Taylor and Francis doing Trump’s dirty work for him

The following story arrived in my email inbox (and those of many others) this morning. Apparently a paper was submitted to the Taylor and Francis journal Dynamical Systems, and was accepted. The published version was prepared, and it had got to the stage where a DOI had been assigned. Then the authorS received a letter explaining that “following internal sanctions process checks” the article could not after all be published because one of them was based in Iran.

I don’t know what the legal consequences would have been if Taylor and Francis had simply gone ahead and published, but my hunch is that they are being unduly cautious. I wonder if they turned down any papers by Russian authors after the invasion of Ukraine.

This is not an isolated incident. An Iranian PhD student who applied for funding to go to a mathematics conference in Rome was told that “we are unable to provide financial support for Iranians due to administrative difficulties”.

I’m not sure what one can do about this, but at the very least it should be generally known that it is happening.

Update. Taylor and Francis have now reversed their decision.

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45 Responses to “Taylor and Francis doing Trump’s dirty work for him”

  1. gowers Says:

    Just to get in before anyone else does: yes, I have spotted the connection with the Ted Hill story.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    This is very disturbing. Thank you for bringing this wider attention!

  3. Sylvy Anscombe Says:

    This is very disturbing. Thanks for bringing this to wider attention!

  4. bigmoneyoutofpolitics Says:

    It’s not Trump.

    It’s the whole US (and western European) political establishment.

    Trump is a symptom of the disease, not the cause of the disease.

    Sandy Lemberg

    On Sun, 9 Dec 2018 12:59:42 +0000 Gowers’s Weblog

    • James Says:

      What do you mean? Naturally you can have misgivings about the whole US and European political establishment, but this post is about sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions are a policy specifically of Trump and the Republican Party, opposed by the European Union and the major western European governments (and also against the policy of the previous US administration, for example). It seems entirely sensible for the post to link the policy to Trump.

    • Anonymous Says:

      ,

  5. disposed to learn @Dolciani/Algebra Says:

    The story is now on Twitter:

  6. gowers Says:

    Another thing that can perhaps be done is to bring the Streisand effect into play. I’m not 100% certain this is the article in question, but it probably is, because it appears online in the latest issue of the journal and has two authors, one of whom is based in Tehran. If you want, you can look it up on the journal website, but I’m certainly not going to link to a paywalled article on the website of a big commercial publisher. Here instead is the arXiv version.

  7. hollemantv Says:

    The editorial board might be sacked for failing miserably to grasp the point of Trump’s ludicrous US Iran policy. The point is to project as much power as possible without actually doing anything. This move produces the opposite result. How many in the Trump administration know math journals exist? How many have heard of Taylor & Francis? What possible risk did they face in publishing the paper? e^i*pi – 1. This is a case of a stupid policy being followed by people stupider than the policy was intended for. (This is by no means to defend the policy…just to point out that its intent is affirmatively not to be followed to the letter—as its promulgaters and everyone it affects knows)

  8. omidhatami Says:

    Both cases are result of Trump’s imposal of US secondary secondary sanctions against Iran.

    “Any non-US entity which does any trade with Iran will be put under US sanctions.”

    Unfortunately this includes publishing a paper, supporting students, and more basically any kind of banking transaction, selling food, medicine, etc. As a result many non-US entities such as Taylor and Francis are afraid of doing any kind of relation with Iranians because they are afraid of losing their business in US.

    There is a huge discrimination against Iranians in the current world as a result of US unfair sanctions. A bitter truth that many Iranians live everyday.

    • gowers Says:

      Bad though the situation is in general, there is a particularly bitter irony in this case, given how inappropriate the word “trade” is to describe the process of publishing a paper in a subscription-based journal.

      It’s yet another argument for diamond open access journals, which would not be afraid of losing business in the US because there is no “business” to lose.

    • Lior Silberman Says:

      Can you document this claim that all trade with Iran is prohibited? All documentation of the sanctions I’ve found prohibits specific kinds of interaction (e.g. providing financial and insurance services) and interaction with specific institutions within Iran (e.g. banks, oil companies, car companies, ports, shipbuilding). Furthermore, there are specific exemptions for selling medicines and food.

      Here’s one summary.

      The legal theory of the journal must therefore be that the Iranian author of the article may be on the sanctions list (for directly violating the sanctions) and therefore dealing with them is prohibited. The problem with this reasoning is that anybody in the world might be on the sanctions list — and I doubt they check non-Iranian authors against the list.

  9. Lior Silberman Says:

    Did the recent arrest of Huawei’s CFO as she was changing planes in Canada affect the journal’s decision? The US is accusing Huawei (a Chinese company) of evading the sanctions.

  10. Lior Silberman Says:

    I don’t like to be in the position of having to defend Trump, but I must say also I don’t like the title of this post which attributes an act of academic boycott of Iran to Trump rather than to the journal. As far as I can tell (I’d perfectly accept a correction on this point) the journal is the organization boycotting Iran using the sanctions as an excuse — no other journal is known to have taken the same position.

    Has Trump or any other US official ever called for an academic boycott of Iran? Do the terms of the sanctions, primary or secondary, force an academic boycott?

    For the same reason (and assuming the rumour is true and the article has, indeed, been rescinded) I think the first step should be a general call on the journal to articulate its official policy on Iranian co-authors and its reasons for the boycott, including its interpretation of the sanctions regime.

  11. Darij Grinberg Says:

    > my hunch is that they are being unduly cautious

    Same here. This looks like a case of people being ground by the wheels of bureaucracy, and much that I’d prefer to be restricted to Trump’s tenure, these things happen all the time. This certainly happened under Bush; Wikipedia:

    > In February 2004, during the final year of Khatami’s presidency, the U.S. Department of the Treasury ruled against editing or publishing scientific manuscripts from Iran, and stated that U.S. scientists collaborating with Iranians could be prosecuted. In response, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) temporarily stopped editing manuscripts from Iranian researchers and took steps to clarify the OFAC guidelines concerning its publishing and editing activities. In April 2004 IEEE received a response from OFAC which fully resolved that no licenses were needed for publishing works from Iran and that the entire IEEE publication process including peer review and editing was exempt from restrictions.

    It is also likely to be overshooting, as you said — apparently the bigger the company, the more likely it is to act craven, despite having less of a reason to do so. I’m not aware of anyone actually getting in trouble for publishing a paper coauthored by an Iranian. Possibly, if the authors went with T&Fs Gold Open Access model, then this would change the calculus by suddenly making it a financial transaction. It *shouldn’t*, but at least I can understand it a bit more that it got people scared.

    • Darij Grinberg Says:

      In the Twitter thread https://twitter.com/NGhoussoub/status/1071778395632033792 , more evidence (see the chrislintott tweets) that sanctions compliance merely forbids commercial dealings, so publishing is fine unless you levy charges on the authors (which is cancer anyway). T&F seem to have fallen prey to organizational paralysis — someone panicked, others rushed in to cover their asses, without ever checking what actually had to be done.

  12. Greg Marks Says:

    It is completely unacceptable for a scientific journal to make publication decisions on the basis of an author’s race, religion, national origin, sex, political opinions, etc.

  13. voloch Says:

    There is an article with an author from Iran on the journal’s webpage, published a few days ago. I wonder if they’ve changed their mind once this got publicized.

  14. Taylor and Francis journal Dynamical Systems reverses publication decision because an author based in Iran - Nevin Manimala's Blog Says:

    […] At least that’s what happened according to Gowers […]

  15. Pierangelo Marcati Says:

    I am not aware of the Rome story, it is very serious and I would like to do an accurate investigation to report to Italian Mathematical Union. Could you please provide more details?

  16. José F. Alves Says:

    You may be sure, Steve. The one I’ve linked is definitely the paper in question. On Saturday, I got an e-mail directly from the first co-author telling me about this story.

  17. Alexander Soifer Says:

    Tim Gowers writes: “I wonder if they turned down any papers by Russian authors after the invasion of Ukraine.”

    I am in favor of publishing Russian authors. However, those Russians, who supported Putin’s annexation of Crimea and war on Ukraine, ought not to be invited and treated as VIP’s. History of mathematics is littered with consequences of a belief that mathematics is above all moral concerns. Pontryagin, who persecuted Jews, received VIP treatment at Princeton and Stanford, and was elected Vice President of IMU. Rolf Nevanlinna, who chaired SS Recruitment Committee in Finland, was elected President of IMU.

    Einstein warned us, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” This was the expressed reason of Grisha Perelman leaving mathematics.

    • Sasha B. Says:

      Prof. Soifer,

      I wonder what are your thoughts on the ukrainian boycott of the ICM22?
      http://www.icm2022boycott.org

    • alexandersoifer Says:

      Dear Sasha B., thank you for your question, which allowed me to learn about the boycott and support it. Here is the text I placed on the boycott page:
      I am grateful to the July 29-30, 2018, General Assembly (GA) of the International Mathematics Union (IMU) for following my urging and deciding to replace the name of Rolf Nevanlinna, a Hitler supporter, on its prize and medal. However, GA erred in granting criminal tyrant Putin a propaganda tool by selecting Russia for hosting ICM-2022. War on Georgia, Annexation of Crimea, War on Ukraine, etc., etc., etc. are the gravest violations of the international law, and must not be rewarded.
      I do not think that for countries to order their mathematicians not to attend is right. I support the boycott on the individual level, by those who are not only mathematicians, but also human beings of high moral standards.

    • Maths student Says:

      I don’t think that’s the precise reason Perelman has quit.

  18. Taylor & Francis Says:

    In this instance, our company policy on international trade sanctions was applied. This policy is in place to ensure compliance with laws and regulations in the UK, US, European Union, and United Nations jurisdictions.

    However, we have also been actively reviewing how this policy should apply to research publishing. This is in order to ensure its application does not contravene academic freedom or editorial independence, whilst still ensuring we comply with all relevant international laws.

    Because this policy has been under review, we believe it is only fair to reverse this decision and reinstate the paper in question, so it can proceed to publication.

    We apologise for any upset this has caused and are in touch with the authors of this paper and the journal editor.

    Taylor & Francis (publisher of Dynamical Systems), 12th December 2018

  19. Anthony Quas Says:

    The Editorial Board sent the following letter to Taylor and Francis this morning:

    Dear Editorial Staff at Taylor and Francis,
     
    We, the Editorial Board at Dynamical Systems: an International Journal, recently learned that the authors of an article that had already beenaccepted at DS:aIJ, Drs Fakhari and Soufi, received an email informing them that their paper had been summarily rejected on the basis that publishing the paper would entail a failure to comply with laws based on the US sanctions on Iran. This decision was made without either consulting or even notifying the Editorial Board or even the Editors-in-Chief. We understand that this position has, after some delay and in the middle of a furore, been reversed today.
     
    While we recognize Taylor and Francis’ obligations to comply with the laws of the countries in which they operate, this decision appears to have been made out of an excess of caution and *there cannot be any justification for failing to involve or notify the Editorial Board*. 
     
    We understand that:
    (1) this is not an isolated incident, in that a similar decision was taken at the T&F journal Linear and Multilinear Algebra, and is currently being addressed through the intervention of the American Mathematical Society;
    (2) that other publishers have considered the issue and concluded that merely publishing papers by Iranian authors does not contravene any laws around the United States sanctions on Iran. Specifically, the American Mathematical Society and Cambridge University Press, among others have taken the position that publishing material by Iranian authors does not break any laws. The American Mathematical Society has, as we understand it, decided that it cannot enter into contracts to pay royalties to Iranian authors, but that it will continue to publish papers by Iranians.
    (3) these actions of T&F Editorial Staff have led to severe reputational damage to DS:aIJ, and threaten to damage the reputations of the Board.
     
    Accordingly, we demand that 
    (1) A principle is adopted that *under no circumstances* in the future will papers be summarily rejected without consulting the Editorial Board; 
    (2) A public statement be put out by Taylor and Francis (a) acknowledging that this decision was made in error by T&F without consulting the board; (b) affirming the principle in (1) above; and (c) apologizing to the authors of the paper for the summary removal;
    (3) A statement be put out by T&F prominently on the journal’s web site, to be developed in conjunction with the Editorial Board, clearly specifying any the full set of limitations that apply to publishing papers by authors in sanctioned countries.
     
    We look forward to hearing from you in the very near future to resolve these
    critical issues for the future of DS:aIJ. 
     
    Sincerely
     
    Ale Jan Homburg (Editor-in-Chief)
    Todd Young (Editor-in-Chief)
     
    Peter Ashwin
    Claude Baesens
    Luis Barreira
    Yongluo Cuo
    Hans Crauel
    Michael Dellnitz
    Bernold Fiedler
    Giovanni Gallavotti
    Paul Glendinning
    Vivien Kirk
    Keonhee Lee
    Ian Melbourne
    Anthony Quas
    James Robinson
    Arnd Scheel
    Jörg Schmeling
    Ian Stewart 
    Masato Tsujii
    Dmitry Turaev

  20. Behnam Says:

    I am a mathematician who is based in Iran and who loves his country. I was concerned a lot since four days ago when I first learned about this story. Now, as a result of your support, I can focus again on my research…

    Sanctions have caused a lot of trouble in the life and work of “normal” people inside Iran. For example, we have a hard time finding top speakers from the west to invite to a conference we are organizing for the next summer, mainly because people are concerned that travelling to Iran might cause difficulties in their future trips to the U.S. e.g., in visa application, etc. But, the story mentioned in this post was bringing the situation to a whole new level.

    Thank you Professor Gowers for raising your voice! Thanks everybody who kindly commented on this issue, and finally thank you the editorial board of the journal who’ll make sure this will never happen again.

  21. Academic publishing in the time of sanctions and boycotts | Piece of Mind Says:

    […] story turned out to be true, and Tim Gowers followed up with a blogpost: “Taylor and Francis doing Trump’s dirty work for him.” Tim’s position was, as usual, principled and consistent with his views on academic publishing […]

  22. Anthony Quas Says:

    We just received the following response from Taylor and Francis:

    Dear Professors Young, Homburg, and Editorial Board of Dynamical Systems,

    We are writing to respond to your letter dated 12 December 2018 regarding the article “Saturation of Generalized Partially Hyperbolic Attractors” by Dr Abbas Fakhari and Dr Mohammad Soufi, (Ref: 1554029/CDSS-2016-0182.R2). As we communicated in our note yesterday, in the light of reviewing our policy with regard to international trade agreements we reinstated the paper in Dynamical Systems so that it can proceed to publication.

    We agree that this is not an isolated case. To be clear, in sending the rejection letter the Managing Editor was adhering to our stated company policy on international trade sanctions as was set out at the time. This policy has been in place to ensure compliance with laws and regulations in the UK, US, European Union, and United Nations jurisdictions. Whilst we cannot comment on the compliance policies of other publishers, we have been actively reviewing how this policy should apply to research publishing. Going forward we will ensure its application does not contravene academic freedom or editorial independence, whilst still ensuring we comply with all relevant international laws. We recognise the issues you have articulated to us as we finalise our review of guidance.

    To address your specific points, we are happy to agree that no paper should be rejected without consultation with the editorial board. While we must comply with all relevant international laws, our process should include this consultation and this should take place at submission stage rather than after acceptance. Any future decisions in regards to the return, retraction or withdrawal of an article from the Journal will be taken in consultation with the Editors and/or Editorial board.

    To address your second point, as you are aware, we have responded publicly to this situation and have reversed the original position. We can confirm that the apology to the authors has been put on the public record and we accept our error with the initial decision on this paper.

    With respect to a statement to be written and placed on the Journal’s website, we are happy to work with the Editors and Editorial board to outline and specify what the full set of limitations that apply to publishing papers by authors in sanctioned countries are. Perhaps we could set up a call with you to discuss? We are also happy to revise the instructions for authors on the journal web site in the spirit of more transparency.

    We very much appreciate your active engagement and advocacy on this issue and look forward to working with you further on this.

    Very best regards,

    Paul

    Paul Naish

  23. cuchulaine Says:

    I know an Iranian immigrant to the U.S. He very credibly states that the VAST majority of Iranians in Iran want the autocratic, repressive Islamist dictatorship gone. They remain deeply attached to Western things & ways, not all.
    YOU, on the other hand, are just another academic in your echo chamber, deluded by your faux virtue and doing too much bellybutton lint fondling. Stick to math.

    • gowers Says:

      I’m struggling to understand your point. Is it that you believe that Trump’s sanctions are a good way to bring down the Iranian regime? I wonder how well that worked last time round.

    • M.Moradi Says:

      I’m wondering if you ever had an email that informs you “As you might know, due to regulations which go beyond the University of Copenhagen’s control, it is not possible to wire money to bank accounts in Iran, and in some cases also to accounts which belong to a person of Iranian nationality, regardless of where the account is located.” and you miss an international conference or not?what about your “Iranian Immigrant” friend(s)?
      by the way, there is no such “VAST majority” to change regime(I’m pretty much sure that even western countries prefer to compromise)
      AND yes I’m abandoning Iran as well to continue my PhD

    • Anonymous Says:

      ,

  24. Rama Cont Says:

    Dear colleagues, Dear Prof. Gowers,

    Following an email forwarded to me by an Iranian colleague, I had followed this incident from the start, and was in contact with Taylor and Francis editorial staff as well as the editors of the journal.

    What I can say is that the decision to take the (accepted) paper offline was not at all taken by the (scientific) editorial board but by a member of the Taylor & Francis editorial staff, based on their interpretation of internal instructions (see Taylor and Francis’ email above). The Editorial Board, especially the Editors in Chief, deserve credit for doing everything in their power to reverse this decision and eventually succeeded in doing so with the support of the mathematics community, people such as yourself.

    That being said, sanctions on Iran by the US have been in place on and off since 1981, long before Trump. There have been other instances of publications or scientific societies refusing submissions from Iranians, membership of Iranians etc, see for example the case of IEEE in 2003:
    https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/tech-careers/will-us-sanctions-have-chilling-effect-on-scholarly-publishing

    What is new with the Trump administration is the travel ban, which overwhelmingly affects Iranian nationals; More than 80% of those affected by this ban have been Iranian citizens studying/working in the US:
    https://www.ams.org/journals/notices/201707/rnoti-p678.pdf

  25. anthonyquas Says:

    At the insistence of the Editorial Board, Taylor and Francis has now placed the following statement on the journal’s web site:

    Statement on Sanctions
    Given the constantly changing sanctions landscape, Taylor & Francis recently undertook a review of our approach in order to understand all of the relevant exemptions available to a publishing business such as ourselves. This review has confirmed that Taylor & Francis, as a global business, is able to continue to engage with Iranian universities and academics in accordance with the General Publishing Licence issued by the US Government through OFAC in 2004.

    Our obligations in this regard include the carrying out of appropriate and proportionate due diligence to ensure that we do not breach US sanctions and this is enhanced in those areas of study which correlate with targeted industries such as nuclear and biochemical defence. The US Government places an additional obligation on us to ensure that we are not dealing with any individual or institution associated with the Government of Iran as set out in the General Publishing Licence.

    Working in accordance with our obligations as explained above, we continue to welcome all Iranian authors who approach Taylor & Francis.

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