Six months after scientific societies and publishers won a hard-fought battle with the U.S. government to edit and publish manuscripts from countries under a U.S. trade embargo, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has decided to bar such submissions from its journals and conferences. The institute says the ban, which falls hardest on scientists from Iran, is necessary to protect national security. But other scientific associations say the decision is wrong-headed and could actually limit U.S. access to scientific developments in the four embargoed countries: Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan.
The policy, adopted last month, states that the institute, "consistent with U.S. laws and policies, shall not knowingly provide products or services to, or engage in formal, technical information exchange with individuals or entities residing in embargoed nations." As a result, AIAA pulled 24 Iranian-authored submissions from its seven journals and cancelled presentations by Iranian researchers scheduled to attend an AIAA-sponsored fluid dynamics conference in Toronto. The conference, held 6 to 9 June, was subsequently exempted from the ban after protests by Iranian attendees who had already finalized their travel plans.
AIAA's position that the ban is "consistent with U.S. laws" is factually incorrect, says Marc Brodsky, executive director of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which has pushed hard to assure open communication with scientists in the embargoed countries. "There is no law or regulation I know of that requires AIAA to take the actions it has announced," he says.
AIAA Executive Director Robert Dickman said in a statement that the institute's board "is balancing our responsibilities as a professional society to foster open exchange in scholarly, scientific, and engineering information with our social responsibility to avoid assisting a nation such as North Korea in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them."
One of the first victims of that policy was Masoud Darbandi, an aerospace engineer at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, who received a note from Dickman on 26 May that AIAA had withdrawn his paper on high-temperature irradiance from a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Thermophysics and Heat Transfer. "It was a basic science paper, and I am not involved with any military projects," he says. "If the paper had been about a military application, the U.S. would actually benefit from its publication; what better way to get inside information about Iran's military?"
The policy has triggered internal dissent, according to some AIAA staff members who requested anonymity. "We're hopeful that it will be reversed," says one.