Elsevier has started circulating this letter as a consequence of the sanctions taken by the US against Iran to the editors of their journals:

Subject: US editors and reviewers can no longer handle submissions by authors employed by the Government of Iran

Dear Dr Bruno Granier,

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions. As a result of OFAC sanctions we have been made aware that US editors, US Elsevier staff and US reviewers are now unable to handle scientific manuscripts where any of the authors are employed by the Government of Iran. This includes the research departments of the various oil and gas companies which are deemed to be entities of the Government of Iran. We realize that this OFAC regulation will cause some inconvenience in your role as an editor but Elsevier is legally obliged to ensure that all reasonable efforts are made to avoid submissions from Iranian government agencies and companies being handled by US editors, US Elsevier staff and US reviewers. Please be aware that editors, Elsevier staff and reviewers from outside the US may still handle these manuscripts and that this OFAC regulation does not pertain to manuscripts where the authors are based at Iranian academic and research institutes. Manuscripts originating from a clinical setting that are not government run, for example, a hospital or clinical practice are also exempt from this regulation.

To view the official OFAC regulation, please click here. In practice the result of these sanctions will mean that:

• Submissions where any author is based in Iran, and is not at an academic and research institution, cannot be handled by US-based editors, US Elsevier staff, US reviewers, or any US citizens based outside of the US.

• If an Iranian author has dual affiliations (eg. university and government), their submission cannot be handled by US-based editors, US Elsevier staff, US reviewers, or any US citizens based outside of the US.

• Affiliations of Iranian authors should therefore be checked, and any manuscripts which fall under this OFAC regulation delegated to a non-US editor, before handling.

• When assigning reviewers, affiliations of Iranian authors should also be checked, and any papers which fall under this OFAC regulation should only be sent to non-US reviewers. (As an editor you should do what is reasonable to determine the nationality of a reviewer e.g. check their email address. This check does not extend to emailing reviewers directly to confirm their nationality or location). Unless there is specific knowledge that a non-US-based reviewer is a US citizen, editors can send such submissions to reviewers based outside the US.

• If your journal workflow involves all submissions being handled by US-based Elsevier staff, they will reject these manuscripts outright before they reach you.

• Should there be no suitably qualified editor or reviewer, please reject the manuscript outright.

When rejecting manuscripts which fall under this OFAC regulation please use the new EES Decision Term "Reject - OFAC Sanctions" and the following text:

"As a result of OFAC sanctions all editorial staff who are US-based/US nationals are unable to handle scientific manuscripts which are authored by Iranian scientists, employed by the Government of Iran. Based on this OFAC regulation we are unfortunately unable to handle your manuscript. We wish you success with your submission to another Journal."

We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. If you do have any questions please contact your Publisher.

Sent on behalf of Dan Lovegrove

Cretaceous Research

Has there been any public response, by US editors or reviewers, stating whether they will obey (or not) the instruction? Also, does this letter conflict with the Code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors of the COPE (all Elsevier journals are members of COPE as of January 2008)?

up vote 21 down vote accepted

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is an agency of the US Treasury that is empowered by US federal law to edict and enforce embargoes and economic sanctions. Thus, US journal editors are bound by its regulations, whether they like it or not. Violating them would expose them, and their employers, to liability. If they violated them willingly, the employer might also turn against them. I don't see how deference to the law is in violation of COPE guidelines (or academic ethics in the broader sense): though important in publishing, they do not have force of law (and specifically defer to the law in many areas).

Elsevier is not the only publisher affected by these sanctions, and as others, they are not happy with it:

We stand by our belief that generally speaking, restrictions on publishing are inappropriate, and any exceptions should be narrowly crafted. We will work with our other publishing house and industry colleagues, along with research communities and institutions, to analyze recent changes and continue to pursue appropriate balance in the laws.

Some other publishers, however, either have a different understanding of the law or are willing to (potentially) go to court over it:

A spokesperson for the American Geophysical Union, which has a dozen members in Iran, says AGU does not consider publishing to be a trade issue and "accepts paper submissions from anywhere in the world." The American Society of Mechanical Engineers echoes that view, as does AAAS, Science's publisher. "We do not put any restrictions on submission or publication of papers based on economic or other sanctions," says Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science.
                                                                                      [source: Wikipedia and references therein]

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