I know what you're thinking (I mean, I probably don't but I'm going to pretend that I do for a minute): Blockchains are synonymous with cryptocurrencies at this point so I'm probably talking about creating some sort of coin and using it to pay academics.
Neat, but no. What I like about blockchains is that they're:
- Organized into a fixed chronological order
These all seem like features that would be great for some sort of distributed research journal:
Immutable: Once some academic work is published you don't want it to change. Even if later it turns out to be wrong, it's a record of your progress as a field and no one should be able to sneak in and tweak it after the fact.
Distributed: You want teams of researchers, academic organizations and individuals to be able to work together over long distances without doubting that they're all sharing the same base of knowledge.
Chronological order: Early work should be early and later work should later- and able to refer to earlier work in a static way without worrying about things being moved around.
These features seem like they could solve two persistent issues in academic publishing. The first is the cost of access. Journals tend to cost a lot, which means that unless you're associated with some academic organization, you're not going to be able to afford them. The second is that research which attempts to reproduce existing results or disprove some previous work isn't interesting to academics (trying to build careers) or journals (trying to sell access), which has led to a replication crisis.
Distributed journals would be free by default (I could imagine some sort of pay-to-access scheme, but it seems like a reach), which would reduce barriers to entry for individual researchers. The cost of hosting the journal blockchain could be shouldered by anyone (or any organization) who wants always-up-to-date access to the latest research, or that just want to contribute. Linux distributions, software and source code are often mirrored by .edu servers for similar reasons.
Distributed journals would allow research to be reviewed by peers drawn from a very large pool (everyone who is active in the journal) which would work in combination with the free-by-default point above to diminish the systems bias toward novel results. You could also measure the precise impact that your work has had on the field through automated citation mapping, which might encourage attempts at replication.
It's easier to work on non-cutting-edge research, I imagine, if you can present convincing metrics showing that you've forever altered the course of scientific inquiry.
So I have some ideas on how something like this could be made, but I wanted to validate the basic idea first. Is there something I'm missing here, something I haven't considered?