It can be a dog-eat-dog world in the scientific community, and many think blockchain technology can help fix what some consider a crisis involving a basic part of their work.
Regardless of field, scientists follow a rigorous, empirical technique known as the scientific method to test specific hypotheses in order to help establish those facts. A critical part of that process is replication: Other scientists should be able to recreate an experiment step by step and get the same results.
Using blockchain technology leaves a trail of breadcrumbs necessary for other researchers to replicate scientific work.
A Novel Solution
. To start, academics on the “publish or perish” treadmill are pushed to engage in discovery. There’s little incentive to do replication work when you are scrambling for tenure at a university.
Also, with limited space in the typical methods section of a scientific paper, scientists may leave out seemingly inconsequential details. The temperature of the room, the prep work necessary to ready samples for a process or even the lack of specific instructions given to study participants can and do have the potential to skew results.
, a doctoral candidate in physics at the University of Vienna and co-founder of Scienceroot, a new science collaboration platform, says blockchain technology may offer a solution to science’s reproducibility problem.
“Blockchain provides an immutable database that can store a chain of events, which is perfect for documenting science,” he tells ThirtyK. “Nobody can alter, delete or modify this database. Currently, one sees only the end result of months of work in a publication. This can lead to confusion and reproducibility issues because the exact steps a researcher took in order to come up with a discovery are not well-documented or [are] even missing.”
Scienceroot, currently in the middle of an initial coin offering to secure future funding, plans to offer researchers unique identities as well as the means to store and timestamp all steps involved in an experiment. This, Chirita argues, offers scientists piece of mind: They don’t have to worry about being “scooped” or having their intellectual property stolen. Also, it leaves the trail of scientific breadcrumbs necessary for other researchers to replicate their work.
“Scientists can learn from each other’s mistakes, see whether or not a particular approach is worth pursuing, or just try a particular idea to see where it may lead,” he says.
An Efficient Solution?
Scienceroot is not the only company hoping to cash in on the technology behind cryptocurrencies. Other companies, such as and , want to get into the science game along with startups that continue to pop on to the landscape.
Not everyone is on board, however. Brian Nosek, founder of the , an organization with a mission to increase reproducibility in the sciences, isn’t convinced blockchain is the right technology to help with reproducibility efforts.
“’Blockchain for science’ is certainly the latest craze, and a good strategy for raising capital,” he tells ThirtyK. “I’ve seen no fewer than 10 companies created in the last year based on blockchain. I’m not convinced that blockchain is the most efficient solution to the core problems facing science. The public ledger is a good solution for low-trust environments, but it also has accumulating costs at scale.
“Existing scholarly communication has sufficiently strong trust. And there are lightweight technology solutions for replication and reproducibility that are very efficient at scale. As a consequence, I can’t yet justify investing capital for a solution I perceive as unnecessary.”
Sami Benchekroun, co-founder of , an early-stage research platform, and a member of , an association working to develop a common knowledge pool about blockchain in science, says the technology eventually will become a part of the scientific process.
“It’s a great technology, and I believe that it’s something that will eventually shape a lot of industries, including science,” Benchekroun tells ThirtyK. “But things move slowly in the science world. Researchers do not adapt to new technologies as fast as other industries do. They simply don’t understand blockchain’s full potential yet. It’s going to take years.”
Chirita is confident Scienceroot is leading a new movement in science, and that once researchers do understand the value of blockchain to both discovery and replication work they will get on board.
Scienceroot’s “ecosystem” allows scientists to create accounts, showcase their skills, exchange funds and browse more than 18 million open-access research papers. It recently added a Scientific Repositories platform where scientists can document and timestamp their work using Scienceroot’s blockchain solution to help facilitate proper replication.
“We are not trying to change the way people do science,” Chirita says. “We are just here to improve the way they document it. As the use of blockchain becomes a habitual practice in science, we’ll see ecosystems that can satisfy the needs of every student, researcher, and academician, and it will become a new standard in the scientific community.”