A New Method for a Virtue-Based Responsible Conduct of Research Curriculum: Pilot Test Results


Drawing on Pennock’s theory of scientific virtues, we are developing an alternative curriculum for training scientists in the responsible conduct of research (RCR) that emphasizes internal values rather than externally imposed rules. This approach focuses on the virtuous characteristics of scientists that lead to responsible and exemplary behavior. We have been pilot-testing one element of such a virtue-based approach to RCR training by conducting dialogue sessions, modeled upon the approach developed by Toolbox Dialogue Initiative, that focus on a specific virtue, e.g., curiosity and objectivity. During these structured discussions, small groups of scientists explore the roles they think the focus virtue plays and should play in the practice of science. Preliminary results have shown that participants strongly prefer this virtue-based model over traditional methods of RCR training. While we cannot yet definitively say that participation in these RCR sessions contributes to responsible conduct, these pilot results are encouraging and warrant continued development of this virtue-based approach to RCR training.

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    By ‘scientific virtues’ we do not mean virtues that were determined scientifically, but rather those character traits that are conducive to the exemplary practice of science. We use ‘scientific virtue’ similarly to how one might speak of engineering virtues or medical virtues.


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This material is based upon work supported by Grants to Pennock by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. DBI-0939454 and by the John Templeton Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 42023. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the John Templeton Foundation. O’Rourke’s work on this paper was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch Project No. MICL02261. We thank two anonymous referees for helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Eric Berling.



These are sample curiosity prompts that figured into the workshops from which our data derive. It was developed collaboratively by all of the co-authors.

  • One of the greatest sources of happiness is the satisfaction of one’s curiosity.

  • Exemplary scientists would rank curiosity as one of science’s highest values.

  • A biased scientist is not a curious scientist.

  • Curiosity that does not lead to application has no value.

  • A curious scientist values truth over career advancement.

  • A curious scientist is a rigorously skeptical scientist.

  • Fabricating data is compatible with scientific curiosity.

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Berling, E., McLeskey, C., O’Rourke, M. et al. A New Method for a Virtue-Based Responsible Conduct of Research Curriculum: Pilot Test Results. Sci Eng Ethics 25, 899–910 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-017-9991-2

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  • Scientific integrity
  • Scientific virtues
  • Science ethics
  • Scientific misconduct
  • Responsible conduct of research
  • RCR training
  • Research integrity
  • Toolbox Dialogue Initiative