Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Peer-to-Peer Review: The State of Academic Bitcoin Research 2015

I've updated my epic BITCOIN ACADEMIC PAPER DATABASE by adding over 280 new papers that were published in 2015. You can download it, and I've also included a link to a separate Google doc where you can make suggestions for papers that might have been missed.

If you'd like to read about how I've built the database and the sources I've used, check out my piece about it from last year. Don't expect it to be perfect - there are omissions and the citations are not always error-free - but it's a pretty comprehensive start for anyone looking to embark on furthering the state of knowledge on Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain more generally.

The quality of papers is... um... variable and obviously I haven't had a chance to actually read most of them (as there are now over 550 in total), so don't be surprised if some are not as 'academic' or robust as you might like. That said, the quality of papers has - in general - improved over the last year. For the record, the basic definition of 'academic' in this context is: showing signs of a systematic research and analysis process that extends beyond just ranting, idle speculation or marketing. Note, though, that this does not narrow it to bland positivist (social) science. High quality and high effort philosophical, 'non-scientific' and even partisan political explorations are considered valid.


Main themes

As expected, there is still tonnes of technical geekery on the Bitcoin protocol, its flaws, bugs and possible improvements. These are the papers with titles like "Threshold-optimal DSA/ECDSA signatures and an application to Bitcoin wallet security". There is, however, a noticeable uptick in papers that go beyond the technical protocol and into other - still technical, but more political - areas like regulations, taxation and legal frameworks for Bitcoin. This is a natural result of the fact that while the initial interest in Bitcoin concerned the nature of the system, the subsequent usage of bitcoin tokens in the real world opens up practical concerns like 'should it be subject to VAT?'

In the background there is a still a steady stream of papers on questions of Bitcoin economics, the markets, price discovery, and drivers of its perceived value. The philosophy, anthropology, geography, and political dynamics of Bitcoin remain very underrepresented, but there are a nevertheless some great papers in that line (see below for examples).

More papers in big prestige journals

There are definitely a greater number of pieces coming out in some top peer-reviewed journals. These are not necessarily the most interesting papers (and I don't necessarily believe that top journals carry the best research), but it shows the increasing legitimacy of Bitcoin as a mainstream research topic. Examples include:
I've also included the individual chapters from The Handbook of Digital Currency: Bitcoin, Innovation, Financial Instruments, and Big Data. It seems to be a pretty high quality collection of peer-reviewed papers, but it does cost a lot.

Niche papers on niche topics in niche journals

Beyond the explorations of standard Bitcoin themes (the prices, the regulations, the code) there are also some interesting niche research areas coming out. For example:

The 'grey literature' and student theses

There are a lot of self-published research pieces, working papers and research reports from obscure institutes (sometimes this is called 'grey literature'). I am not an academic snob who scoffs at such papers, so take a look at the various SSRN and independent papers out there. There are also a lot more long student thesis papers from university graduates. For example, it's worth taking a look at:

Blockchain 2.0: Fork the database?

There are some cool papers starting to come out on Blockchain 2.0 or distributed database technology. For example, check out:
That said, it has occurred to me that an academic paper database on the topic of 'Bitcoin' might not really capture the topic of 'Blockchain', so I may consider starting a different database for papers that focus exclusively on non-Bitcoin blockchain systems. Or someone else can make that...

Hope you enjoy & please do donate!

Bear in mind that I update this database as a piece of service to the Bitcoin community and broader academic community, and I don't get paid, so please do consider making a small donation to either my Bitcoin address, or via Paypal. Really hope you find the database useful!