Co-authored by Wassim Alsindi, Andrew Miller & Neha Narula for Cryptoeconomic Systems ‘20.
Cryptocurrency is a fast developing area of focus for researchers working across academia and practice, reflecting the increasing interest in digital forms of value from individuals, enterprises and governments. As more voices join the conversation from wide-ranging backgrounds and a multitude of perspectives, fostering interdisciplinary communication and collaboration among stakeholders becomes a greater challenge.
The number of academic cryptocurrency papers is also growing rapidly, with wide variations in research impact, quality and originality. Historically, we’ve relied on conferences and journals to surface the most rigorous and influential academic research through a peer review process. In contrast, some of the most significant pieces of work in cryptocurrency were not published in traditional academic venues. This includes the papers outlining protocols such as Lightning Network, Ethereum, CryptoNote, MimbleWimble, and the Bitcoin whitepaper itself! The cryptocurrency practitioner / developer community prefers to communicate through informal channels such as blogs, chat rooms and online forums with a tendency to be skeptical of academic institutions. It’s important to bridge this gap between practitioners and academics to create a common language and methodology to help move the field forward.
There are major differences in scholarly culture between technical domains like cryptography and social sciences such as law. Though both are academic fields with publishing traditions, they have very different practices and these can pose obstacles to building common standards and frameworks for research. For historical and structural reasons, most academic research is organized and funded in such a way is siloed and spread out over many different communities.
Overtly interdisciplinary research venues to foster deeper discussions and knowledge transfer are clearly needed and we wish to commend efforts in this direction being made by ACM’s Advances in Financial Technology, IACR’s Financial Crypto, Stanford Blockchain Conference and several other venues.
Why a new journal?
We intend the Cryptoeconomic Systems journal and conference series to be a reputable publication venue in the domain of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Its scope includes impactful original research and surveys, meta-analyses & systematizations of knowledge in all contexts, with interdisciplinary approaches particularly encouraged.
Our goal is to create and develop a piece of research infrastructure which will help bring together scholars from traditionally siloed disciplines, to nurture an interdisciplinary field of study that includes worldwide participation from academic, industrial and independent researchers. In particular we wish to help better connect the technical research communities of cryptography, protocol engineering and distributed systems, with colleagues in economics, law, finance, complex systems and philosophy.
Cryptoeconomic Systems will experiment with different modes of peer review and publication to appeal to a wider audience and encourage cross-disciplinary discussions while maintaining high levels of rigor and quality. This is an opportunity to think creatively about scholarly publishing and help direct this new field by uniting the different groups of cryptocurrency researchers, harmonizing cryptocurrency publications through the establishment of best practices and surfacing the most important research in the space.
The two Co-Editors-in-Chief of the journal are Andrew Miller, an assistant professor of computer science at the UIUC and Associate Director of IC3, and MIT Digital Currency Initiative director Neha Narula. The journal’s Managing Editor is Wassim Alsindi, and the Cryptoeconomic Systems journal will be published by The MIT Press using the PubPub platform. The entire project would be impossible without the guidance and commendable efforts of our Advisory Board and peer review Program Committee braving these interdisciplinary frontiers for what is an underappreciated use of their time.
The first Cryptoeconomic Systems Summit - October 2019, MIT Campus
We kicked off Cryptoeconomic Systems in earnest last October with a field-building Summit bringing together 250 researchers, practitioners and policymakers with 60 curated talks and discussion sessions. Watch them on YouTube. One of our key learnings from the Summit was the foundational semantic work that remains to be done in enabling different research communities to communicate clearly and to converge upon consistent, inclusive and mutually legible research methodologies. We are still in a formative phase of the minting of this field as a scholarly discipline. There remains a great deal of informal and loosely defined jargon as we collectively work towards useful definitions of key concepts.
“Cryptoeconomic”, “crypto-economic” and “cryptoeconomics” join “blockchain”, “cryptocurrency” and “decentralization” as key domain-specific terms which do not have clear meanings and this makes effective communication harder.
Another topic raised by multiple Summit attendees questions the career-compatibility of interdisciplinary research particularly within academic fields with traditional publishing cultures such as economics. Researchers chasing tenure are heavily incentivized to spend years revising & resubmitting papers to win a coveted spot in the very small number of top-tier publications. Having such a narrow prestige funnel tends to favour more established and tenured academics with less reputational constraints, who are also less likely to experience negative impact upon their perceived standing for straying too far from their original disciplinary specialization.
Looking to the future
Surfacing review - a form of open peer review with summaries & optional reviewer attribution
Though there are many issues with peer review it does still seem to be the best (or least bad) way we currently have to rigorously check that research is correct, impactful and delivers upon its claims. Some of the common criticisms of peer review contend that it is a time consuming burden upon subject matter specialists, is not incentivized apart from academic gravitas and may allow human bias to get in the way of disseminating research. In addition to double blind review (so that authors’ and reviewers’ identities are concealed) we will employ what is known as open peer review where a summary of reviewer feedback is published alongside accepted papers.
Conflicts of Interest
Many researchers have significant financial interests in a particular platform or token and it's important to know this when evaluating what they have to say. We are looking at developing our Conflicts of Interest (CoI) policy for CES further with particular emphasis on advisorships, tokens held and other commercial / beneficial interests. These usually aren’t covered in the usual CoI publishing tradition which typically focuses on collaborative and academic relationships. As the field of cryptocurrency involves the creation of pseudo-monetary instruments, the standards required for funding transparency and research ethics are greater than in most other fields.
Open Access & Authors’ Rights
Open Access (OA) publishing is also an important aspect of the journal project and it aligns closely with the Open Source Software movement which is a crucial part of Bitcoin’s constitution. Cryptoeconomic Systems will use the PubPub platform to host our diamond open access publication, meaning that there are no reader paywalls and no charges to submitting authors. The MIT Press is a mission-driven, non-profit scholarly publisher and will take a non-exclusive license to publish accepted submissions, so that authors will remain in control of their work.
Speed and flexibility
An important goal for the journal is to have a publication process that reflects and respects the speed with which the cryptocurrency space moves. One of the key issues with the traditional academic journal pathway is the length of time between submission and publication, spanning several months to several years. In fast-moving fields such as computer science, this has led to conferences being the primary outlet for dissemination of latest work with subsequent publication of accepted papers as conference proceedings. We’ve heard stories of work introducing new cryptographic constructions being “stuck” in the peer review process for so long that the timeliness and impact of publishing the work had faded, and this is something that efforts to expedite the journal workflow can address.
Current status and how to get involved
There are four ways to get involved with Cryptoeconomic Systems:
Attend CES ‘20! It’s coming up soon on March 7th & 8th 2020 in Cambridge, MA
The next Cryptoeconomic Systems conference (CES ‘20) will take place in Cambridge, MA March 7-8, co-located with the 7th MIT Bitcoin Expo. This is an important step for our conference & journal experiment with an interdisciplinary peer review process recently concluded consisting of 200 reviews from 42 Program Committee members. 26 accepted papers from 80 submissions will be presented at the conference. A subset of accepted submissions are also being readied for subsequent publication in the first issue of the Cryptoeconomic Systems Journal alongside a summary of reviewer comments. Keep an eye on https://cryptoeconomicsystems.pubpub.org and @cryptoecon_sys for latest information.
Submit research to our Spring ‘20 journal Call For Papers
Announcement and first information here. Submissions open in mid-March and close at the end of May.
Contribute by sponsoring Cryptoeconomic Systems
We are bootstrapping these non-profit journal and conference activities through a fundraising drive. Please get in touch if you are interested in supporting the journal or conference and being credited as a supporter of this effort: editor [at] cryptoeconomic [dot] systems.
Consider hosting CES ‘21 - we are keen to hear from potential partner institutions worldwide - see our Call for Hosts.
Longer-term, the relationship between the conference and journal will evolve as we settle into an annual cycle for peer-reviewed conference and proceedings, with smaller focused and curated Summit events. We are keen to see Cryptoeconomic Systems geographically spread its wings and would very much like to hear from potential conference hosts worldwide - we want CES’21 to be held outside North America. Get in touch if you might be interested in hosting next year’s conference: chairs [at] cryptoeconomic [dot] systems.