This historical essay examines the development of Merton’s sociology of science in two aspects. First, I focused on theoretical issues of his program for researching reward system in science. I start with his PhD training at Harvard University and end with the establishment under his leadership the special research group at Columbia University. Secondly, attention is given to empirical implementation of the research program, which was largely possible through access to a special data on the academic trajectories, university rankings and indicators of scientific impact. Theoretical puzzle especially demanded a special kind of data about academic recognition which was conceptualized through citation counts. The establishment of Science Citation Index was important for the development of empirical research about reward system in science. As a result, Merton College in a short time was recognized in the academic community: sociologists published their papers in high rank journals like “AJS” or “ASR”. In conclusion, I raise the question about the results of Merton theoretical program in sociology of science. The main output is more related with a series of empirical observations than a coherent middle range theory. My answer refers to the original agenda of Merton’s sociology of science - to show how the reward system of science really works rather than explain the state of the art. This thesis is illustrated by the research on academic market.

Keywords: sociology of science, reward system, academic market, Science Citation Index, Robert Merton