Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Boneheaded US sanctions on reviewing Iranian science manuscripts

by Salman Hameed

If you are a US citizen, you cannot review a manuscript even if only one of the co-authors works for the Iranian government. Oh - and these sanctions apply even if the journal is base in the Netherlands:

Scientific journals are being asked to help tighten U.S. trade sanctions on Iran. On 30
April, the Dutch publishing behemoth Elsevier of the Netherlands sent a note to its editorial network saying that all U.S. editors and U.S. reviewers must "avoid" handling manuscripts if they include an author employed by the government of Iran. Under a policy that went into effect in March -- reflecting changes in a law passed by the U.S. Congress in December -- even companies like Elsevier not based in the United States must prevent their U.S. personnel from interacting with the Iranian government. 
The sanctions, aimed at punishing Iran for its pursuit of nuclear technology, have been broadened somewhat from previous rules issued by the enforcement agency, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a division of the Treasury Department. 
According to a treasury official, OFAC has not changed its "general license" policy for journals; it still allows them to publish articles authored by nongovernmental scientists from Iran and other sanctioned countries. The new wrinkle is that OFAC insists that all U.S. citizens, no matter who employs them, comply with the sanctions against papers authored by governmental researchers. That apparently prompted Elsevier to issue a warning to its employees.
This is insane. What stops complete insanity is the small concession that these sanctions do not (yet) apply on academic and research institutes and on non-governmental hospital and clinical settings. But remember, that it takes only one co-author in a governmental institutions (such as oil and gas) to trigger the sanctions. So what should the journal editors do? 
In a note to editors (a copy of which was obtained by ScienceInsider), Elsevier gives advice on what a manager should do if he or she can't find a non-U.S. person to work on a paper that requires special handling: "Please reject the manuscript outright." According to the note, the rejection should apologize to the submitter and explain that because of U.S. sanctions, "we are unfortunately unable to handle your manuscript."

Shameful. Read the full story here.

And all of this is beside the point that the US led sanctions of Iran on nuclear issue are, of course, hypocritical. Obama won (or more accurately, "was awarded") the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for, amongst other illusions, the promise of the reduction of nuclear weapons. Instead, he has decided to cut non-proliferation funding in favor of more nuclear warheads:

Under the 2014 proposal, the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons activities funding — which includes modernization efforts for bomber-based and missile-based warheads — would be increased roughly 7 percent, or around $500 million, above the current level of $7.227 billion for these activities. 
The department’s nonproliferation programs, aimed at diminishing the security threat posed by fissile materials in other countries that can be used for nuclear weapons, would be cut by roughly 20 percent, or $460 million, below the current level of $2.45 billion, the officials said.
In combination with the expansive use of drones under Obama's watch, it is not surprising that there is now a petition to revoke Obama's Nobel Peace Prize (you can sign it here). Also read this Salon article Celebrating Our "Warrior President" by Glenn Greenwald.

In the mean time, I hope that these sanctions on science publications ignored by other publishers. This has happened before:
OFAC tangled with scientific journals almost a decade ago when it proposed much harsher restrictions on communications from Iran. That led to an organized protest by the American Institute of Physics, the Association of American Publishers, and others, resulting in the current understanding: OFAC permits the exhange of scientific but not government-sponsored communications from Iran. 


Chris Fellows said...

Integrated science and humanities sounds like a wonderful job description. I am a chemist, writer, and big fan of the 19th century American philosopher Charles Peirce. Came to your site nosing around the internet trying to find out what the exact rules are in my country (Australia) since I have just had my first application from a potential Iranian PhD student rejected under sanctions.

Chris Fellows said...

(Sorry, the Captcha thing was giving me a world of pain... sorry for the multiple posts if there were multiple posts, just saw the little note telling me the comment is waiting for approval!)