Weekend Edition
April 7 / 8, 2007

Test Tube Zealots

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: [log in to unmask]