The American Chemical Society Terminates the Membership of Chemists from Iran

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has once again led the way, with its “zealot” interpretation of “embargo” by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, by terminating the membership of its long-standing members in Iran, many of whom are post Ph.D. Alumni of American Universities. Several years ago, the ACS undertook a similar unprecedented action, under the same law. Then, it unilaterally stopped accepting scholarly and research manuscripts from Iranian scientists for its three dozen periodicals in the publication division. However, later, under embarrassing pressure from the American scientific community and its membership, the ACS retracted its decision and agreed to take it up instead with the federal government. Paradoxically and notwithstanding rhetoric, such ill-conceived measures are against the current U.S. Administration policy of promoting people-to-people contact as enunciated by the Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns at the March 29 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, in Science Magazine, reported that the ACS Assistant General Counsel, David Smorodin when “re-reading the embargo rules, made the recommendation to terminate Iranian membership(Science Magazine, Vol. 315, 30 March 2007). One can not help but speculate whether or not such decision is truly serving the interests of member-based ACS or enforcing the laws to the limit as he has served as a U.S. Assistant District Attorney before joining the ACS. Nonetheless, despite the abrupt termination of individual membership of Iranian chemical scientists with no due process, the ACS has stated that while they [Iranians] can continue to purchase journals and other “non-sensitive products at full-rate, the ACS might apply for a special license from the Treasury Department to reinstate their memberships. This has in the meantime deprived American chemists to learn about the scholarly contributions of their Iranian peers.

It should be noted that as in the past, the American Physical Society (APS), in contrast, stated, “We have NO plan to do anything similar, and continue to serve our members in Iran.” Judy Franz, a director at the APS further stated that, “We would resist having to obtain a license to the extent we can.”

When interviewed by Science Magazine, the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), David Rahni an Iranian-American chemistry professor in New York stated, “I, like most ACS members and peers in the scientific community, strongly question the ACS motive on this issue, and expect ACS,s leadership to refrain from allowing politics to taint the high stature the Organization has achieved.” Rahni further stated that this has personally concerned him gravely since he has served the ACS with distinctions in the past thirty years, as typified by his positions as the chair of the ACS New York, the chair of the Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting, and the chair of Nichols Medal. 90% of the ACS projects, publications and activities are run by a huge cadre of volunteer professionals who, with no expectations, give their time, energy, money and intellects and talents to the advancement of the chemical sciences worldwide. It is painfully ironic to many, especially the ACS American members to witness the politicization of their disciplines through the ACS as they continue to register their grave concerns with the ACS lucratively remunerated executive directors. As a chemistry professor with having given fifty years of his life to the ACS and the profession so eloquently put it, “Never mind the Iranians as one may not give a darn about them and their plights, what, I am bewildered to speculate the ulterior motives of the ACS paid “professional leadership is to embarrass us as freethinking science. ACS is US and not its DC staff as they are required by our mandate to serve our interests and not create problems for us.

The consensus among the nearly one million Americans of Iranian ancestry is to reaffirm their yearning commitment to the attainment of justice, security, stability, equity, transparency and human rights through “home-grown”, indigenous and democratic reforms in Iran, but not at the expense of isolating the scientific community in their motherland from their peers worldwide. They further deplore any possible unilateral military action against Iran, as they firmly believe this is counter-productive to the organic, slow, but steady evolution of Iran through educational benchmark, cultural reforms and communication with the rest of the world. They further consider military action and/or isolation counter-productive to the credibility of their American homeland which would inevitably lead, once again, to the priceless loss of human life and loss of credibility for our nation in the international scene.

Iran’s chemist/chemical engineering professionals/scholars numbers tens of thousands. They are, by and large, members of the Iranian Chemical Society. However, many of them hold at least one overseas membership, mostly in the Royal Societies in the UK. There are currently 36 Iranian members in the American Chemical Society. The strong position of chemistry/chemical engineering in Iran is due to the oil and gas explorations by the petrochemical industry during the past 100 years, and due to some of Iran,s renowned past and contemporary chemists, scientists, and philosophers. The contributions of Americans of Iranian background to the chemistry and sciences, engineering and medicine, is unparalleled by other recent immigrant communities. There indeed exists an <>Iranian Chemists’ Association of the ACS that since its inception in the 80, has reached out to over a thousand chemists of Iranian ancestry in the U.S. alone. It is well substantiated that as long as the diplomatic relations between the two nations remain at a hostile stalemate, a political cloud hovers over the personal and professional aspirations of Iranian-Americans. Specifically, senior and executive level professional opportunities for Iranian-Americans, particularly in government, higher education and the corporate world, remain chronically undermined.

Iran, a multiethnic country of 70 million, traces its heritage to a long and illustrious history, 10,000 years in the making, with 2500 years of a continuous form of government. There are two million students in her higher education system, 60% of whom, especially in the sciences, engineering and medicine, are women. Its literacy rate is 90%, unprecedented in that part of the world. Iran or Persia as it was formerly known by the outside world until 1935, has indeed contributed immensely toward the advancement of science, technology and society for millennia. Rhazes, Avicenna, Algorithm, Omer Khayam, Farabi, Biruni, Hayyan, and many others are some of the epics that come to a western scholar,s mind.

Despite the tremendous burden imposed on the Iranian students and scholars as they struggle to obtain a US visa (mostly denied) for doctoral studies, some of the brightest graduate students in Ivy League Universities (e.g., Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT) are Iranians. Increasingly, however, they opt to pursue their doctoral studies in Australia, Canada and Europe. Iranian high school students have continuously ranked among the top few of the nations in the International Chemistry and other Science Olympiads, and Robotics and Computing Competitions.

Isn’t it ironic that when the ACS claims to be an international professional society, 130 years old, with a membership of 160,000, 10% of whom are from overseas, and an additional 20%, are naturalized Americans or permanent residents, that it forces the nationals of Iran out, deprives them from maintaining scientific communications with peers worldwide, and does not let them contribute toward the advancement of science worldwide?

Notwithstanding the rhetoric and provocations leading to a possible disastrous confrontation by governments, a true scientist, or a credible organization of scientists such as the ACS, which does not recognize the boundaries of the world, should be capable to transcend all political barriers for the advancement of science.

DAVID N. RAHNI, Ph.D. is a Professor of Chemistry at Pace University, in Pleasantville, New York and Adjunct Professor of Dermatology, New York Medical College. He is also an Adj. Prof. Envirnonmental Law at Pace U. He can be reached at: