Unnecessary Complexity is Evil

Physicist Richard Feynman once famously said that if a college freshman cannot understand the concept that you are trying to explain, you must not understand it well enough. By this measure, Carl Sagan was one of the most brilliant minds in history; his ability to reduce the complexity of theoretical physics into simple terms like “spin” and “repel” made the concepts of bosons and subatomic particles well within the mental grasp of anyone with half a brain.

Sadly, this view is not held constant in academia; in my opinion, the opposite is far more likely to be true. People who know me also know that I am passionate about understanding pitching mechanics and how they relate to injury; this field has precious little research completed that illuminates even the most basic of concepts. I am also a supporter of the open source movement – I believe that soliciting free peer review and creating a group experiment eventually builds a better product, to say nothing about the benefits of openly contributing to scientific research. It is rather unfortunate, then, that biomechanics and related fields fall prey to both closed source design and self-important academics who refuse to reduce complex anatomical explanations to its core where the average person can understand the underlying concept. Researchers from many groups that study pitching mechanics do not publish their data sets for open analysis, they do not provide easily accessible versions of their published research papers, and they are quite content to obfuscate their work under the guise of academic elitism.

Pardon my French, but this is bullshit. There is no other word for it, so I won’t pull punches. When you intentionally make your work difficult to understand in order to erect artificial barriers to entry, you represent all that is evil and wrong about science. Scientific research should be open and should contribute to the improvement of human understanding of the various topics it covers – biology, chemistry, physics, mechanics, and everything in between!

That is why I plan on publishing all of my pitching mechanics research in a reasonably well-documented manner in order to improve my product for those who are interested in contributing. This is an important subject that technology is now allowing average people like me to research, and I think that it is extremely important that we share this information with fathers and pitching coaches everywhere.

When I coach youth baseball pitchers, I do not talk to them about how contracting the pronator teres helps hold bones together in order to protect the olecranon process. This is absolutely ridiculous. I reduce the complex anatomical reasons why their arm action might be dangerous to their elbow or shoulder using simple language – 20% of the complexity that captures 80% of the material. This is the very essence of education and communication – as Feynman said, if you cannot relate the knowledge you have to someone who is less educated, you cannot possibly understand the material well enough. And I would posit that intentionally refusing to do this is nothing short of intellectual betrayal of the scientific community and morally wrong.

2 thoughts on “Unnecessary Complexity is Evil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *