TL;DR: Is it normal that the theory sub-community and the applied sub-community of a single research field to have different goals and different standards for peer review - to the extent that the research field itself suffers?
I work in a subfield of computer networking. During the last two years I've been in a quite unusual position (for the subfield) as a person whose job was to bring some mostly-theoretical results of big research project to practice. Personally I've greatly enjoyed this role; however, the job also brought a lot of frustrations. It seemed that neither the theory people nor the applied people are particularly interested in a work that bridges these two sub-communities.
In general, there is a very little overlap between what the theory subcommunity cares about and what the applied subcommunity cares about. To give one example, the assumptions made by the people in the theory camp often are wildly wrong. In my opinion, that renders most of their results quite useless; however, they do not spend a lot of effort trying to recognize and correct these invalid assumptions, as it's possible to publish their results anyway, especially in sub-premier conferences. On the other hand, I feel that applied conferences in the field are resistant to novel ideas; a paper that simply demonstrates how to achieve state-of-art results a different approach is not recognized as novel enough. In my opinion, the typical top-level applied paper is therefore quite boring; due to the peer-review standards, they must focus on the engineering work and on applying known ideas to existing problems, rather than on novel ideas and novel problems.
To give some other anecdotal examples:
- after I reported that a specific algorithm (developed by one of my theory-oriented collaborators) does not seem to give good results on a real dataset, I was suggested that "maybe we should evaluate it on synthetically generated data instead";
- in a different conversation, a senior applied researcher commented that "we skip over any mathematical parts when reviewing a paper".
To me it seems very likely that the progress in the subfield was faster if both communities were working closer together. The objective of science, after all, is not to simply produce more papers; it is to discover more knowledge.
Are other disciplines facing a similar problem, and how do they deal with it?