Many governments consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields a priority in education and are actively pushing students towards them. The idea is that graduating from a STEM education is not just the best guarantee to get a job but that it also fosters innovation, a crucial aspect to getting ahead in the global economic race.
However, apart from ideologically motivated detractors, science has also attracted critics from various other fields. Peer review – a key component of modern science – can be maddeningly slow or can be inaccurate. Sources aren’t always carefully vetted. Lastly, institutes of higher education and their attendant publishing industries are notoriously walled-off to the non-initiated.
We believe that introducing the Blockchain to the world of science could help address some of these critical flaws. Of course, there is no small irony to the fact that the Blockchain itself is the result of applied science.
1. Science as a distributed ledger of fact
In essence, the Blockchain is a technology designed to create a ledger that is encrypted, protected, distributed (i.e. it is not located in just one server park) and has built-in verification to see to it that no false data is added to it. While the Blockchain’s primary function is to record transactions (it was designed with this specific purpose in mind), it could also be used to record scientific data.
Adding scientific data to a custom Blockchain, say, in pharmaceutical research or when recording astronomical data, has the native advantage of matching the results with previous results in terms of methodology and authorship. This would save quite some time otherwise spent on cross-checking or reviewing methodology. It also makes fraud much harder, both in authorship and in research.
Since acceptance of scientific facts for laypersons often depends on good faith and anti-science activists depend on sowing doubt, a Blockchain could also be a powerful tool of proof to combat anti-scientists or parascientists such as homeopaths.
2. Safe peer review in the cloud
Cross-checking facts and sources with native Blockchain technology could be taken a step further by making peer review an additional facet of it. Reviewing is also a form of authorship, and a Blockchain that faithfully tracks a reviewer’s previous work and credentials would lend their voice greater and more verifiable authority.
In addition, if a science institute would decide to open up their Blockchain(s) to all of their researchers and reviewers, it could become the central hub to check sources and data. This accessibility poses the same advantage of a fast intranet database in terms of speed and place over a traditional library, but it outshines an intranet in terms of security and veracity. Regular databases can be spoiled with false data and are far easier to hack than a Blockchain-based system.
3. Breaking the access barrier
Universities and science labs have good reasons to keep a portion of their research under wraps. One concern is intellectual property, e.g. when engineering new materials or making breakthroughs in biochemistry, another is that unfinished research could lead laypeople or even informed enthusiasts to come away with wrong conclusions. Science journalism is already tricky and there is no appetite for (further) fueling popular misunderstandings for sensationalist reporting, e.g. where it would concern things like wonder cures for AIDS or cancer or the discovery of potential extraterrestrial life.
However, lots of perfectly valid scientific research that carries no such risks is also locked behind copyrights of powerful publishing houses like Elsevier, which practically monopolizes the science world in this regard.
To create a Blockchain for a certain science discipline or maintained by a university department in a given science field that would continually be fed with scientific data and accessible to all could boost the research of amateur scientists and lower the entry barrier for those with the skills but not the means to pursue higher education. Given the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs) – another avenue that attempts to ‘democratize’ scientific education – this could further boost the popularity of STEM fields.
The IT department’s time to shine
IT functionality at universities and scientific institutions tends to follow rather than drive developments. This is not abnormal given the mission statement of these places and the emphasis put on research. However, the Blockchain could be the crowbar for IT departments to fundamentally improve the way scientists do their work and the way the public can interact with it.
Would it be easy to roll out a Blockchain-based ledger of scientific data, peer review and open access? Of course not. This would be a daunting task even for the best-funded IT departments. That’s why we exist. Here at Investereum, we have the necessary expertise and experience on board to guide organizations through the design, setup, implementation and growth of Blockchain-based initiatives. We’re not just experts but also evangelists – we strongly believe in what we do and how it might benefit society.
Would you like to continue the conversation? We’d be very happy to talk. Shoot us an e-mail and we promise to get back at you as soon as we can.