Scientific Values and Character Virtues

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Wilson C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Robert T. Pennock,Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Do exemplary scientists hold a distinctive set of values or virtues that reflect their commitment to the pursuit of scientific goals?  There is a common pre-conception that science is “value-free,” but this stereotypical view may reflect the fact that deep cultural values are often tacit and so not immediately visible.  There are philosophical and historical reasons for thinking that science should have a normative structure that arise out of its distinctive goals and methods.  We hypothesize that there is a constellation of values that is especially characteristic of scientific culture—what I call the "scientific virtues."  Specifically, we are interested in the character traits or virtues that would be recognized as embodying what it means to practice exemplary science.  We conducted a national survey of exemplary scientists to determine if there is any agreement about such values and their relative importance.  We also investigated how such values are they transmitted in the scientific community.  The findings of this study represent the first systematic empirical identification of these core scientific values and aspirations and we discovered a broad consensus among exemplary scientists.  Our respondents did not claim to always live up to these ideals, but instead were reporting the traits that they valued in their most respected mentors and colleagues and that they strived to reach themselves.  Knowing that such a set of values is indeed accepted by scientists tells us something very meaningful about scientific culture and the nature of scientific practice.  It has implications for how science should be taught and how scientific mentoring is conducted.  It may also help us better understand cases where scientific integrity breaks down and what might be done to support the ethical culture of the profession.  This presentation will discuss the goals of and theoretical background to our national study of how scientists themselves think about these issues; the two decades of philosophical, historical and sociological research that led up to it; and some of its major preliminary results.