Robert King Merton, whose groundbreaking work on the psychosocial forces that shape science careers established the sociology of science as a scientific discipline, died Feb. 23 at the age of 92.
Most of his career was spent at Columbia University. There, Merton and long-time collaborator Paul F. Lazarsfeld created the Bureau of Applied Social Research, where the first focus groups gave sociologists insight into how texts and other media evoked responses in people.
At the time of his death, Merton's own writings had been cited in more than 17,500 published pieces, according to an estimate based on a search of journals in science, the social sciences, the arts and humanities. His influence extended beyond the social sciences into mainstream culture, where terms that grew out of Merton's work, like "role model," are in common use. A search for another Merton-coined phrase, "self-fulfilling prophecy," turns up hundreds of scholarly references.