What is being claimed to be the world’s first fully functional blockchain-based platform for researchers has been launched.
ARTiFACTS hopes to help revolutionise the way academics record, cite and exchange work by allowing every stage of the research process to be permanently documented.
Several blockchain-based projects for researchers are already being discussed, but the US-based team behind ARTiFACTS believe that their platform is the first to be available now as a tool to track and record research.
Experts have been predicting that blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, could aid the research process by providing a decentralised way of keeping records. Some believe that it could counter problems such as research fraud and reproducibility by providing a secure and unalterable record of the scientific process.
The founding team behind ARTiFACTS, who have executive-level experience working for academic publishing and bibliometric companies such as Elsevier and Thomson Reuters, hope that it will also help to change the nature of citations by allowing acknowledgment of early stage work in a research project.
ARTiFACTS chairman Kevin McCurry said that the current model of research attribution was “painfully broken” and “deeply retrospective” because of the time required to build up citations after publication.
“You could finish your paper now in 2018 but might not get published until 2020, it might not be indexed [in a bibliometric database] until 2021, and it might not build a citation history until 2023,” he said.
Courtney Morris, president of the start-up firm, added: “It is shifting the lens from ‘it is only the published article that matters’ to ‘it is everything that is valuable that matters’.”
While acknowledging that the system might need lots of users to really fly, Mr Morris said, “the research community has shown an ability to mobilise quite quickly if they find value in something.”
A version of the platform, which is being launched at a conference in Philadelphia on 19 March, has been created for population health researchers to allow them to manage their projects and will likely act as a test bed for the wider project to gather steam.
Longer term, the founders – who are initially self-financing the project – hope to build a model where institutions such as funding bodies or universities subscribe because the platform allows them to track scholarship from an early stage.
On the potential for ARTiFACTS to tackle issues such as research reproducibility, David Kochalko, the project’s chief academic officer, noted that there was currently “a bias in publishing against reporting negative or redundant results” and said that their platform could enable such findings to be cited.
“We believe this system over time will enable funders to have a much sharper view of what is working [and] what is not working,” he said.
Joris van Rossum, director of special projects at Digital Science, who authored a report last year on the use of blockchain in research, said the project was “very interesting” in that it addressed the “lack of transparency, attribution and discoverability of the pre-publication process”.
However, he continued, a “challenge of blockchain is you have to have it all in one system; it is all or nothing” and the risk was that something like ARTiFACTS would become just another research tool among many.
“A complaint you often hear nowadays is that researchers have too many interfaces and too many platforms…so I am curious as to how this will not add to the workflow of researchers,” he said.