Of Roots and Fruits

by Robert Pennock | Aug 17, 2021


Sigma Xi has deep roots. The 2021 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference, scheduled for November 4–7, will take place in conjunction with the Assembly of Delegates, which dates back to 1893. The long, rich history of the Society’s promotion of research excellence is well known, but the roots I have in mind run deeper still—the scientific virtues that ground the integrity of research practice. This year’s conference theme, Roots to Fruits: Responsible Research for a Flourishing Humanity, highlights these values and how they serve society.

Deliberations about ethics and science are a regular part of Sigma Xi meetings and have stimulated my own participation. In Vancouver in1998, I attended my first Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and gave a talk about justice and attribution of credit in research publications. In 2000, at the Albuquerque meeting, I organized a session on bioethics and gave a paper about how the virtuous scientist should address ethical concerns about human cloning. It was a small part of that year’s conference theme of New Ethical Challenges in Science and Technology. Such discussions help us make science better.

Often the phrase “ethical challenges” in this context is used to suggest areas in which research or its applications may need to be curtailed or adjusted to avoid something that is morally problematic. This is important, but not doing harm is only part of the challenge. Ethics also challenges us to do good. This year’s theme of Roots to Fruits provides an opportunity to consider how to grow efforts toward the ideal. How can cultivation of the deep scientific virtues contribute not only to a flourishing research culture but also to the larger goal of human betterment? Conference tracks will focus on our responsibility as scientists in research and discovery, technology innovation, and STEM education.

The lovely poster created for the conference (see inside back cover) illustrates the theme with the image of a tree. The fruits of science—discovery and innovation—are fed by the virtues that root the tree—curiosity, honesty, objectivity, and others. These values provide the integrity that gives the tree trunk its strength. The image also depicts some of the tasks that we must share as caretakers of the tree—watering its roots and pruning dead branches to maintain its vigor. The annual meeting is one venue where the scientific community gathers to contribute to this vital work. Registration for the conference is now open. I hope to see you there to help Sigma Xi continue to nurture the tree of science and its valuable fruits.


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Robert T. Pennock, Ph.D.
Sigma Xi President

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