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Lorraine Daston: Serendipidity, 23 September 2004

The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science 
by Robert Merton and Elinor Barber.
Princeton, 313 pp., £18.95, February 2004, 0 691 11754 3
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... Investigator (1945) ‘Gains from Serendipity’; another was the Columbia sociologist of science Robert Merton, who in a 1946 article described the ‘serendipity pattern’ in sociological research. For the next decade or so, ‘serendipity’ (which by then had narrowed its meaning to a pleasing and unexpected discovery made while looking for ...


John Hedley Brooke, 23 May 1985

Just Before the Origin: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Evolution 
by John Langdon Brooks.
Columbia, 284 pp., $39, January 1984, 0 231 05676 1
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China and Charles Darwin 
by James Reeve Pusey.
Harvard, 544 pp., £21.25, February 1984, 0 674 11735 2
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... Duhem, the historian can never suppress his astonishment. But the sociologist could and did. Robert Merton argued that independent simultaneous discoveries should be pereceived as the rule, not the exception. It was the singletons, not the ultiples, that required explanation. Among the more plausible arguments in defence of his inversion, ...

Abortion, Alienation, Anomie

Peter Medawar, 2 December 1982

Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary 
by Robert Nisbet.
Harvard, 318 pp., £12.25, November 1982, 0 674 70065 1
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... it strange to read an entry headed ‘Anomie’ that made no mention of Emile Durkheim or of Robert Merton. ‘Anomy’ is declared obs. by the OED but the French variant anomie stands for a sort of sociological deficiency disease: it refers to the ‘lost’ and rootless state of an individual or community that lacks norms of behaviour and ...

Fear in the Markets

Donald MacKenzie: The ways in which ‘finance theory’ becomes part of what it examines, 13 April 2000

... focusing on the presence among LTCM’s partners of the 1997 Nobel laureates in economics, Robert C. Merton and Myron Scholes. The Horizon programme on the work of Merton and Scholes used the LTCM episode to create an exciting, but distorted and misleading, story. Even Dunbar’s ...


Frank Kermode, 22 May 1986

Pound, Yeats, Eliot and the Modernist Movement 
by C.K. Stead.
Macmillan, 393 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 333 37457 6
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The Myth of Modernism and 20th-century Literature 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Harvester, 216 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 7108 1002 4
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The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature and the Arts 
by Roger Shattuck.
Faber, 362 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 571 12071 7
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... The antiquity of this figure is the subject of a very learned and also very amusing book by Robert Merton; the received wisdom is that it goes at least as far back as the 12th century. So there is nothing very modern about worrying about what it means to be modern, and even if you think that being modern requires a total rejection of the past, like ...

The Blindfolded Archer

Donald MacKenzie: The stochastic dynamics of market prices, 4 August 2005

The (Mis)behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward 
by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson.
Profile, 328 pp., £9.99, September 2005, 1 86197 790 5
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... date. As I described in the LRB on 13 April 2000, the economists Fischer Black, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton drew on the log-normal distribution (and on a number of other assumptions about market conditions) to reduce the complicated problem of understanding the prices of options to a relatively simple differential equation. The work, published in ...

Short Cuts

Donald MacKenzie: Wall Street’s Fear Gauge, 25 January 2018

... Making simplifying assumptions of the kind common in economics, Fischer Black, Myron Scholes and Robert C. Merton devised an elegant way of doing just that. Their mathematical model of options prices was quickly picked up by options traders, who started to use it in Chicago’s crowded trading pits. In so doing, they ...

What’s in the bottle?

Donald MacKenzie: The Science Wars Revisited, 9 May 2002

The One Culture? A Conversation about Science 
edited by Jay Labinger and Harry Collins.
Chicago, 329 pp., £41, August 2001, 0 226 46722 8
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... which was a central focus of an earlier tradition of the sociology of science, initiated by Robert Merton, but on which recent sociology has been too silent. Science is humanity’s finest cognitive achievement. It is also a social achievement, through and through, and can and should be analysed as such: to do so diminishes it not a whit. And ...

A Place for Hype

Edward Tenner: Old Technology, 10 May 2007

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 
by David Edgerton.
Profile, 270 pp., £18.99, January 2007, 978 1 86197 296 5
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... may fail, but an overlooked one will not succeed. According to the Thomas Theorem popularised by Robert Merton: ‘If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.’ David Edgerton’s The Shock of the Old, with its ironic echoes of bestsellers by Robert Hughes and Alvin Toffler, is not an ...

A loaf here, a fish there

Roy Porter, 15 November 1984

Science and Medicine in France: The Emergence of Experimental Physiology 1790-1855 
by John Lesch.
Harvard, 276 pp., £20, September 1984, 0 674 79400 1
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Georges Cuvier: Vocation, Science and Authority in Post-Revolutionary France 
by Dorinda Outram.
Manchester, 299 pp., £25, October 1984, 0 7190 1077 2
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... Cuvier – manoeuvred for mastery. In this world – to which our most trustworthy guide is not Robert Merton but Sir Lewis Namier or the Stendhal who understood Julien Sorel – Cuvier did indeed become the great place-man, dispensing a loaf here to nephew Charles and some fishes – mainly fossil ones – to brother Frédéric. And he did so because ...

The Doom Loop

Andrew Haldane: Equity in Banking, 23 February 2012

... a hundred years after the introduction of limited liability, by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Merton, who showed that the equity of a limited liability company could be valued as if it were a financial option – that is, an instrument which offers rights over the future fruits of the company’s assets. This option has value – in the ...

Anglo-Irish Occasions

Seamus Heaney, 5 May 1988

... world draped its honours, but could assuage myself by thinking that Eliot had never witnessed the Merton Professor of English perform his capework as resourcefully and generously as he has just done. Nobody is in any doubt, of course, that he can perform swordwork of a devastating sort as well. It is not so long ago, indeed, that I experienced a sharp regret ...

Just like Rupert Brooke

Tessa Hadley: 1960s Oxford, 5 April 2012

The Horseman’s Word: A Memoir 
by Roger Garfitt.
Cape, 378 pp., £18.99, April 2011, 978 0 224 08986 9
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... to bebop and avant-garde jazz; they were aspiring poets presented to Auden by Nevill Coghill, Merton Professor of English Literature. Garfitt made love to a succession of girls on the mattresses, not many of whom seem to have been undergraduates after the first, Su, who we guess is doomed as soon as we’re told she’s reading chemistry. Young beauties ...


John Lanchester: The credit crunch, 3 January 2008

... traders who have lost more than a billion dollars at a time betting on derivatives is not short: Robert Citron of Orange County, Toshihide Iguchi at Daiwa, Yasuo Hamanaka at Sumitomo and Nick Leeson at Barings, just to take examples from the early 1990s. In Leeson’s case in 1995, it was a huge unauthorised position in futures on the Nikkei 225, the main ...

Favourite Subjects

J.I.M. Stewart, 17 September 1981

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 
edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien.
Allen and Unwin, 463 pp., £9.95, August 1981, 0 04 826005 3
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Tolkien and the Silmarils 
by Randel Helms.
Thames and Hudson, 104 pp., £5.50, September 1981, 0 500 01264 4
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... dealing with the splendid notion of Great Birnam wood advancing upon high Dunsinane hill. The Merton Professor of English Language and Literature admits with some complacency to ‘not being specially well read in modern English’ and to ‘no interest at all in the history or present situation of the English novel’. And so with individual writers and ...

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