Googling around for info on the legitimation of ideas, I came across a paper on the Challenger shuttle disaster which looks like it might be an interesting read. Here's a chunk of text from the paper about how ideas come to be accepted -
"Analogy in combination with the social mechanisms identified here—professional legitimacy, conversation, technologies, time, networks, social support—seem to be ingredients fundamental to the diffusion of expert knowledge. Scholars interested in the production of knowledge and the diffusion of ideas have tended to approached the problem one of two ways: reputation or content fit (Camic 1992; McLaughlin 1998). The reputational perspective accounts for the rise and fall of ideas based on historical and cultural context, geography and national traditions, institutional, organizational, and network arrangements, or individual characteristics of the author and scholarly life. This case affirms the reputational model’s findings about institutional arrangements and networks, adding to it by emphasizing the actor-network association (Latour 1987, 1988) and by suggesting that technologies of dissemination might be usefully incorporated into the study of knowledge production, regardless of type of knowledge or historic period. The second approach has explained the acceptance or failure of an idea by its content. Camic, discussing the role of the content-fit model in a theorist’s selection of intellectual predecessors, implicitly suggests analogy: “The relationship exists chiefly because of the fit between the arguments, concepts, themes, materials, orientations, or methods of certain earlier figures and some aspect(s) of the work of the thinker under study” (1992, p. 423). The fit with the content of an idea is affirmed by the empirical analogies that enabled the theory of the Challenger accident to travel to the Columbia tragedy. These analogies and the structural equivalences between the two problems suggest that the form of an idea or theory in relation to its application to other empirical situations may also be significant in the legitimation of ideas, their acceptance or rejection and dissemination."
The paper is NASA Revisited: Theory, Analogy, and Public Sociology by Diane Vaughan.
Title hat-tip: Mike Skinner