Dr. Greg Irving, a Clinical Lecturer from the University of Cambridge, recently authored a research project on the potential impact of blockchain technology on scientific research. While the use is not novel in principle, it underscores the very reason blockchain was created.
Irving, and rightfully so, says that in order to truly trust scientific research the reader’s must know that the content and subsequent conclusions of the research has maintained its integrity throughout editing and publishing. The author references “outcome switching, data dredging, and selective publication” as just a some of the potential pitfalls that can result in bastardized research. How then can researchers increase the trust that their research is has not been tampered with? In response Irving writes,
“If readers doubt the trustworthiness of scientific research then it is largely valueless to them and those they influence. Here we propose using a ‘blockchain’ as a low cost, independently verifiable method that could be widely and readily used to audit and confirm the reliability of scientific studies.”
Irving and his research partner, Dr. John Holden, took an original and published piece of scientific research. They then converted the document to an unformatted text file. Using a SHA-256 hash calculator on the website Xorbin.com. The team then converted the file into a bitcoin private key and corresponding public key. They did this by using the SHA-256 digest as the account password for their Strongcoin account. Strongcoin then generated a corresponding Advanced Encryption Standard 256 bit public key. From here an arbitrary amount of BTC was then sent to a corresponding address. Then a
SHA256 digest was created as previously described and a corresponding private key and public key generated. The exact replication of the public key (1AHjCz2oEUTH8js4S8vViC8NKph4zCACXH) was then used to prove the documents existence in the blockchain using blockchain.info. The protocol document was then edited to reflect any changes to pre-specified outcomes as reported by the COMPare group. This was used to create a further SHA256 and corresponding public and private keys.
The team found that the technology behaved exactly as the had hypothesized. Any changes to the original text were simple to see and find as they were all run through a publicly available blockchain. Further, and just as Irvin and Holden surmised, documenting the transaction was free as the nominal transaction cost could be recovered.
As the team states, untidy work or right out fraud is something that the scientific community needs to avoid at all costs. Simply, it erodes the confidence in those that need to absorb and reference it down the road. The one hole in the team’s argument is that it pre-supposes that the original work that is being committed is not fraudulent. Nonetheless, yet another use for blockchain technology has been suggested. This technology is not a panacea…but it’s pretty close.
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