The other day I heard from Anna Krylov, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California who specializes in quantum chemistry. Lately she’s also written or collaborated on several articles decrying the politicization and “woke-izing” of science (see here, for example). Anna was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, and got a master’s degree in Moscow. which makes her particularly well situated to comment on how one scientific journal (and likely others) is responding to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Anna told me she got an email from one of her collaborators, who was reviewing for a journal a paper written by Russian scientists. (“Reviewing,” as you probably know, is when anonymous scientists determines whether a submitted manuscript in their field merits publication in the journal. Here’s the email that Anna’s collaborator got from the journal named below.
“Thank you for reviewing this manuscript. I have to inform you that the editors of the Journal of Molecular Structure made a decision to ban the manuscripts submitted from Russian institutions. You must know that it is a ban on Russian institutions and not a judgment on scientists. Therefore I cannot accept the manuscript.
Therefore, the reviewer had to send the Russian authors this rejection letter:
I regret to inform you that your manuscript cannot be considered for publication in the Journal of Molecular Structure. The editors of this journal, in the full assumption of their responsibilities as scientists and academics, decided not to consider any manuscript authored by scientists working at Russian Federation institutions as a result of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Such invasion violates international law, jeopardizes world peace as well as the human rights of innocent citizens, and does not conform to the civilizational ideals of the 21st century. This decision will be in force until international legality is restored, and is extended to the institutions of the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.”
Anna was incensed, and sent me the following comments which I quote with her permission:
This is a full-blown academic boycott — chemistry journals refusing to publish papers authored by Russian scientists.
I am in favor of the strictest sanctions against Russia, up to the boots on the ground in Ukraine, but terminating scientific interactions and boycotting the scientists is the wrong thing to do. Having lived on both sides of the Iron Curtain, I consider such acts to be meaningless for the cause (Putin cannot care less about chemistry publishing), deeply unfair to the scientists who happened to live under the regime many of them do not support, and damaging to science and humanity.
She later sent me added this, since the journal is run by Elsevier:
The person who got this email posted the update today that [he/she] was contacted by Elsevier and they said it was not an official decision of Elsevier but of the editor or editorial board of JMS. The representative [of Elsevier] said they do not support this decision.
So the question is — do we allow individual editorial boards to make decisions about imposing sanctions? Definitely not!
This decision will certainly accomplish nothing towards changing the minds of Putin and his thugs for making war on Ukraine. It is the scientific equivalent of a boycott—the kind of boycott that is promoted by BDS, by many organizations during South Africa’s apartheid regime, and is also now being put into place in sports, with many competitions and federations refusing to include Russian athletes.
The question is, as Anna put it, do we punish individuals merely because they live under a regime that did something other countries don’t like, even if they didn’t take part in those actions and often even oppose them? This seems unfair. I do understand the rationale for boycotts: after all, what is our intervention in Russia’s finances but a big step that will badly affect the well being of many normal, non-wealthy Russians? The only way to stop this war without actually shooting at Russians ourselves is to impose some kind of sanctions, which perforce can hurt the innocent.
But are all sanctions equal? Should Russian scientists be forbidden from publishing what they’ve found because their country invaded Ukraine? That hurts them, too, but in a different way from hurting a Russian whose life savings have just been drastically slashed? One could, I suppose, argue that the dissemination of scientific information is more important than hurting innocent people in other ways, but that sounds self-serving I just had these thoughts when reporting what happened above, and now I don’t have such strong feelings about this journal’s actions, though I see scientific boycotts as less likely to be effective than economic ones.
Weigh in below, please. Do you favor boycotts? If so, which ones? And can there even be effective boycotts that don’t hurt innocent people?