In 2018, scientific Researcher Sarah Bajan just concluded her argonaute-2 protein study, and seemed to be in a typical research position i.e. one where she made unique findings, but without sufficient data for a publication.
“I had data from a project that was mostly observational, with no more resources to continue,” said Bajan.
The geneticist from Sydney's’ University of Technology, was elated with the outcome of the study which identified a new form of protein, but realised that the potential of this discovery had to be maximised.
Luckily, there was a means to easily put out her findings. Bajan’s colleague pointed her towards ScienceMatters, which publishes peer-reviewed papers including single observational studies and short papers. She submitted her work to the open access publishing platform, and it was approved after 2 weeks.
The topic of the research, and its’ approval speed, are both considered uncommon. Not suprisingly too, ScienceMatters is also an uncommon platform. ScienceMatters is currently working on an open access and secure database of transactions for its peer review process. This system is based on Bitcoins’ blockchain tech.
Applications Of Blockchain Technology
A blockchain is simply defined as a shared database across a network of computers, that presents with an increased resistance to modifications. This structure essentially improves trust in its’ security, and provides impenetrable records. This technology, in its’ cryptocurrency applications, eliminates the occurrence of a “double spend”, which was previously common in digital currencies.
Presently, many industries have felt the impact and influence of blockchain technology. These industries include, but are not limited to the manufacturing, energy and finance sectors. In the past year or thereabouts, more scientific tools based on blockchain technology have been created and developed.
These blockchain based scientific tools have provided seamless ways of handling collaborations effectively, precedence establishment, and very importantly, the speed of publication. These innovations have been termed as precursors, with the hope that their developments may change the face of research in the scientific community.
“Some blockchain applications are productive and sensible, while others are foolish and introduce complexity with little benefit,” said Daniel Himmelstein, a bio-informatician with the University of Pennsylvania, who himself is a blockchain software developer.
Blockchain Technology In Scientific Research
The ability for blockchain technology to be tamper proof, has apparent scientific usage.
Manubot is an open source software authored by Himmelstein, the software automatically collates, formats and publishes scientific papers. Every manuscript published or edited via the platform, is documented with logged events on the Bitcoin blockchain.
Himmelstein claims that his software would enable researchers to definitively lay claim to precedence. “Imagine an authorship dispute where two authors claim to have both written the same thing,” he said, this provides an undisputable record of what was written, and by whom.
Himmelstein also stated that authorship disputes wouldn’t be a common occurrence anymore if “Time stamping should be adopted by all preprint servers and journals.” Presently, the Manubot software has prevented any need to refer to its’ time stamps, with over a 100 projects already logged by the software.
The Manubot software makes use of an open source tool OpenTimestamp, to log manuscript changes. It documents timestamps at intervals, and as Bitcoin transactions. Manubots’ author wrote code that enables OpenTimestamp to directly add timestamps to his software. Himmelstein added that OpenTimestamp being intentionally technical, may incline proponents to manually log in blockchain based time stamps on its’ website.
ScienceMatters aims to improve transparency in scientific research, with the help of blockchain technology. This year ScienceMatters is set to launch Eureka, which is a triple-blinded peer-reviewed publication process. This platform would be Ethereum-based, with anonymous reviewers, but with their publicly available reviews.
ScienceMatter’s editorial Zurich based director Tamara Zaytouni, stated that
“Eureka’s crowdsourced scoring will provide researchers as well as publishers with a new metric that can be used to evaluate the work swiftly thus speeding up the publication process.”
Ethereum tokens would be given as compensation to reviewers, and expectedly can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies as needed.
As all entries are time stamped, indisputable and open, Lawrence Rajendran, a founder of Eureka and ScienceMatters and also a neuroscientist at King’s College London, said that “Eureka will provide a public and trusted research management service”
Regardless of the fact that Eureka is not yet being used by ScienceMatters, its’ application may not change much, Bajan adds that
“I found the peer-review process to be very thorough and fair, and the process was quick compared to other journals,” she also added that “authors are asked to follow up on previous publications, and links all research by the same author”.
“You can have continuity on a project in one place,” Bajan says. Rosa Paolicelli, a molecular biologist described this process of data publication that is incremental as adopted by ScienceMatters in “Lego Science”. “You can have continuity on a project in one place,” Bajan says.
The catch in this case, is a $595 upfront processing fee for manuscripts,of which a full refund isn’t available even if the manuscript is rejected. “There is the chance that you will be rejected for publication even though you have paid,”
Bajan says.This policy was put in place to enable reviewers be compensated regardless of outcome, Zaytouni says:
“Unlike other journals, we compensate our reviewers for the work they put in to evaluate manuscripts.”
A citation and collaboration platform Artifacts, also aims to utilize blockchain technology to provide seamless publication and research citation. Dave Kochalko, an Artifacts co-founder in Cambridge stated that a lot of interesting results are obtained from quality research. Inadvertently, material from single observations may never get cited until a final peer review article is published.
Artifacts permits any data that is considered worth sharing, which is the logged with blockchain technology. This author of this data can determine the level of privacy required. While still being developed, Artifacts is presently open for user trials, and its’ dashboard would display your publications/data, and attributions given and received. To simplify citations, it would make use of Zotero, and other popular bibliography platforms.
The Artifacts blockchain would finally be extended to educational institutions, publishers and institutions that fund research. This network will enable these institutions be abreast of their researchers work.
The adoption of blockchain technology in Artifacts and ScienceMatters are undoubtedly ahead of their peers in scientific research publishing, also a pioneer in his field is George Church, a geneticist at Harvard medical school, who intends to use blockchain technology in the sharing of genetic data.
Consequently, whatever its application, the inclusion of blockchain technology is still in its’ early stages, and we are bound to delay our gratification, said Jorris Van Rossum the Blockchain for research report for Digital Science. Early adoption is the key to sustaining and developing these scientific innovations, as finding users to use an unpopular service may become a roadblock faced by Artifacts and Eureka
Himmelstein is noted to have said several times that sometimes, what you need may just be a regular old database, adding that “Remember that a blockchain is just an inefficient database that is very difficult to update.”
Big blockchain proponents such as Rajendran was noted to have said “I am still sceptical”, as there might be a good number of dead ends and false starts. His reservations are not based on the technology, but rather the adoption; as researchers are not known for changing methods very easily.he concludes that “it is going to be a challenge”.