One of the enduring stereotypes of academia is that people spend a great deal of intelligence, time, and effort finding complexity rather than simplicity. This is at least anecdotally true in my experience.
- Math++ Several people have found that adding useless math makes their paper more publishable as evidenced by a reject-add-accept sequence.
- 8 page minimum Who submitted a paper to ICML violating the 8 page minimum? Every author fears that the reviewers won’t take their work seriously unless the allowed length is fully used. The best minimum violation I know is Adam‘s paper at SODA on generating random factored numbers, but this is deeply exceptional. It’s a fair bet that 90% of papers submitted are exactly at the page limit. We could imagine that this is because papers naturally take more space, but few people seem to be clamoring for more space.
- Journalong Has anyone been asked to review a 100 page journal paper? I have. Journal papers can be nice, because they give an author the opportunity to write without sharp deadlines or page limit constraints, but this can and does go awry.
Complexity illness is a burden on the community. It means authors spend more time filling out papers, reviewers spend more time reviewing, and (most importantly) effort is misplaced on complex solutions over simple solutions, ultimately slowing (sometimes crippling) the long term impact of an academic community.
It’s difficult to imagine an author-driven solution to complexity illness, because the incentives are simply wrong. Reviewing based on solution value rather than complexity is a good way for individual people to reduce the problem. More generally, it would be great to have a system which explicitly encourages research without excessive complexity. The best example of this seems to be education—it’s the great decomplexifier. The process of teaching something greatly encourages teaching the simple solution, because that is what can be understood. This seems to be true both of traditional education and less conventional means such as wikipedia articles. I’m not sure exactly how to use this observation—Is there some way we can shift conference formats towards the process of creating teachable material?