Academic publishing in the time of sanctions and boycotts

On December 7th, the academic publisher Taylor & Francis informed two authors that they are unable to publish their mathematical research paper, even though it had been accepted by the editorial board of one of its journals two years after submission and revisions. Actually the paper had been posted online and a DOI had been assigned. The reason given? The US sanctions on the authors’ country: Iran. I give a bit more details below, but there is also another story within the story.

On December 8th, I got forwarded the following email from Iranian Mathematics Professor, Abbas Fakhari.

Dear Friends: I hope you are doing well. I sent a paper for possible publication to “Dynamical Systems, an International Journal” in December 2016. After two years and revision, the paper was accepted in  November 2018 and published online with DOI: 10.1080/14689367.2018.1554029 in December 2018. Now, the publisher, Taylor & Francis, has sent the following e-mail to me:

7th December 2018

Dear Dr Abbas Fakhari and Dr Mohammad Soufi,


Thank you for your submission to Dynamical Systems.

As a result of our compliance with laws and regulations applied by the UK, US, European Union, and United Nations jurisdictions with respect to countries subject to trade restrictions, it is not possible for us to publish any manuscript authored by researchers based in a country subject to sanction (in this case Iran) in certain cases where restrictions are applied. Following internal sanctions process checks the above referenced manuscript has been identified as falling into this category. Therefore, due to mandatory compliance and regulation instructions, we regret that we unable to proceed with the processing of your paper.

We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused. Should you wish to submit your work to another publication you are free to do so and we wish you every success.

Yours faithfully,

Justin (Sent on behalf of Dynamical Systems)

Managing Editor | Taylor & Francis | Routledge Journals

We live in a strange information age, so I first wanted to be sure that this was not fake news. I sent a query to the managing editor, and proceeded to tweet this, which eventually got retweeted more than 800 times, collecting more than 200,000 impressions!

The 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 and human rights. However, the comments on his blog were few, with some unexpected, and surprising. Signs of our times?

One comment stated: “…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.”

Another: “This looks like a case of people being ground by the wheels of bureaucracy,”

Another: “History of mathematics is littered with consequences of a belief that mathematics is above all moral concerns.”

In any case, I eventually received the following response from Taylor and Francis.

Dear Professor Ghoussoub,

Thank you for your email regarding the paper in Dynamical Systems. On behalf of Taylor and Francis I would like to send the following response to your email.

Please be advised that 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 as well.

Best regards, Colin

Yesterday, the Editorial Board of “Dynamical Systems” sent the following letter to Taylor and Francis.

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 been accepted 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. 
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


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2 Responses to Academic publishing in the time of sanctions and boycotts

  1. Aha — this response by the board is exactly what was needed here. Huzzah!

  2. anthonyquas says:

    At the insistence of the Editorial Board, Taylor and Francis has now posted 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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