Henry W. Riecken Jr., 95, a social scientist and former chief of the social sciences division of the National Science Foundation, died of intestinal cancer Dec. 27 at Grand Oaks assisted living facility in Washington, where he had resided for the past five years.
A son, Gilson Riecken, confirmed the death.
Dr. Riecken had been a social scientist on the faculties of Harvard University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Pennsylvania.
With two colleagues, Leon Festinger and Stanley Schachter, he was author in 1957 of “When Prophecy Fails,” a study of a small UFO cult that believed it had received a message from outer space that the world would end in a flood before dawn on Dec. 21, 1954.
From their research after the failure of that doomsday prophecy to materialize, the social scientists concluded that “true believers” could find a way to argue that conflicting factual evidence actually supports their original beliefs.