How do scientific innovations spread within and across scientific communities? In this paper, we propose a general account of the diffusion of scientific innovations. This account acknowledges that novel ideas must be elaborated on and conceptually translated before they can be adopted and applied to field-specific problems. We motivate our account by examining an exemplary case of knowledge diffusion, namely, the early spread of theories of rational decision-making. These theories were grounded in a set of novel mathematical tools and concepts that originated in John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern's Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944/1947) and subsequently spread widely across the social and behavioral sciences. Introducing a network-based diffusion measure, we trace the spread of those tools and concepts into distinct research areas. We furthermore present an analytically tractable typology for classifying publications according to their roles in the diffusion process. The proposed framework allows for a systematic examination of the conditions under which scientific innovations spread within and across preexisting and newly emerging scientific communities.