The Chronicle of Higher Education reports [subscription required] a clarification by the U.S. Treasury Department of its rules about editing manuscripts from embargoed countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Syria. The Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) recently told IEEE that they can legally edit manuscripts submitted from embargoed countries, leading to a nice round of self-congratulatory back-slapping by IEEE.
But as Peter Givler points out in his article, the actual OFAC letter [PDF] bears careful reading. According to the letter, OFAC allows only minimal editing of camera-ready manuscripts, defined by an exhaustive list of eight specific activities:
- Labeling units of measurements with standard abbreviations.
- Correcting grammar and spelling to conform to standard American English.
- Changing the size of type or the weight of lines in illustrations so that the diagrams remain legible when reduced in size for publication.
- Labeling illustration captions and formatting references to conform to the style manual of the publisher.
- Sizing and positioning illustrations to fit on the page appropriately and in proper proximity to references in the text.
- Formatting mathematical equations to fit on the page appropriately and to avoid breakage between two lines in a way that is unclear.
- Ensuring that the author has supplied a biography and a photo.
- Adding page folios with publication titles and page numbers.
That's it. No other editing is allowed. Moreover, these activities are allowed only because they do not constitute "substantive or artistic enhancements of the informational material". Utter hogwash.
Even more disappointingly, the OFAC letter also specifically forbids certain activities by referees:
As we stated to you in our letter of September 30, 2003, no license from OFAC is required for IEEE to conduct the kind of activity engaged in during the peer review process, provided such activity does not result in the reviewers' substantive or artistic alterations of enhancements of the manuscript.
Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I put a lot of effort into my referee reports, and I'd like to think that some of them have made "substantive or artistic enhancements". Part of the referee's job, as I understand it, is to find potential bugs and ambiguities, point out missing references, and suggest possible improvements in spelling, grammar, terminology, and notation. And yes, sometimes that means rewriting entire blocks of text. Occasionally referees are even invited to become co-authors because of their contributions. Apparently, we're not allowed to do that any more:
For purposes of clarifying the application of that regulatory standard in this context, we would consider a prohibited exportation of services to occur when a collaborative interaction takes place between an author in a Sanctioned Country and one or more U.S. scholars resulting in co-authorship or the equivalent thereof.
Niiice. (To echo Givler, what else is the equivalent of co-authorship?) My department accepts a handful of Iranian PhD students every year, a few of whom work in research areas very close to mine. I also have a few Canadian colleagues who regularly organize research workshops in Cuba on topics in which I have some interest. It's not unreasonable to expect that I might someday co-author a paper with an Iranian student or one of my co-authors' Cuban co-authors. According to the fedral gubmint, I will at that moment become a felon.
I can't wait!
The relationship between IEEE and OFAC has a long and disappointing history that I won't relate here, but I can't resist pointing to Luc Devroye's exhortation to boycott (or at least sabotage) IEEE journals and conferences.
Thanks to Language Log for the heads-up.