In many ways, blockchain and science are a natural fit. Science is all about testing ideas with data and evidence. Open science is about making that process as transparent as possible so that nothing has to be taken on trust. And blockchain is a way of trustlessly recording data.
Of course, we’re not the only people thinking along these lines. But so far, most of the conversation around blockchain and science has been just that — conversation.
To convert talk into action, you need to start somewhere. A blockchain ecosystem for science won’t just appear out of nowhere, fully formed.
So we’re starting small — but with an eye always on the bigger picture. Focused but ambitious.
And the target of our initial efforts? Cognitive science. In other words, the study of cognitive abilities such as language, memory, logical reasoning abilities, reading and mathematical skills.
It’s an area of research we have expertise in. I’ve been working in cognitive science for almost two decades, investigating the language, memory, visual, and listening abilities of kids and adults with neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and Down syndrome. And our growing band of advisers include thought-leading academics in developmental psychology and cognitive neuropsychology.
But beyond that, there are a number of good strategic reasons why cognitive science is a great place to get the Frankl ball rolling.
#1 Blockchain offers solutions to real problems in cognitive science
With all the hype around blockchain, it’s easy to dismiss new applications of the technology. But cognitive assessment is one area where there are genuine problems that other technologies haven’t solved — and blockchain can!
Advancing open science means sharing data as openly as possible so that researchers can verify the accuracy of scientific reports, conduct meta-analyses (which combine data from multiple studies) and re-use the data to answer new questions. But in cognitive science, we’re dealing with data from humans. And so data sharing has to be done in a way that respects the privacy of people taking part in research.
Blockchain research offers solutions for data with different levels of privacy requirements. Data can be stored publicly and openly so that anyone can access it. But it can also be encrypted, with access to the data managed by assigning private keys.
And of course, Frankl will be in a unique position to take advantage of new developments in blockchain driven by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum where data security is everything.
#2 Improving cognitive assessment has immediate real world benefits
We want to make the world a better place. Improving the assessment of people’s cognitive abilities would certainly do that.
Accurate cognitive assessments are essential to understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses, their aptitude for jobs, and the challenges they may face as a result of brain injury, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or neurodevelopmental conditions like autism, Down syndrome, and dyslexia.
Cognitive assessments are also central to research that’s trying to understand these conditions and trying to work out which treatments and educational approaches work best. It’s important too for research investigating children’s psychological development, how language or the human visual system works. And it plays a big role in research on the brain and human genetics.
We want to help. But this isn’t just because we’re nice people. Blockchain-enabled science that has rapid and tangible benefits is the best way to get the wider community interested and excited about Frankl.
#3 Cognitive assessment has real commercial potential
OK, time to get really hard-nosed about things. We want Frankl to be sustainable. Which means we need it to make money. There’s no point building an awesome product that falls over when government funding runs out or a philanthropist pulls the plug.
Cognitive assessment is right now a pretty lucrative market. According to a recent report it will be worth over 8 billion US dollars by 2021. The market is dominated by a small number of big players. And it’s ripe for disruption.
Traditional cognitive assessments used in many areas of research are slow and inefficient. Automating and simplifying this process as much as possible makes life better for everyone.
Current tests are also expensive. We’re talking hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase a test and then more each time you use it. In part, this reflects high test development costs. But the small number of assessment publishers also means there is little competition to bring prices down.
Building our own cognitive assessment apps — and making it easy for clinicians and researchers to do the same — is our way of kickstarting the Frankl open science economy.
#4 Psychologists are leading the way in open science
Finally, Frankl needs allies. Scientists who immediately get what we’re doing and why it’s important. Who believe like we do that all science should be open science. And will adopt Frankl for their own research.
Psychology researchers have been at the forefront of the open science movement. For a long time the culture of psychology research favoured the publication of results that were flashy, counterintuitive, and oftentimes completely wrong. But the field is seriously getting its act together. A new generation of researchers are fully signed up to the principles of openness in science.
Many of the most important initiatives in open science began in psychology before spreading to other fields of research. And so it makes perfect sense to begin the blockchain-for-science enterprise in psychology. Plant the seed in fertile soil. Focused on cognitive assessment but with ambitions as wide as science.
At Frankl, our mission is to make open science easy and rewarding for scientists. If you’d like to know more, you can read our whitepaper, check out our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or join our Telegram channel.
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