What Theoretical Ecology Reveals about Knowledge Transfer

Justin Donhauser
Bowling Green State University
Jamie Shaw
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
Well-known epistemologies of science have implications for how best to understand knowledge transfer (KT). Yet, to date, no serious attempt has been made to explicate these particular implications. This paper infers views about KT from two popular epistemologies; what we characterize as incommensurabilitist views (after Devitt, 2001; Bird, 2002, 2008; Sankey and Hoyningen-Huene 2013) and voluntarist views (after Van Fraassen, 1984; Dupré, 2001; Chakravartty, 2015). We argue views of the former sort define the methodological, ontological, and social conditions under which research operates within ‘different worlds’ (to use Kuhn's expression), and entail that genuine KTs under those conditions should be difficult or even impossible. By contrast, more liberal voluntarist views recognize epistemological processes that allow for transfers across different sciences even under such conditions. After outlining these antithetical positions, we identify two kinds of KTs present in well-known episodes in the history of ecology—specifically, successful model transfers from chemical kinetics and thermodynamics into areas of ecological research—which reveal significant limitations of incommensurabilitist views. We conclude by discussing how the selected examples support a pluralistic voluntarism regarding KT.
Keywords Models  Knowledge Transfer  Philosophy of Ecology
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