Open Letter to Stanford University’s President and to the Bitcoin Community

On the first week of November, a major conference on Bitcoin will take place at Stanford University. It is one of a series of conferences entitled “Scaling Bitcoin” organized yearly that have become a reference. This is where the latest developments of the Bitcoin protocol are presented. As its name suggests, the conference focuses on scalability, an important subject of debate to the community. But the topics of the conference go far beyond this: security, anonymity and fungibility issues are also an important part.

The conference “Scaling Bitcoin” is itinerant and changes continents every year. Many of us were delighted that this year Stanford University was chosen after Milan last year. This choice is natural considering all the academic activities (teaching and research) on cryptocurrencies taking place in this campus.

The conference marks a symbolic reconciliation between the academic world which has long disregarded Bitcoin and the world of cypherpunks in which it first made its appearance. We were then hoping for the best of the academic world at the service of Bitcoin. Unfortunately, we have serious concerns about the academic integrity of the scientific committee.

We had submitted two proposals. One presenting one of our articles released last February where we review and correct Satoshi’s calculations of the probability of double-spending in the Bitcoin founding paper. For the first time, we proved a fact, often stated but never proved before in the literature, that this probability decreases exponentially to zero in terms of the number of confirmations. Our second proposal is a novel study of blockchains stability where we discuss the convergence between private and public interests by highlighting possible cases of instability never really studied so far.

Both proposals were rejected. Irrespective of the significance of a result that fixes some computations on Nakamoto’s groundwork paper, we were deeply disappointed because of our conviction that our work was bringing a very much needed body of academic research into Bitcoin and Blockchain. Our results study the heart of the mechanism of blockchain’s technology by bringing concrete mathematical results.

We then had a look at the final program and the talks selected. Next to the list of presentations and speakers, there is a list of members of the selection committee. Because of elementary ethical reasons, one would expect from a reputed institution like Stanford that these two lists must be totally disjoint. One cannot be a judge and part in. One cannot examine the quality of works and then finally decide that the best is his own. Members of this committee apparently do not share this same worldwide accepted view. Among the lucky speakers, three of them are members of this committee. Each one will give a presentation after having examined and decided to reject other researchers’ proposals….

It is possible that the committee has split the articles in such a way that none of these authors voted for themselves but only for one of their colleagues. This makes the scandal more bearable, but it still remains. We cannot understand how anyone can accept being a member of this committee while simultaneously being a candidate to be selected by the same committee.

In addition to these “anomalies”, we also noticed that the “Program Chair” is, according to his web page, a PhD student. This is significant since normally a very experienced and reputed researcher is chosen for this function, with responsibilities for the choice of the committee, for setting the highest academic standards and for the good running of the conference. At this point we weren’t surprised to notice that one of his papers was selected to be presented by one of his co-authors.

It is a fact then that basic rules of worldwide accepted scientific ethics have not been respected. Is the purpose of the conference really to give its academic letters of nobility to Bitcoin or on the contrary to make small academic careers on the back of Bitcoin?

In the end, we naturally ask ourselves the question: Would Satoshi Nakamoto really have been invited by such a selection committee? We doubt it.

Cyril Grunspan (ESILV, France)

Ricardo Perez-Marco (CNRS, U. Paris VII, France)