One of the differences, often commented upon, between economists and computer scientists is the publication culture. Economists publish far fewer and longer papers for journals. Computer scientists publish many, smaller papers for conference proceedings. The journals (the top ones anyway) are heavily refereed while, the top conference proceedings are less so. Economics papers have long introductions that justify the importance of what is to come as well as (usually) carefully laying out the differences between the current paper and what has come before. It is not unusual for some readers to cry: don’t bore us get to the chorus. Computer science papers have short introductions with modest attempts at justifying what is to come. It is not unusual to hear that an economics paper is well written. Rarely, have I heard that of a computer science paper. Economists sometimes sneer at the lack of heft in CS papers, while Computer Scientists refer caustically to the bloat of ECON papers. CS papers are sometimes just wrong, etc. etc.

If one accepts these differences as more than caricature, but true, do they matter? We have two different ways for organizing the incentives for knowledge production. One rewards large contributions written up for journals with exacting (some would say idiosyncratic) standards and tastes. The other rewards the accumulation of many smaller contributions that appear in competitive proceedings that are, perhaps, more `democratic’ in their tastes. Is there any reason to suppose that one produces fewer important advances than the other? In the CS model, for example, ideas, even small ones, are disseminated quickly, publicly and evaluated by the community. Good ideas, even ones that appear in papers with mistakes, are identified and developed rapidly by the `collective’. An example is Broder’s paper on approximating the permanent. On the ECON side, much of this effort is borne by a smaller set of individuals and some of it in private in the sense of folk results and intuitions. Is there a model out there that would shed light on this?