Jon Brock

@DrBrocktagon

Science and blockchain — taking a global perspective

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

On Tuesday last week, I attended a breakfast meetup with Dr Phillipa Ryan, a lawyer at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and entrepreneur Mark van Rijmenam, currently completing a PhD also at UTS. In their presentation, Phillipa and Mark provided an overview of their forthcoming book, Blockchain: Transforming your Business and Our World. Among a number of interesting points they raised, one recurring theme stood out — when we think about the potential of blockchain, it’s important to take a global perspective.

Here in Australia, we might complain about our government, but we accept that they were fairly elected. There are problems in our banking system, but as individuals we are still confident that they won’t suddenly freeze or empty our accounts. Our legal system has its inequities, but we know we can buy and sell land or property reassured that there are penalties if either party reneges on the transaction.

Blockchain has the potential to improve these institutions — to make them faster, cheaper, more efficient. But, Phillipa and Mark argued, the real transformational potential of blockchain is for countries where the democratic, financial, and legal institutions either don’t exist, are corrupt, or are inaccessible to a large section of the population.

A similar point was made at the recent Blockchain for Social Impact meeting by Aiai Garcia of Consensys. She spoke about financial inclusion in the Philippines and the fundamental problem that many people face of being unable to prove their identity. Blockchain, she suggested, provides a mechanism by which neighbours and classmates can confirm that a person is who they say they are, allowing them access to the banking system.

Perhaps I’d needed to hear that message a second time. But listening to Philippa and Mark, I realised that I’ve also been thinking about blockchain and its application to science from a very narrow first world perspective.

In Australia (as in Europe and North America), science is facing major challenges. Blockchain has the potential to make science more transparent, more reproducible, and more trustworthy. There is considerable room for improvement and this is motivation and reason in itself for exploring blockchain-enabled science.

But as in finance and democracy and law, the most dramatic impacts of blockchain on science might be seen in countries that currently lack the institutions that establish and monitor good practices, establish ownership of ideas and provenance of data, and provide a marker of scientific quality and reputation.

Frankl Africa

I was still thinking about Philippa and Mark’s presentation that evening when I began a conversation via our Telegram group with Babatunde Ololade, a graduate of Mathematics enrolled for an M.Sc in Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. Babatunde is one of almost 1800 scientists and students representing 91 different countries who took part in our airdrop. We asked airdrop participants for feedback and this was Babatunde’s:

“I have so much interest in Science and I’m a fan of cryptocurrencies so in a case where the two come together, I know for sure it’s a great project for the world at large. …Africa as a continent is rapidly adopting cryptocurrencies. It wouldn’t be bad if we have a Frankl Open Science Africa group whereby we bring a larger community to this space out of Africa... You have my support and time. I wish us all the success on this project.”

It’s fair to say that a Frankl Africa group wasn’t on our original roadmap. But it is now.

We’ve had substantial interest in the airdrop from Europe and North America, as well as our home patch of Australia. But the greatest response by some distance has been from Nigeria. Like Babatunde, many have expressed their support and excitement for the project.

We should of course expect clusters even in random data. And we should expect these to be amplified by network effects — friends refer friends who refer friends.

But we should also recognise that science isn’t just about Oxford and Cambridge, MIT and Stanford. There are scientists and students around the world who have the talent and motivation but lack the infrastructure that would allow them to validate their science and share it with the rest of the world. By providing this infrastructure, blockchain has the potential to transform science on a truly global scale.

At Frankl, our mission is to make open science easy and rewarding. If you’d like to know more, you can read our whitepaper, check out our website, and follow us onFacebook and Twitter @FranklOpenSci. You can also chat directly with us via our Telegram channel at t.me/franklcommunity.

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