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Illinois professor to lead AAAS session on 'Blockchain and the Scientific Method'

February 07, 2019

Lav Varshney, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will lead a session on 'Blockchain and the Scientific Method' as a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington D.C. The press briefing associated with Varshney's session at the Marriott Wardman Park, 2660 Woodley Road, Washington will be from 10-11:30 am ET on Friday, February 15. Those unable to attend in person can register to participate remotely at https://bit.ly/2SfVphn.

The practice of researchers using the scientific method -- developing questions, formulating hypotheses, developing testable predictions, collecting data, accepting or rejecting those predictions based on the data, publishing the results in peer-reviewed journals, and having others reproduce the results -- has been a standard practice for some time. However, in today's environment, there are anxieties over issues related to hypothesizing after the results are known, lack of reproducibility and replication, overstressed peer review, paywalls preventing access to results, and an overall misalignment of incentives for scientists, among others.

The session raises the question of whether blockchain can help resolve the crisis. The technology underpinning cryptocurrencies has found recent usage in domains as diverse as shipping, political elections, food safety, and health record management. The basic unit of a transaction, which could be a hypothesis, a prediction, a dataset, a data analysis script, or a manuscript, is posted onto a decentralized ledger in an immutable way with a time stamp. Smart contracts can then act upon these transactions in an irreversible way. In this symposium, speakers will discuss how the ills of science may be ameliorated by pre-registering hypotheses and posting data, analyses, and results on a public Blockchain. Topics include the way that a directed acyclic graph of scientific transactions underpins discoveries and how their replications can spread credit.
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Varshney leads the Information and Intelligence Group at Illinois. The group is focused on augmenting individual and collective intelligence by understanding computation in various forms - social computing, nanoscale information processing, neural computation, blockchain, and computational creativity. His research team focuses on science and engineering of informational systems involving human and machines. He received his PhD from MIT in 2010 and was a researcher at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center for three years before joining the Illinois faculty in 2014.

The speakers include James A. Evans from the University of Chicago, Krishna Ratakonda from IBM, and Kewku Opoku-Agyemang from the University of California, Berkeley.

University of Illinois College of Engineering

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