The U.S. Treasury Department has reversed a controversial ruling that would have required U.S. scholarly journals to obtain the government's permission to edit papers from countries under a U.S. trade embargo. A new policy directive, spelled out in a 2 April letter to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is expected to resolve months of confusion about how to handle manuscripts from those countries.
In 2002, citing uncertainties in trade regulations, IEEE decided to exclude papers from scientists in Iran, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan, pending a ruling from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) (Science, 19 September 2003, p. 1646). On 30 September OFAC said that a license would be required to perform any editing of manuscripts from Iran (and, by extension, other sanctioned countries) (Science, 10 October, p. 210). But last week, after boning up on the scientific peer review process, OFAC cleared the way for publishers to follow their normal procedures in editing papers from anywhere in the world. "Scientific communities in sanctioned countries may publish their works in U.S. scholarly journals," says OFAC Director Richard Newcomb.
The new ruling is based on OFAC's interpretation of the Trading With the Enemy Act that permits the handling of "informational materials." A senior Treasury official explained this week that "peer review and copy editing are permitted because they are exempt under the Berman Amendment," a 1988 change in the law. A spokesman for Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) called it "a positive step" but warned that "we need to look carefully at how it's applied to other things," such as the publishing of papers with co-authors in sanctioned countries.
OFAC's decision appears to vindicate IEEE; critics had warned that its query could force OFAC to act on a matter that it might otherwise ignore. After the issue became live, a number of organizations refused to alter their procedures, citing the First Amendment clause on free speech, while the American Chemical Society temporarily suspended its review of manuscripts by authors from the sanctioned countries. A few, including the American Society for Microbiology, applied for a license.
"Perhaps we invited some of [the controversy]--so it was incumbent upon us to get a resolution," says Arthur Winston, president of IEEE, which convened a February meeting with scientific publishers on the issue and met last month with OFAC officials. Since the September ruling, IEEE has published manuscripts from the embargoed countries without making any stylistic or editorial changes. "Effective immediately," Winston said, "IEEE is returning to its normal publishing process for all authors."
With reporting by Jeffrey Mervis.