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What Kind of People Make Good Scientists? Scholarly Virtues at the ESHS Conference, Brussels.

by Kim Hajek

Postdocs Sjang ten Hagen and Kim Hajek from the Scholarly Vices team raised this question to a filled room of participants at the conference of the European Society for the History of Science (ESHS), held in Brussels from 7–10 September. The two co-presented their findings—developed together with project leader Herman Paul—on American scientists’ use of virtue-talk in the second half of the 20th century. If other historians have argued that virtue and personal qualities mattered to the making of knowledge in postwar America, ten Hagen and Hajek asked whether that also meant scientists continued to talk about virtue.

Ten Hagen introduced the team’s corpus of sources: introductory textbooks, scholarly book reviews, and codes of ethics of scholarly societies. These span the disciplines of physics, history, and psychology, and the years 1950–2000. Hajek then took up the argument to explain a crucial distinction between, on the one hand, virtue terms linked directly to the person of a scientist—called personal qualities by the team—and on the other hand, virtues applied to scientists’ methods, working practices, or outputs—denoted virtue-qualifiers. After ten Hagen concluded the paper, the two postdocs engaged in prolonged and lively discussion with the audience on questions such as the role of ‘loyalty’ as a virtue, or potential differences between the virtues expected of students and established scholars.