Scientific Virtues Project

Scientific Virtue Project logo

Theory

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, given many talks, and published a variety of papers on this topic over the years. My book on the topic—An Instinct for Truth: Curioristy and the Moral Character of Science—provides a comprehensive overview of my theoretical approach.

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. After five years of data collection we have survey data plus over 500 hours of transcribed interviews that we have been coding, analyzing, and preparing for publication.

Science Ethics and Responsible Conduct of Research

A virtue-theoretic lens provides a new way to think not only about general issues in science ethics but also how to improve training in responsible conduct of research (RCR). With funding from my BEACON NSF Science and Technology Center grant, I developed a scientific virtue-based approach to RCR training that focuses on the consitutive values and virtues of scientific culture. Since 2013, together with Michael O’Rourke and several graduate students and postdocs, we continued developing modules and pilot-testing them in RCR workshops for BEACON researchers and others. With the success of this effort, we have expanded our offerings at MSU and are beginning a study of how to implement this training approach at scale under our NSF-funded VERITIES Initiative. I am also piloting a national program of workshops—Curious Conversations—through Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society.

STEM Education

We need to teach not just the science of nature but also the nature of science. I argue that we must do more than teach scientific content, methods, and practices; we must also teach scientfic values and virtues, as these are the sinews of scientific culture. To make these ideas concrete, I have begun to investigate ways to cultivate curiosity in undergraduate and high-school science classrooms using my Avida-ED digital evolution software and in middle-school with a new educational game—Salmon Run—that will let students explore environmental factors that influence salmon evolution. I hypothesize that paying more attention to modeling curiosity and other virtues that constitute the scientific mindset and culture will help make science more attractive, especially for students from underrepresented groups who may have been made to feel that science was alien because of the way it is too often taught.

Vocational Virtues

This work on virtue and values in science is part of a larger Vocational Virtues Project. As part of my national study, we conducted focus groups of exemplary practicioners in engineering and medicine to provide counterpoints for our data from exemplary scientists. We hope to do full followup studies on these in the future. We have also begun to develop workshops on virtues in the humanities in collaboration with MSU Center for Interdisciplinarity and the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative.

Selected Publications

• R. T. Pennock and J. D. Miller. “Studying Scientific Virtues: Bridging Philosophy and Social Science.” In Stapleford, Thomas A. (ed.) Science, Technology and the Good Life. Oxford University Press (2021) [pdf]

• Robert T. Pennock. An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press (2019)

• Chet McLeskey, Eric Berling, Michael O’Rourke, Robert T. Pennock. “The Evolution of the Scientific Virtues Toolbox Approach to Responsible Conduct of Research Training.” In Banzahf, W. (ed.) Evolution in Action: Past, Present, and Future. New York: Springer Publishing (2019) [pdf]

• R. T. Pennock. “Beyond Research Ethics: How scientific virtue theory reframes and extends responsible conduct of research.” In Carr, David (ed.) Cultivating Moral Character and Virtue in Professional Practices. Routledge Press. (2018, pp. 166-177)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, Michael O’Rourke, Robert T. Pennock. “A New Method for a Virtue-based Responsible Conduct of Research Curriculum: Pilot Test Results” Science & Engineering Ethics. (2018, doi:10.1007/s11948-017-9991-2)

• R. T. Pennock and Michael O’Rourke. “Developing a Scientific Virtue-Based Approach to Science Ethics Training.” Science & Engineering Ethics. (First Online 2016, 27 January. pp. 1-20; 2017, 23(1), 243-262, doi:10.1007/s11948-016-9757-2) [online]

• R. T. Pennock “Reaffirming the Norms of Science” Philosophy in the Contemporary World. Blog of the American Philosophical Association. http://blog.apaonline.org/2017/05/08/philosophy-in-the-contemporary-world-reaffirming-the-norms-of-science/ (May 8, 2017)

• R. T. Pennock “Defending Scientific Integrity” 360 Perspective. Faculty Voice. MSU Today. http://msutoday.msu.edu/360/2016/robert-pennock-defending-scientific-integrity/ (Feb. 9, 2016)

• R. T. Pennock “Following Humbly where Nature Leads: How Scientists Embody Humility” Slate. What Do We Know? Essays and Opinions. (Aug. 10, 2015)

• R. T. Pennock.. “Fostering a Culture of Scientific Integrity: Legalistic vs. Scientific Virtue-Based Approaches.” Professional Ethics Report (2015, 28(2):1-3)

• R. T. Pennock. “Scientific Integrity and Science Museums.” Museums and Social Issues. (Spring 2006, Vol. 1 No. 1. pp. 7-18)

• R. T. Pennock.. “Research Funding and the Virtue of Scientific Objectivity” Academic Integrity (Spring 2002, Vol. V. No. 2, pp. 3-6)

• R. T. Pennock. “The Virtuous Scientist Meets the Human Clone.” In New Ethical Challenges in Science and Technology. Sigma Xi Forum 2000 Proceedings. 2001, pp. 117-124.

• R. T. Pennock. “Inappropriate Authorship in Collaborative Scientific Research.” Public Affairs Quarterly: (Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 379-393, October 1996) [pdf]

Selected Presentations

• ** “A Vocational Virtues Framework for Ethical Professional Practice.” Asia Pacific Research Integrity conference. Tokyo, JAPAN (3/20/23)

• “Science and Human Flourishing: Connecting Normative and Descriptive Perspectives” American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. Washington, DC (3/5/23)

• * “The Scientific Values underlying STEM Excellence.” Anticipating, analyzing, and Addressing Challenges to the Excellence of the Research Enterprise. International Forum on Research Excellence. Alexandria, VA (11/4/22)

• “What Traits of Character do Exemplary Scientists Value?: Results from the Scientific Virtues Survey.” 7th World Conference on Research Integrity. Cape Town, South Africa (5/31/22)

• “What Traits of Character do Exemplary Scientists Value?: Results from the Scientific Virtues Survey.” 31st Association of Practical and Professional Ethics International Conference: APPE RISE Pre-Conference Symposium. Cincinnati OH (2/24/22)

• “Curiosity Systematized: Towards a Virtue Philosophy of Science” Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh. (2/11/2022)

• “The Virtuous Researcher: How a Virtue Philosophy of Science Can Help Reframe How We Understand Research Integrity” Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal, India. (1/20/2022)

• “Do Scientists and Engineers have Special Social Responsibilities?” Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers: A View from Within Webinar. AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program. (11/17/21)

• ** “What Traits of Character do Exemplary Scientists Value?: Results from the Scientific Virtues Survey.” 10th International Conference on Ethics Issues in Biology, Engineering and Medicine. Univ. of Washington, Seattle WA (11/12/21)

• ** “What Traits of Character are Important for Excellence and Integrity in Scientific Research?” Sigma Xi, The Scientific Honor Society conference (11/6/21)

• ** “Vocation, Expertise, Identity, and Virtue.” National Postdoctoral Association (NPAW) online conference (9/20/21)

• “Virtues-based Responsible Conduct of Research Education: BEACON and Beyond.” (w/ Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, Michael O’Rourke). Poster presentation at BEACON Congress, online conference (8/20/21)

• ** “Skepticism in Science vs. Skepticism of Science” Great Lakes Regional Pediatrics Research Day online conference. (4/1/21)

• * “Evolution of Instinctual Curiosity” (w Jory Schossau & Wesley Elsberry). From Neuroscience to Artificially Intelligent Systems (NAISys) Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory conference. (11/10/20)

• * “Sigma Xi Values and their Relation to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” President-Elect Speech. Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society National Forum. (11/7/20)

• * Author Meets Critics session on An Instinct for Truth. Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) Conference. Atlanta, GA (2/20/2020)

• “The Character of Science: A Virtue Theoretic Account” Holtz Center. Univ. of Wisconsin. Madison, WI (11/15/19)

• R. T. Pennock, “Curiosity as an “Instinct for Truth’” Evolution 2019. Providence, RI (6/25/19)

• R. T. Pennock & J.D. Miller, “What Traits of Character do Exemplary Scientists Value?: Results from the Scientific Virtues Survey.” (w/ Jon Miller) 6th World Conference on Research Integrity. Hong Kong (6/3/19)

• C. McLeskey, M. O’Rourke, R.T. Pennock ““The Humanities Virtues Project: Bringing a Virtue-based approach to Responsible Conduct of Research Training to the Humanities.” (w/ Chet McLeskey and Michael O’Rourke) 6th World Conference on Research Integrity. Hong Kong (6/3/19) [Presentation Award]

• C. McLeskey, M. O’Rourke, R.T. Pennock, “The Humanities Virtues Project: Bringing a Virtue-based approach to Responsible Conduct of Research Training to the Humanities.” Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) 28th Annual Conference. Baltimore MD (3/2/19)

• R.T. Pennock, “Curiosity and the Moral Structure of Science.” Scholarship in Undergraduate Teaching and Learning (SUTL) Fellows session. East Lansing, MI.(2/22/19)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, Michael O’Rourke, & R.T. Pennock. “Scientific Virtue and Responsible Conduct of Research Training: Results from the Scientific Virtues Toolbox Workshops” (w/ Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey and Michael O’Rourke) Poster Presentation at American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington DC(2/15/19)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, Michael O’Rourke, & R.T. Pennock. “Developing and Pilot-Testing a Virtue-Based Curriculum for Responsible Conduct of Research Training.” STEM Education Alliance Connecting STEM Education Research and Practice meeting. Michigan State University (9/13/18)

• R. T. Pennock. “A Virtuous Instinct for Truth.” Workshop at Friends General Conference Gathering. Toledo, OH.(7/2-6/18)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, Michael O’Rourke,R.T. Pennock. “Virtue-Based Responsible Conduct of Research Toolbox Workshops: Pilot Test Results” BEACON Friday Seminar, Michigan State University. East Lansing MI. (5/11/18)

• R. T. Pennock. **“Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science.” Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) Conference Keynote Presentation. Vassar College. Poughkeepsie, New York. (9/27/17)

• R. T. Pennock. “Honesty and Framing in Science Communication” BEACON Congress, Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI. (8/4/17)

• R. T. Pennock. “The Scientific Virtues: Results of an Interdisciplinary Study.” 5th World Conference on Research Integrity. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (5/29/17)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, & R. T. Pennock. “A Virtue-Based Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Curriculum: Pilot Test Results.” 5th World Conference on Research Integrity. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (5/29/17)

• Chet McLeskey, Eric Berling, & R. T. Pennock. “Reviewing the Responsible Conduct of Research Literature from a Scientific Virtue Perspective.” 5th World Conference on Research Integrity. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (5/29/17)

• R. T. Pennock. *”Honesty & Framing in Scientific Communication.” Science Communication Workshop, BEACON Congress, MSU (7/4/17)

• R. T. Pennock. **“Rethinking Science Ethics Training in light of the Scientific Character Virtues.” NSF Science & Technology Centers Directors Meeting. Washington DC. (8/25/16)

• R. T. Pennock. “The Scientific Virtues: Results of an Interdisciplinary Study.” Character and Virtue in the Professions. Univ. of Birmingham. Birmingham UK (6/4/16)

• Eric Berling, Chet McLeskey, & R. T. Pennock. “A Virtue-Based Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Curriculum: Pilot Test Results.” Character and Virtue in the Professions. Univ. of Birmingham. Birmingham UK (6/4/16)

• Chet McLeskey, Eric Berling, & R. T. Pennock. “Reviewing the Responsible Conduct of Research Literature from a Scientific Virtue Perspective.” Character and Virtue in the Professions. Univ. of Birmingham. Birmingham UK (6/4/16)

• R. T. Pennock. *”The Curious Character of the Scientist: Preliminary Results of a National Study of the Scientific Virtues.” Notre Dame University, Notre Dame IN (4/19/16)

• R. T. Pennock. *“Scientific Values and Character Virtues.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington DC. (2/15/16)

• R. T. Pennock. *“Scientific integrity and the Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design Creationism.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington DC. (2/13/16)

• R. T. Pennock. *”Curiosity and Scientific Integrity: Creationism, Responsible Conduct of Research and the Moral Structure of Science.” American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington DC (4/27/15)

• R. T. Pennock. “Scientific Values and Character Virtues.” Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science and Environment (SRPoiSE) conference, Detroit MI. (3/27/2015)

• R. T. Pennock. “Curiosity and the Purpose of Science.” Invited workshop for Graduate Professional Ethics course. University of Idaho. (2/27 & 3/15/14)

• R. T. Pennock. “Scientific Virtue as a Bridge Between the Two Cultures” Science & Liberal Education: CP Snow and the Two Cultures @ 50, East Lansing, MI (5/29/09)

• R. T. Pennock.**”‘Reason Enough for Scientific Researches’: Darwin and the Scientific Virtues” American Institute of Biological Sciences conference, Washington DC (5/18/09)

• R. T. Pennock.*”The Nature of Science and the Scientific Virtues.” New York Academy of Sciences. New York, NY. (4/29/06)

• R. T. Pennock.“Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Case.” DAPCEP Diversity Program, Michigan State University. (6/23/04)

• R. T. Pennock. “Authorship and the Scientific Virtues.” North Carolina State University, Research Ethics Program. Raleigh NC. (5/6/03)

• R. T. Pennock. “How Can We Incorporate Research Ethics into Science Teaching?” Poynter Center, Indiana University (3/28/02)

• R. T. Pennock. **”It’s Hard to Get Much Research Done with all these Ethicists Around” Science and Ethics Teaching Workshop. Univ. of South Carolina. (Nov. 1, 2001)

• R. T. Pennock.*”Genetic Technologies and Ethics.” 102nd Michigan Osteopathic Association Conference (May 11, 2001)

• R. T. Pennock. “The Virtuous Scientist Meets the Human Clone.” North Dakota State University (May 2, 2001)

• R. T. Pennock. ‘Authorship and the Virtuous Scientist.’ Duke University (April 19, 2001)

• R. T. Pennock. ‘The Virtuous Scientist Meets the Human Clone.’ Miami University – Oxford (March 1, 2001)

• R. T. Pennock.*”Genetic Technology and the Virtuous Scientist” Sigma Xi Forum. New Ethical Challenges in Science and Technology. Albuquerque, NM. (Nov. 9-10, 2000)

• R. T. Pennock. “Crediting ‘Authorship’ in Scientific Research: A Few Terminological Quibbles” 26th Conference on Value Inquiry, Montevallo AL (April 16-18, 1998)

• R. T. Pennock. ‘Unification and the Explanatory Virtues.’ Philosophy Dept. Colloquy, UT Austin (April 25, 1997)

  • * Invited presentation
    ** Invited plenary presentation
css.php