A recent science publication on F1000Research ventures into the world of using bitcoin technology to improve the trustworthiness of medical science. The trust in scientific research has diminished over the past few years due to data and evidence manipulation. And it’s possible that bitcoin could restore that trust.
Also read: Government Planners Will Fail at Regulating Bitcoin
Bitcoin Technology Timestamping For Scientific Research
One of the most important aspects of scientific research is ensuring that all data and evidence is correct. Unfortunately, there is no way to actually do so with most common technological solutions, as anyone can alter and manipulate data to suit their agendas. This scenario has brought a lot of negative attention to the field of scientific research, and alternative solutions have to be considered.
Bitcoin technology presents an attractive case in this regard, as the blockchain stores data and adds a timestamp to it. Additionally, once information is recorded on the blockchain, it becomes tamper-resistant, removing any doubt of whether or not this information is valid. In return, this will also put an end to selective publication.
However, there is no guarantee bitcoin technology will ever be used for this particular purpose, albeit researchers have recently proposed such a solution.There are several advantages to using a blockchain-based solution, as it is cost-efficient, independently verifiable, and widely available to anyone in the world.
The proof-of-concept proposed by Greg Irving and John Holden was part of a study where publicly available documents were used. Additionally, they used a copy of the clinicaltrials.gov study protocol in the form of an unformatted text file. After calculating the SHA-256 digest for this text — through Xorbin — the team converted this information into a public and private key by using a bitcoin wallet.
The researchers generated a new bitcoin wallet through Strongcoin, which then created a corresponding Advanced Encryption Standard 256-bit public key. The team also sent an arbitrary amount of bitcoin to this wallet address, after which the actual trial could begin. The research paper explains this as follows:
“To verify the existence of the document a second researcher was sent the originally prepared unformatted document. An 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.”
A Positive Outcome, But Still Just A Concept
Even though both researchers were pleased with the results — everything worked as intended — this is just a minor field trial of a proof-of-concept that will need some thorough testing. That being said, it is positive to see the results are positive, as information was recorded with a timestamp and in a tamper-proof environment using bitcoin and blockchain technology.
“The method we have described allows anyone to verify the exact wording and existence of a protocol at a given point in time,” the researchers said. “It has the potential to support automated, extremely robust verification of pre-specified and reported outcomes. This evidence should increase trust and diminish suspicion in reported data and the conclusions that are drawn.”
Additionally, the researchers mentioned how the entire process took under five minutes to complete, with no processing cost, as the nominal bitcoin transaction could not be retrieved. Despite that, the transaction did appear on the blockchain, which in turn verified the authenticity of the original protocol. Changes made to the original document resulted in completely different public and private keys — as expected — and serve as further validation of this proof-of-concept.
What are your thoughts on using bitcoin and the blockchain for scientific research validation? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Scholarship Direct, Molflow.