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Anti-terrorism or anti-science?
American Chemical Society cannot accept manuscripts submitted by Iranian chemists

By David Rahni
January 3, 2003
The Iranian

This letter appeared in Chemical and Engineering News magazine (December 15, 2003) under the title "Economic sanctions go too far".

The unilateral U.S. economic sanctions of 1998 against several Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, have now been zealously interpreted to an unprecedented degree to include scientific exchange of publication materials.

Specifically, it is believed that U.S. professional societies, including the American Chemical Society, cannot accept manuscripts submitted by Iranian chemists for publication in their periodicals (C&EN, Nov. 24, page 25).

I believe this policy is anti-science and anti-American; that is, against the principles on which the U.S. was founded.

Whereas one might argue for exerting political and economic pressure and persuasion on another government to ensure it conforms with our principles of democracy, freedom, and free trade, it is hypocritical and thus disturbing to curtail the free flow of scientific exchange simultaneously.

Let us bear in mind that in the midst of the Cold War, for instance, Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Sharansky were not punitively penalized for having been born and worked in a country run by a political system we did not then favor.

In retrospect, one should easily discern their critical role in that society; their open exchange of scholarly pursuits, which was never halted, was an underpinning catalyst toward sociopolitical reforms.

Ironically, many of the professors and scientists in Iran were educated in the West, especially in the U.S. According to a recent Science Watch, Iran has become the second country after Egypt in the Middle East (excluding Israel, which is substantially larger) in terms of number of scientific publications, especially in chemistry, neuroscience, and materials science. In just the past 10 years, Iran has nearly quadrupled its previous figures.

Isn't it paradoxical to regressively penalize the youth, scientists, and the progressive reform-minded elements there simply because we aspire to see a change in the political system?

I understand that ACS leadership, through various venues, including the Office of Legislative & Government Affairs and the Communications Office, has begun a concerted effort with other scientific societies (including IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) to rectify and resolve this misguided policy.

If so, ACS would once again demonstrate its long-standing comitment to free exchange of scientific pursuits, due in part to its international stature.

Finally, when our government resorts to such shortsighted measures, the ramifications undermine the professional and personal aspirations of nearly 1 million Iranian Americans, including several thousands in the chemical sciences.


David N. Rahni is Professor of Chemistry at Pace University, Pleasantville, New York.  He has served as the founding director of graduate program in Environmental Science. He is a member of the Board of Editors for the Forensic Science Communications, a premier journal in support of the law enforcement published by the FBI.

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