Blockchain could revolutionize academic publishing

Aug 27, 2018 Ver este post en Español

Science represents the most effective mechanism ever designed to promote new economic activity and new industries which can make the world a better place

The modern world has a rich and varied tradition of scientists contributing to research and learning free from restriction. Yet the scientific publishing industry as it is currently structured is inhibiting academia’s capacity to express itself. Focused more on profit margins than knowledge creation, a publication from 2015 showed that five academic publishers published over half of all scholarly papers in 2013 in a clear oligopoly market.

The peer review process, which underpins the march of scientific progress, is performed for free by members of the academic community, yet generates enormous profit for the private corporations that facilitate it. Ultimately it is taxpayers that shoulder the burden of these costs through the salaries of academics and the funding of research programs. These sums are in addition to academic library subscription fees which can total anything between $350,000 and $9 million annually.

The review process typically takes a staggering one to two years, during which the researcher in question receives little or no update about how it is progressing. Confidentiality and exclusivity agreements prevent the academics from talking about their paper during this period, preventing any further development of their work during this entire period. By kidnapping the ownership of their work, we are offering clear and present disincentives which discourage the scientific community to regularly produce high-quality research.

Science represents the most effective mechanism ever designed to promote new economic activity and new industries which can make the world a better place. Joseph Schumpeter, economist, professor at Harvard and an influential political commentator said,

“Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. Science is, and always has been, at the center of our economic system.”

From the lightbulb to domestic power stations and electric vehicles to quantum computers, science has always shaped human development. We have only recently seen how “SpaceX” is disrupting the aerospace industry with their recycled rockets, saving $18 million per launch, opening up a universe of possibility for interorbital commercial travel. Yet this trajectory can only be maintained if academics are given the scope to quickly and freely disseminate their work to the benefit of the whole of society.

Blockchain technology offers a unique opportunity to address key issues in the scientific academic publishing system such as lengthy review times and high costs. By offering reputational and economic rewards to peer reviewers, we can ensure that research is peer reviewed and published more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost than is currently possible. This kind of shift in the approach to scientific research publishing will benefit not only the academic community by giving researchers more control over their work, but society at large. As research is published more promptly, future projects can then benefit from that information and knowledge in their own research.

The takeaway is that all types of knowledge which favor humanity must not be blocked but open and widely disseminated.

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Roberto Rabasco

+10 years’ experience working for Deutsche Telekom, Just Eat or Asos. Leading, designing and developing high-availability software solutions, he built his own software house in '16