Bring Science to Bitcoin

Bob McElrath
Apr 6, 2016 · 3 min read

Bitcoin and crypto-currency is a nascent field. There are a lot of new, un-vetted ideas floating about. This field really got kicked off by an pseudonymous person placing a whitepaper and a pile of code on the internet. Due to the nature of Satoshi’s contribution, this mechanism of communication was probably necessary, but duplicating it does not serve the rest of us. As crypto-finance matures, it requires people to stand behind their work, and for them to accept and adapt to criticism. Getting it wrong means money will be lost. We have a well-tested way to propose and vet new ideas: peer review. And we now have a journal in which to do it.

My favorite definition of science is: do whatever you have to do to make sure you aren’t fooling yourself. It is remarkably easy to fool oneself. We, as humans, get excited about our ideas, and this tends to cause us to overlook flaws and lose objectivity. We’re only human. In the realm of crypto-finance, I think the idea that people could “print their own money” led to an additional financial exuberance that has caused a lot of people to not think carefully about the alt-coins they were creating. This is not hypothetical. Many alt-coins have been attacked, and coins have been stolen.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

I’ve read a lot of white-papers in the bitcoin space, and on the whole, they are downright terrible. (No I don’t want to name names.) The financial nature of Bitcoin causes there to be a lot more interest and discussion than work, code, and ideas. So the signal/noise ratio is very low. People are also pressured to put their whitepapers out sooner than they should, because generally they’re trying to build a business and/or generate some press around their idea. This substantially increases the probability that we will “get it wrong”. So I admonish everyone to submit your whitepapers to a journal and get them reviewed, as well as open sourcing your code so that it can be audited. Let us help each other out by reviewing each other’s ideas and code. Right now we’re all swimming in a sea of ideas, but we can’t expect other people to pay attention to our work if we don’t pay attention to theirs. This also places a burden on the authors of whitepapers to carefully and thoroughly explain their idea, and back it up with data or code.

The future will hold many new advancements in the crypto-finance space. In many ways I feel as though crypto-finance folks have gotten ahold of a saw and a hammer, and are having dreams of building a 747. Many folks are eyeing Wall Street and trying to apply these new ideas, but many new tools will have to be developed before we can do everything that Wall Street does. I’m firmly convinced that we will get there, working together to review each other’s work, and make sense of this sea of ideas.


SolidX Partners provides consulting and strategy solutions to organizations seeking to learn about blockchain and implementation solutions. The firm also provides blockchain-based software solutions relating to the indelible recording of records, transfer of assets, and identity. For more information, please visit www.sldx.com or email the team at info@sldx.com.

Bob McElrath

Written by

Reverse-engineering the universe and remaking money. Ph.D. Theoretical Physics; Bitcoin hacker; SolidX CTO

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