Occam’s Two Razors: The Sharp and the Blunt

Pedro Domingos

Occam’s razor has been the subject of much controversy. This paper argues that this is partly because it has been interpreted in two quite different ways, the first of which (simplicity is a goal in itself) is essentially correct, while the second (simplicity leads to greater accuracy) is not. The paper reviews the large variety of theoretical arguments and empirical evidence for and against the "second razor", and concludes that the balance is strongly against it. In particular, it builds on the case of (Schaffer, 1993) and (Webb, 1996) by considering additional theoretical arguments and recent empirical evidence that the second razor fails in most domains. A version of the first razor more appropriate to KDD is proposed, and we argue that continuing to apply the second razor risks causing significant opportunities to be missed.


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