Engineers are warning that rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department this month could restrict the free exchange of scientific information.
The Bush administration says the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, with more than 350,000 members worldwide, must stop editing scholarly papers submitted by researchers living in countries under a U.S. trade embargo, or apply for a special license to do so.
On Oct. 1 the Treasury Department informed the Institute that editing a research paper is equivalent to providing a service to authors and therefore violates U.S. trade restrictions that prevent U.S.-based organizations from doing business with countries such as Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.
"U.S. persons may not provide (an embargoed author) substantive or artistic alterations or enhancement of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements," the director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control wrote in a letter to the IEEE. Trade policy prohibits "the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons."
The IEEE must now apply for a special license to edit papers from researchers in trade embargoed nations.
Concerned that it may have otherwise violated U.S. trade laws, the IEEE had already stopped editing papers written by members in the embargoed countries, and had prevented those engineers from viewing its journals online.
In a statement issued after the Treasury Department's decision, the IEEE said it would apply for a special license immediately and resume editing papers as soon as the license was granted.
Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering and an IEEE member, worries the Treasury Department's decision will have a chilling effect on scientific publishing.
"What (the letter) describes as needing a license is exactly what every journal in the world does," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education.