"self-fulfilling prophecy"

Posted by Bruce Kahl on February 25, 2003

R.K. Merton, 92, Coined Pop Phrases


February 25, 2003

Robert K. Merton, a versatile sociologist who coined the terms "self-fulfilling prophecy" and "role models," died Sunday at 92.

Merton, who in 1994 was the first sociologist to win a National Medal of Science, studied the anatomy of racism, the behavior of scientists and the workings of the mass media and other subjects in a career that stretched over seven decades.

He was also responsible for pop- ularizing the concept of a "focus group," when he used interviews to elicit the responses of groups to films, texts and radio programs.

Merton, who spent much of his career at Columbia University, made his theories accessible in a lucid manner. In his best-known book, "On the Shoulders of Giants," he tracked the use of Isaac Newton's famous aphorism, "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

He had been gathering information in recent years on the idea of serendipity.