Chia-Hua Lin

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Michael Dickson


This dissertation is concerned with the scientific practice in which a mathematical construct that was originally developed to study a particular subject matter subsequently used in other disciplines or sub-disciplines for a different subject matter, a phenomenon that I call ‘tool migration.’ I argue that tool migration can be ‘epistemically risky.’ Specifically, uprooting a research tool from one disciplinary context and re-situating it for use in another can change how the tool is applied; whatever has made the tool useful and reliable in the first place may not have stayed the same in the new context. Using the migrations of game theory and formal language theory as examples, I identify three kinds of epistemic risks associated with tool migration: mischaracterization (i.e., characterizing a new phenomenon with inappropriate assumptions), misinterpretation, (i.e., using ill- fitted background contexts to interpret the result), and misjudgment (i.e., incorrectly rejecting or accepting a novel use of a migrating research tool). However, my analyses of these tool migration stories show that (1) proactive modifications to a tool in migration are conducive to successfully applying an old tool in a new context, (2) being aware of the changes to a tool due to migration is crucial to avoid misinterpretation and misjudgment, and (3) there is a need for a study of tool migration to understand how scientists manage (or may manage) these risks.

Included in

Philosophy Commons