
Presenters: Seth Warren & Will Pipattanamaitree
Week 10
Oct 28

Read: Pennock Ch 6 "Courageous Humility"
Blog #15 due
Blog Compilation #6-15 due
Presenters: Macy Dahnke & Meghan Korte

Oct 30

Read: Einstein: Pt V: Contributions to Science [online]
Blog #16 due
Presenters: Emily Graham & Josh Duren

Week 11
Nov 4

Read: Einstein: Pt I: Ideas and Opinions [online]
Blog #17 due
Presenters: Alexandra Calin & Joey Woodman

Nov 6

Read: Einstein: Pt II: On Politics, Government, and Pacifism [online]
Blog #18 due
Presenters: Sarah Wennerstrom & Sonia Khalid

Week 12
Nov 11

Read: Pennock Ch 7 "Creative Conflict"
Blog #19 due
Research instruction at MSU Library (Meet at library info desk). Research Resource Course Guide for our class.

Nov 13 Read: Feynman: Parts 1 - 3
Blog #20 due
Presenters: Audrey Laport & Austin Benedict
Week 13
Nov 18

Read: Feynman Part 4
Term paper proposal due

Nov 20

Read: Feynman Part 5
Blog #21 due
Presenters: Jordan Okronley& Will Pipattanamaitree

Week 14
Nov 25

Read: Pennock Ch 8 "Scientific Vices"
Blog #22 due
Presenters: Meghan Korte & Danielle Hohman

Nov 27

Read: Pennock Ch 9 "The Seeds of Science"
Blog #23 due

Week 15
Dec 2 Read: To be announced
Blog #24 due
Presenter: Honors option presentation
Guest lecture: Eric Berling on Scientific Virtues Survey
Dec 4

Read: Pennock Ch 10 "We Are Scientists Second"
Blog #25 due
Blog Compilation #16-25 due

Final Exam Week  
Mon., Dec. 9, 3 - 5 pm.

Term paper due through by 11:59 am.  Hard copy due at beginning of class.  You should be prepared to give a 7 minute explanation/defense of your thesis (4 minute talk; 3 minute Q&A).




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.

• Respectfully debate

• Be open-minded

• Opportunity for equal participation

• Contribute meaningfully

•Stay engaged


Mental Health

Mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce a student's ability to participate in daily activities. Services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services avaialble on campus via the Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) website at



BLOG REQUIREMENTS: 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 few paragraphs. 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.

- These are not meant to be essays but informal reflections. You should obviously fix typos, but you don't need to worry about other formalities.

- What's a "pomodoro"? It is a 25 minute work period.That's the length of time you should spend on each blog. This is a great practice technique for production writing.

- What about length? I'm looking to see two or three short paragraphs for each reading. What that should come to is about a single-spaced page a week, if you were to print it out. If you work at the pomodoro technique, you will find that you'll be producing longer and better pieces by the end of the semester.

- On the day blogs are due, you should submit them to that day's blog slot in our assignment list.

- Your blog must be posted to Turnitin 1 hour before class period begins on each day that one 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.

LBC Writing Rubric


Page created: 8/1/2019. Last updated: 12/4/2019
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