Doing It for the Money
In these extraordinary times, we hope this newsletter finds you in good health and well adjusted to the new home office routine. By now you are surely an expert on the various tools and best practices for virtual collaboration. But surprisingly, you have most likely become an expert on viruses, epidemiology and healthcare systems as well. At least more than you thought you’d ever be.
This is not a coincidence. Rather, it is the consequence of an open-knowledge exchange that currently takes place all over the internet. What’s so special about it is the fact that it includes discussions that in the past happened only among a small group of scientists — well guarded by the gatekeepers of the publishing industry like Springer and Elsevier. Amid the current global pandemic, it might sound strange to praise social media. A place flooded with personal opinions and misinformation about the Coronavirus. But under the hood, the development in science happening right now is revolutionary. It is a development that lets scientists publish simulations (with open source code in the making), papers and open source ventilator designs while also discussing it on Twitter.
It presents a chance for the science community to disrupt the old system that holds a monopoly on scientific reputation and keeps knowledge locked up behind paywalls. Because medication and vaccines against the Coronavirus are unlikely to be developed by a lonely genius in the lab. It will be the mutual effort of a community of labs and companies across the world that contribute through incremental knowledge. That, in turn, will enable one — or most likely multiple people at once — to find a first working product. And then the research cycle will start again to improve medication and develop a better understanding in all science fields involved. The key to keep this cycle spinning with little friction and optimal results is an open and transparent ecosystem of knowledge exchange. A platform that encourages and fosters discussion and enables everyone to reproduce postulated results.
Sounds familiar? Replace “discussion” with “transactions” and “reproduce results” with “validate” and you find yourself back in the Blockchain space. There is a common concept at work here: The tools we use to deal with an interconnected world are lagging behind reality. One of the reasons this virus could spread so far and so fast is because nowadays the world is more interconnected than ever through trade and travel, while research is pretty much still conducted the same way it was 100 years ago. The consequence is that knowledge from the 2003 SARS pandemic has been of great value to the countries of East Asia to battle COVID-19, but has caught western governments off-guard.
Overnight, large parts of global trade and travel have ground to a halt. Governments are once again coming to the rescue — each going it alone and often uncoordinated. Central banks around the world are ramping up bond purchases to ease the pain. Twelve years after the financial crisis, the same instruments that were used to bail out banks are activated again to save the economies from crashing. To those who have learned from the past the downside is clear: Negative rates and the monetization of government debt will erode purchasing power and stay with us way after the pandemic has passed. But there is a solution to the economic problem, just like there is a solution to the science problem: Tearing down the barriers that keep data and information in closed silos and democratize access. In an unexpected way Twitter might do it for Science. Bitcoin is doing it for money.