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Although this isn’t quite what you are looking for, in the 1990-1991 time frame I interview (along with Everett Rogers) a number of early pioneers of diffusion of innovations research. We published our findings in this paper:


Valente, T. W., & Rogers, E. M. (1995). The origins and development of the diffusion of innovations paradigm as an example of scientific growth. Science Communication: An Interdisciplinary Social Science Journal. 16, 238-269.


The abstract reads:

This article traces the emergence of the basic paradigm for early diffusion research created by two rural sociologists at Iowa State University, Bryce Ryan and Neal C. Gross. The diffusion paradigm spread to an invisible college of midwestern rural sociological researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, and then to a larger, interdisciplinary field of diffusion scholars. By the late 1960s, rural sociologists lost interest in diffusion studies, not because it was ineffective scientifically, but because of lack of support for such study as a consequence of farm overproduction and because most of the interesting research questions were thought to be answered.




Thomas W. Valente, PhD

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Preventive Medicine

Keck School of Medicine

University of Southern California

Soto Street Building, Suite 330

2001 N Soto Street, MC 9239

Los Angeles CA  90089-9239

Email: [log in to unmask]


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If one looks up the word 'diffusion' in the Dictionary of the History of Science, you get the standard explanation that 'diffusion' originated in the 19th c with Graham and Maxwell and has a Latin etymology in the word, diffundere, which means "to spread out." There has to be more to the story than this, right? 


Earlier references might include the  "diffusion of refracted light" in Robert Greene (1727) and "diffusion of light" in Newton's Optical Lectures (1728).


My question for these listservs is, does anyone have any additional insight into the history and origins of the abstract idea of 'diffusion?'


Thank you,

Thomas Ball


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