In last month’s issue, we briefly mentioned the advent of new technological solutions for the future of academic publishing. We will be discussing precisely one such emerging technology in this article—namely, blockchain.
First of all, what is blockchain? Although “blockchain” has been a buzzword for years now, some might not yet be aware of its implications beyond its connection with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. Without diving into technical details, blockchain is a novel digital technology consisting of shared or distributed digital ledgers with encrypted blocks of data linked together in chains in a peer-to-peer network. Okay, but, what does it all mean?
Well, crucially, if properly implemented, blockchain solutions could enable vastly increased security, speed, and efficiency for many, if not all, aspects of academic publishing. This is because properly built systems using a blockchain can offer a decentralized, permanent, and immutable record, solving many problems, such as those regarding data lineage, in research. According to ARTiFACTS, which is a blockchain platform targeting researchers, current systems for tracking citations of data and protecting the intellectual property of researchers are currently slow, unreliable, and inefficient, with inconsistencies between different indexes. In turn, they state that these problems disincentivize researchers from sharing their data for fear of losing control, and can lead to inefficiencies such as lack of context or unnecessary duplication of research. Services like ARTiFACT seek to rectify these issues using blockchain technology to enable real-time and immutable tracking of research output. Blockchain’s potential impact can go even further, with a 2019 study discussing the potential of leveraging smart contracts to create frameworks that streamline and optimize the various steps of the publication process such as peer-review.
The advancing popularity of open science and the integration of digital media into research publication, along with the rapid progress being made in the development and implementation of digital technologies such as AI and blockchain, seem to point to the possibility that the world of academia is in for a long overdue revolution.
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