One of my papers that is on the arXiv, and that a real editor of a real (i.e. not predatory) journal asked me to submit to them, was rejected by a different journal that I (foolishly) decided to send it to, with a report (written by a real referee, who had spent some weeks on this) of three words: “lacks physical understanding”. I respectfully suggest that the referee “lacks mathematical understanding”.

It is of course perfectly normal for a referee to completely fail to understand what a paper is about. This has happened to me occasionally even when I have written papers in pure group theory. But it is almost inevitable whenever a paper is in any sense at all interdisciplinary. The paper talks about interactions between discipline A and discipline B, and is sent to a referee in discipline B, who doesn’t understand the part that belongs to discipline A, so ignores it and then (obviously) cannot understand the part that belongs to discipline B, so rejects it on the grounds that the (slightly surprising) implications for discipline B do not agree with the referee’s prejudices.

This is a huge problem for the progress of science in general. There is a huge prejudice against interdisciplinary research, which means that interdisciplinary scientists can’t publish their research, can’t get jobs, and whole areas of interdisciplinary research simply die. Funding agencies are desperate to support interdisciplinary research, and it is obviously crucial is so many areas, but they can’t do it, because the fundamental human imperative of survival undermines all their efforts. And the name of this imperative is subject prejudice.

If it was racial prejudice, or gender prejudice or any number of other prejudices, it would be illegal (in some countries). But because it is subject prejudice, it is not illegal, but is every bit as insidious. It is completely obvious to a mathematician that theoretical physics has got bogged down in some mathematics that doesn’t work. Or rather, it does work, up to a point, but it is inconsistent and therefore needs to be sorted out. It is completely obvious that physicists, left to themselves, have failed to sort out the problems that were obvious nearly a century ago. It is completely obvious that physicists need help from mathematicians. It is completely obvious that physicists reject help from mathematicians. It is completely obvious that this strategy will not work.