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Robert T. Pennock
Lyman Briggs College
Dept. of Philosophy
Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering
Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Program



This project began in the late 1990's as a philosophical and historical investigation of the relationship between epistemic and ethical values in science as they come together in the character of the exemplary scientist — what I termed the scientific virtues. My account centers on curiosity, veracity and a variety of other related character virtues that are given normative import by their relation to the aims and methods of science. I have developed courses and published a variety of papers on this topic over the years and am now completing a book on the topic while on sabbatical as a Visiting Scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.

National Study

To provide an empirical ground for my philosophical account, I initially conducted informal interviews with scientists and since 2012 have received two grants from the Templeton Foundation to prepare and conduct a formal national study. Together with Jon Miller and a team of graduate students, we are surveying 1000 scientists to ascertain their views about the importance of various virtues for the exemplary practice of science and how they are transmitted in the scientific community. This is the first systematic empirical investigation of this sort since Robert Merton's pioneering sociological studies of scientific values in the 1940's and 50's. We began data collection in late 2014 and presented preliminary results at the AAAS national meeting in February 2016. We expect to publish findings in Fall 2016, and hope to conduct follow-up studies for engineering and medicine after that.

Science Ethics and Education

With funding from my BEACON NSF Science and Technology Center grant, I am developing a scientific virtue-based approach to responsible conduct of research (RCR) training. Since 2013, together with Michael O'Rourke and several graduate students and a postdoc, we have been developing modules and pilot-testing them in RCR workshops for BEACON researchers. I am also exploring ways to improve science education reform efforts by making the fostering of curiosity and other scientific virtues an explicit part of STEM teaching and learning.


Faculty Collaborators

Jon Miller
Director, International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy

Michael O'Rourke
Dept. of Philosophy


Current Students and Postdocs

Chet McLeskey Eric Berling Wendy Johnson Brian Robinson Zach Piso
Chet McLeskey
PhD Student

PhD Student
Wendy Johnson
PhD Student
Brian Robinson

PhD Student


Previous Project Graduate Students

Karen Meagher Tony GIvhan
Karen Meagher
(Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues)

(University of Michigan - Flint)



Last Updated: 2016/05/11