When we discuss workflows in scholarly publishing, most often life begins with submission. However there are currently very few tools that help researchers during the research process itself; to record disparate experiments in a single location, to protect their intellectual property, or to connect them with other researchers working in the same subject area.
Perhaps most unfortunately, most of the work done by scientists while conducting their experiments is discarded, particularly when hypothesis are proven untrue during the research process. Those failed experiments are useful artifacts that could prevent other researchers from repeating the same mistakes. In the current paradigm, important attribution and research artifacts are being discarded, and research repeated.
The good news for researchers is that each of these use cases, and quite a few more, can be solved through the use of a distributed blockchain ledger. And several companies have launched new products in recent months to do just that, including ARTiFACTS, whose product launched just last month in Philadelphia.
Dubbed by Po.Et as the Decentralized Media Economy, these new initiatives will allow researchers to record all aspects of their work on a blockchain ledger. And because entries on a blockchain ledger are immutable, every aspect of their research is recorded with a timestamp to conclusively prove author ownership.
In fact, the concept is quite simple. A blockchain ledger is distributed across a network of nodes. The consistency of information stored on the ledger is vetted by a process called consensus. That process ensures that if a hacker compromises a node in the cluster and gains access to the ledger, they cannot make changes without first accessing a large percentage of the nodes.
And gaining access to the ledger on a single node is not helpful to the hacker either. That ledger itself only contains pointers to the artifacts that researchers store, and the data on the ledger is encrypted. Researchers themselves, or perhaps their funders, control all access to their research. It is the researchers who decide with whom they want to share their work and when.
The storage of incremental research on a blockchain ledger could also provide funders with more concrete means to monitor the progress of their researchers. If the researcher so desires, funders will be able to monitor all work being done on a project.
Perhaps lost in all of this is the idea of author attribution. In the current environment, it typically takes a young researcher six years to receive their first citation. However with blockchain, research artifacts on a shared public ledger could act as a form of attribution, bringing notoriety to researchers outside of the citation process. This is good for both the researcher and their respective funders.
If such a product could obtain widespread usage, the impact would be immense. Researchers could work more efficiently, collaborating with peers without the fear that they will risk their intellectual property. They could more easily identify other researchers in their field to collaborate. And perhaps most importantly, they can learn from the research conducted by other scientists, including failed experiments that would have been otherwise discarded.
In my next article, I will discuss some of the blockchain use cases for publishers themselves.