Who Gave Congress the Authority to Forbid Journals from Publishing the Work of Iranian Scholars?

United States Congress has imposed sanctions on Iran that include forbidding academic journals from publishing the work of Iranian scholars. The international scientific publishing group, Taylor and Francis, has rejected papers citing American sanctions as a reason. Indeed, after receiving an acceptance letter for his paper, an Iranian scientist received another communication reversing the decision from Taylor and Francis:

Thank you for your submission to Dynamical Systems.

As a result of our compliance with laws and regulations applied by the UK, US, European Union, and United Nations jurisdictions with respect to countries subject to trade restrictions, it is not possible for us to publish any manuscript authored by researchers based in a country subject to sanction (in this case Iran) in certain cases where restrictions are applied. Following internal sanctions process checks the above referenced manuscript has been identified as falling into this category. Therefore, due to mandatory compliance and regulation instructions, we regret that we unable to proceed with the processing of your paper.

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused.

Should you wish to submit your work to another publication you are free to do so and we wish you every success.

Yours faithfully,

Justin

Sent on behalf of Dynamical Systems

Justin Robinson

Managing Editor | Taylor & Francis | Routledge Journals

Mathematics | Statistics | History of Science | Science, Technology & Society

Obviously this is shitty from the perspective of the scholar. But it is also very concerning if you believe, as I do, that the sanctions are inconsistent with the autonomy of our scholarly institutions. An open society doesn’t reproduce itself. The reenactment of an open society is premised on our willingness to defend elementary norms and practices of free enquiry.

Scholarly journals are expected to be double blind: The identity of the author and the referees are not known to each other. The purpose of this norm/institution/behavioral pattern is to make sure that the merits of the argument trump every other consideration. By discriminating on the basis of the birth lottery, the sanctions throw a wrench into this system in a manner that undermines their legitimacy and autonomy. This is a serious erosion of norms that underwrite free enquiry.

In short, Congress fucked up. Big time.

So what can we do about it?

Strategically speaking, I think that if a major scientific institution were to take up the cause, it could challenge the legitimacy, and indeed legality of such sanctions. Moreover, it has to be an American institution since the whole business is driven by Congressional foreign policy. I think the most appropriate such institution is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I have therefore launched an online campaign to petition AAAS to challenge such sanctions on the grounds mentioned.

Please consider signing the petition and sharing it with your network. This is kinda important. Here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/american-association-for-the-advancement-of-science-get-aaas-to-challenge-us-sanctions-that-violate-basic-principles-of-free-enquiry. You should also ask your Congresswoman about it.


Postscript. The European Mathematical Society issued a formal condemnation whereupon Taylor and Francis reversed their decision. All it took was a major academic institution to condemn the decision as we had imagined. Whatever happened to compliance with the laws of ‘UK, US, European Union, and United Nations’? What was explained as (read:US) law enforcement turns out to have been … what? … an innovation by the Taylor and Francis legal team? What was placed in the state turns out to have been civil society all along. It was quite satisfactory to see it shot down with such authority! I have obviously declared victory on my change.org petition. Let it be noted that the EMS stepped up.

 

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