The American Chemical Society (ACS) has reluctantly rescinded the membership of some 36 Iranian scientists after the society determined that having members in Iran violates U.S. law. The society hopes to reinstate them after obtaining a government license, a step that could set a precedent for other U.S. societies with Iranian members.
U.S. organizations are prohibited from doing business with individuals in Iran, Cuba, and North Korea, but an exemption permits the trade of informational materials. That provision allows U.S. scholarly societies, whose journals are a major benefit to its overseas members, to retain ties to members in those countries.
But ACS's stance changed after Assistant General Counsel David Smorodin reread the embargo rules and concluded that selling publications to members at discount rates, a common practice, represents a service above and beyond the trade of informational materials. He also believes that membership benefits such as "insurance, career counseling, invitation to meetings, and educational opportunities" are not exempt under the rules, although he acknowledges that overseas members typically do not use those privileges. "We had no choice as a federally chartered organization but to comply with the law," says Smorodin, adding that his interpretation of the regulations did not "win [me] any friends within the ACS."
Yes, Iranians were planning on side-stepping US embargo by buying ACS publications at a discount rate and by getting career counseling from them. Phew - ACS thwarted their efforts just in time.
In January, ACS's membership off ice informed the society's 36 Iranian members that their memberships were being discontinued, although they could still purchase materials from the society at the full rate. The move angered David Rahni, an Iranian-American chemist at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, and an ACS member, who says ACS should "refrain from allowing politics" to get in the way of scientific openness. Smorodin says the society will soon apply for a license from the Department of Commerce's Office of Foreign Assets Control allowing it to serve its Iranian members.
However, there is still some hope:
Other associations are troubled by ACS's proposed solution. "We have no plans to do anything similar," says Judy Franz of the American Physical Society in College Park, Maryland, which also has members in Iran. "We would resist having to obtain a license to the extent we can."