Engineering journal removes article co-authored by former president of Iran

Does failing to disclose that you were once a leader in the “Axis of Evil” deserve retraction?

An engineering journal has pulled a 2017 paper whose authors included Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ahmadinejad, the notorious anti-Semitic and anti-West president of Iran from 2005 to 2013, was a civil engineer before entering politics — and remained active in the field while serving in government. But his failure to note his old day job appears to have cost him a paper in the electronic edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Journal.

As Tablet reported late last week, the journal pulled the article, “Evaluation of Road Safety Based on Geometric Design Consistency Using Smart Phone GPS,” which lists Ahmedinejad as “a faculty member of Iran University of Science and Technology” but not as a former president of Iran (or mayor of Tehran, for that matter — a post he held before winning the presidency in 2005).

That’s the same affiliation Ahmadinejad provided for a 2013 paper in the International Journal of Pavement Engineering, and a 2008 article in the Journal of Social Sciences, titled “Favorableness-Reality Index.”

Although the now-retracted article appeared after Ahmadinejad left office in 2013, the earlier paper was submitted before he stepped down. (Ahmadinejad unsuccessfully tried to run for a third term this year.)

Jeffrey Paniati, the executive director of the ITE, told Tablet that the journal retracted the article because the authors failed to fully identify its most prominent co-author:

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s affiliation with the government of Iran was not identified when the article was submitted and the ITE leadership is reviewing our policies and procedures with regard to review and acceptance of articles for the ITE Journal. It will be a number of months before this review is completed.

As rebarbative a figure as Ahmadinejad may be to some, however, we’re surprised by the ITEJ’s move. Unrelated previous employment, no matter how unusual, isn’t typically a conflict of interest in the conventional sense of the term that would lead to a retraction. The journal could have issued a correction to the article listing the missing title if they felt the need, but a retraction is far more than most journals would do — although that, too, may be changing. (The digital edition of the journal makes no mention of the retracted article, which has simply disappeared from view, which isn’t what Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines recommend.)

We asked Michelle Birdsall, senior editor of the ITEJ, about the retraction decision, but she declined to comment.

Hat tip: Toby Wertheim

7 thoughts on “Engineering journal removes article co-authored by former president of Iran”

  1. This is an unjust retraction. How can a political position in the past be relevant to the contents of a technical paper. This is an example of unacceptable ethnophobia.

  2. This retraction one is really unprofessional and baseless and politically motivated. In the article, the authors had identified their affiliations as faculty member of a university, so “Mr. Ahmadinejad’s affiliation with the government of Iran was not identified” is incorrect and has no merit. Such issues as authors addresses are fixed during peer-review process and proofreading. It is expected the ITE Journal finds some problems in data, figures and other things in the article for retraction. Hopefully we hear from Michelle Birdsall about this strange retraction decision.

  3. It would be interesting to know if (former) government officials of Iran are on some kind of US embargo list, and whether being on such a list precludes US-based entities from offering them certain services, such as publishing scientific articles (whether for a publication fee or without) where they happen to be co-authors.

  4. Perhaps the authors assumed that their co-author’s position was comon knowledge, nonrelevant and too famous to be declared? After all, it’s the evidence and the content that matter not an irrelevant COI, if at all, given that the article is in engineering not in politics. Any insight from the authors?

  5. If American scientific journals can’t be politically neutral, how do you expect their so-called news media to be so?

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