What if blockchain could help researchers and scientists find answers and solutions to people’s health, nature and every living thing on the planet?
When we spoke to Elise Roberts, from Frankl, we were excited to hear of the efforts they were going through to help save research and scientific papers on blockchain, to make it easier for everyone to access and share.
“The issue is that it takes a lot of time and effort to share data in a format that other people can understand, and to find the right tools and repositories for public accessibility. Scientists are time-poor, and there simply isn’t a big enough incentive for them to go through this process.”
- Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Elise. My background is in science and communications. I’m particularly interested in knowledge transfer, which is all about helping people apply science to real-world outcomes.
Several years ago I was lucky enough to study the vision and neuroanatomy of sea creatures at the Queensland Brain Institute. What I loved about that area of research was how it could be applied to create better technology. By understanding how different animals see and process visual information, humans can engineer better optical, diagnostic and remote sensing technologies.
Since that time I have been working in media and communications – helping to take science beyond academic journals. I find that scientific knowledge often gets stuck in journal articles that few people read and even fewer understand. So I’m passionate about helping to translate science into real products and services that improve people’s lives. That’s why I’m working at Frankl.
- Tell us about Frankl?
Frankl Open Science is the brain-child of cognitive scientist Dr Jon Brock and blockchain guru Peter Godbolt. Our team is making it easier and more rewarding for scientists to share data.
At the moment, very few scientists share their raw data, which leads to all sorts of problems. Science is facing a replication crisis, we’re told that billions of dollars are being wasted on redundant research, and there’s a major opportunity cost associated with hidden data.
It’s not that researchers don’t want to share – research shows that most scientists are willing. The issue is that it takes a lot of time and effort to share data in a format that other people can understand, and to find the right tools and repositories for public accessibility. Scientists are time-poor, and there simply isn’t a big enough incentive for them to go through this process.
Our solution is three-fold: we’re automating data sharing so that it’s easy for scientists. We’re creating a crypto-incentive to make it worth their while. And we’re tracking the data using blockchain technology.
- Why blockchain technology?
Because we don’t want scientific data to be lost. Blockchain is our best chance at making sure data persists over time.
When people save their experimental data on desktops and internal systems, organisational change means that much of that data is forgotten or becomes inaccessible. People make career changes all the time – leaving their data behind. Researchers are often the only people who know where their data is and when they leave, there’s no way for others to discover it.
Blockchain has the power to change all this. We’re building on a decentralised platform – the Ethereum blockchain. This means that no matter what change happens to individual nodes, the data will be retained by the collective. We can use blockchain technology to track scientific data, creating a public record showing that the data exists and where it’s been stored. And we can build a scientific “supply chain”, linking journal articles back to the original data on which they’re based.
There are of course other reasons we’re using blockchain tech. We’re an open science organisation and blockchain offers transparency, scrutiny and immutability of public metadata – improving the quality of scientific output. The Ethereum blockchain is also key to our creation of a new ERC20 cryptocurrency – the Frankl token.
Dr. Jon Brock, Peter Godbolt and Elise Roberts
- Why did you create a cryptocurrency?
The crypto side of things is really important to what we’re doing. It’s through making a micropayment for using Frankl apps that you create the initial record on the blockchain that data have been collected.
In principle, we could do this with Ether, but having our own token has lots of advantages. It allows us to create and grow a scientific token economy that rewards behaviours that benefit the community as a whole. For one thing, we’ve created an incentive model around the Frankl token that rewards people for sharing their data.
Here’s how it works:
Scientists, clinicians, educators, developers and members of the public can all use Frankl (FRNKL) tokens to access data and related services.
For example, scientists exchange FRNKLs to access apps that collect cognitive or other clinical assessment data. Clinicians, educators and members of the public exchange their own Frankl tokens to receive the results generated by those assessment apps. Developers receive Frankl tokens when their apps are used. So there are several different users of the Frankl economy – all seeking different data services from one another, which are funnelled back into research.
The crucial part is this: when researchers and other participants share data, they receive a token refund, which they can use to access further data and research services. There are other incentives built into our model – but the Frankl token offers the most immediate, tangible reward for sharing scientific data.
- Where other applications interest you?
I’m particularly interested in other groups that are applying blockchain tech to improve science. There are several groups working on different parts of the scientific workflow, such as hypothesis registration, in-depth recording of methods, open-access publishing and peer review, to name a few.
I’m also eager to see how supply chain tracking is being disrupted by blockchain tech in many industries– from diamonds to seafood. It has huge potential to prevent corruption that is rife in the transfer of products from source to consumer.
- Any other companies to watch?
I’m waiting to see what emerges from blockchain for science group conscience.network. They’re currently in stealth mode so no-one knows exactly what they’re working on – but they’re operated by ConsenSys, which is the largest organised group of blockchain talent in the world. So there’s a good chance they’ll pioneer a unique blockchain solution for science.
- Why the name, Frankl?
I’m glad you asked! We’re named after Georg Frankl. Our first project is focused on helping people with autism, and Frankl was the guy who arguably discovered autism.
Frankl was a Jew in Austria just before WWII and had to leave for the United States. His underling in Vienna was Hans Asperger and he ended up working in the States for Leo Kanner. Both of those guys ended up getting the credit for discovering autism. And everyone thought it was a coincidence they both used the same word.
That was until a guy called Steve Silberman was researching for his book NeuroTribes on the history of autism and discovered Frankl as the missing link. So Frankl was essentially the bridge between the research that was going on in different parts of the world.
At Frankl Open Science, we aim to create bridges between different nodes of research – just like Georg. So the name ‘Frankl’ is very fitting.
- Anything else you would like to share?
Certainly. We have a token sale coming up, and anyone who supports our work can buy tokens and get involved in the project.
You can also watch the Frankl Open Source explainer video here.
Awesome project! Thanks Elise so much for sharing.